A KIND-HEARTED couple who dedicate their lives to helping children on the streets in Kenya have been honoured with a prestigious international award.
Paul and Gayle Woods split their time between Stalybridge and Mombasa to run Gap Kenya, which provides food, housing and education for the children.
In recognition of their efforts since launching the charity in 2011, they have both been awarded a Paul Harris Fellow from the Saddleworth Rotary Club.
The award, named after the Club’s founder, is given ‘in appreciation of tangible and significant assistance given for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world’.
Other Fellows include Mother Theresa and former US president Jimmy Carter, along with stalwart community champions selected by Clubs around the globe.
Saddleworth Rotary Club president Clint Elliott presented the honour – including certificates, medallions and pins – to the couple at the Club’s October meeting.
Gayle said: “I am speechless and amazed. I’ve never received an award before and I don’t feel we deserve something like this!”
The Club has supported Gap Kenya for many years, led by former member Michael Hall who recently moved to Lymm with his wife Doreen.
Paul said to the Club: “Thank you for your continued support. It means so much and helps us provide educational support for the children. It gives them a chance to make something of their lives.
“One boy only started school in 2011 and is now in his second year at university studying mechanical engineering.
“Two other young boys have just achieved a scholarship to an excellent primary school.”
The couple also received another boost from the Rotary Club to take back to Kenya, where they will now be until April.
After successfully applying for a District Grant, the Club purchased a projector, screen, and a spare bulb, as well as pledging money for a 4G router and service provider for the charity.
The equipment will be used by Gayle and Paul in Mombasa to set up a Pupil Learning and Development Partnership between Gap Kenya and Saddleworth School.
Tony Burke, the Rotary member who secured the grant, explained: “Our members are already involved in development projects for pupils in Saddleworth and Mombasa.
“We now plan to form a pupil learning and development partnership between the schools. We’re looking at setting up a pen pal and email exchange, video lessons, and a ‘Day In A My Life’ videos.
“That will be very different for a child at Saddleworth School compared to one in Mombasa so the learning will work both ways. It will be a sharing of experiences.”
Paul and Gayle launched Gap Kenya after a holiday to Mombasa when they came across children sleeping in the streets with nowhere to live and nothing to eat.
From that moment, they decided they needed to do something to help so they launched their Mungu Anaweza Project, ‘bringing hope to the hopeless’.
They established the Stepping Stones drop in centre, which is home to up to 20 children at a time, offering food, shelter, and activities including a football team.
Such has been the demand, they now have five full-time and four-part time staff who work as a great team.
Funding from Saddleworth Rotary Club is helping secure schooling for 11 children, and there are plans for four more to start next near.
The couple also run a feeding programme each week serving bread and juice to all the children and adults who live on the dump.
And their Joseph Centre, opened last November, currently offers seven mothers who live on the rubbish dump somewhere to bring their children to shower, bathe and eat.
Gayle said: “Some of the children spend their days from an early age on the dump looking for glass and other things they can sell for a bit of money.
“Sometimes being there on the tip feels like being in Beirut – it’s full of smoke and fires.
“It’s so important that we can help these ladies and their children. We are also teaching them to sew so they can make blankets to sell for money and hopefully get off the dump.”
The couple’s good work has not come without troubles though as they were forced to move home in Kenya after being robbed at gunpoint.
And both have contracted illnesses during visits, with Gayle suffering from Dengue Fever while Paul had malaria.
But they have not been deterred and have a vision of eventually building a village for the children, and they are looking into grants and funding to make it a reality.
Can you support Gap Kenya? Coffee mornings, cake bakes, or just a small monthly donation makes it possible for them to continue to their work and do even more.