Franchise owner of G.J. Gardner Homes Armidale, Chris Thornton, tells us how Australia’s renowned building company brings hope to children in Kenya.
When and why did you go to Kenya?
When news reached us that the community of Kitale (250 km north-west of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi) was to lose its orphanage, G.J. Gardner Homes were determined to do something about it.
How did you hear about the orphanage?
While on holidays in Kenya in 2007, the NSW Director of G.J. Gardner Homes, Mickey Pettiford, was visiting friends when by chance he was introduced to people operating an orphanage on the outskirts of an isolated rural city called Kitale.
Mickey discovered that the orphans were facing eviction, because the building they called home was needed by the owner, a doctor who had plans to set up a clinic at the site.
It was soon after that G.J. Gardner Homes decided to get involved to secure a home for the children. We knew that we had to use our knowledge, skills and experience in building to help the community where they needed it most.
Tell us about the orphanage?
The orphanage was originally established to provide care for the tragically growing number of Kenyan children orphaned by AIDS. At the time of Mickey’s visit, it was home to around thirty-five children, aged between three and sixteen years.
The aim of the orphanage is to provide care and support to the children in the area who have lost their families. It also gives them the chance to reach for a brighter future, and it was an honour to be a small part of that.
Where is Kitale?
Kitale is situated in a mountainous area of North West Kenya, about an hour’s drive from the Ugandan border. It has been a centre for rural and tribal violence, and many of the residents have been affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty, including the children.
Who went to Kenya?
G.J. Gardner Homes, in conjunction with Neighbour’s Aid, sent a volunteer team of franchise builders from all over NSW to Kitale to commence work on the new structure in September 2008.
A team of three went over a couple of months early to kick the project off and to source building materials on a local level. We began by consulting with the local people who ran the orphanage. They are incredible people, who often give up their own lives to help the children. The idea was for them to take ownership of the project, so we started by asking what they wanted. A block of land was purchased and designs were drawn up.
The other 13, including myself, followed.
How did you raise funds?
We used a marketing campaign where $1,000 from every G.J. Gardner Home sold up until September 2008 was donated to the building fund. The NSW branches of G.J Gardner Homes ended up raising around $180,000 to cover construction costs and provide funding for the ongoing care of the children at the orphanage.
Who is Neighbours Aid?
They were heavily involved in the project as well. They are an Australian not-for-profit charity organisation whose name was based on the question posed in the text … ”Who is my neighbour?”
Their aim is to raise much needed funds for needy children throughout the world, while at the same time practically assisting local communities.
What did you personally gain from the trip?
Before I left for the trip, it seemed that running my own business provided its day to day worries. But since visiting this third world community, my worries have became irrelevant. Compared to how they live, we’ve got it easy.
It was very rewarding for our builders to work side by side with members of the Kitale community, helping them to learn many skills as we progressed. We also donated the tools and equipment that we used during the project, so they can be used throughout the area in the future. It was a real buzz working with such humble people. It was very satisfying knowing that we were teaching them valuable building skills that help towards creating a better future for the children.
It was a great privilege to experience their culture. We were able to interact and socialise with a wonderful collection of Kenyans.
They even invited us into their churches. It was a real treat to accompany them and watch them sing and rejoice. It’s a far cry from how church services are run over here; it’s like a big celebration of life. I have never experienced anything like it. They are great singers.
Working with the locals was unreal too.
I have to say, the best memory was working TOGETHER, side by side. They saw us sweat for them, and it was an amazing experience all round.
Will you stay in touch with the orphanage?
Absolutely. Some of us became so attached to the mission that we have more in store. If all goes to plan, we hope to purchase even more land so that we can be part of building another stage.
In the meantime, each franchise is committed to sponsoring the children. We personally sponsor three lovely kids by way of a $500 cash donation per child. It helps with their education, health and wellbeing.
When do you plan to revisit the children?
I plan to take my wife Kate over to the grand opening of the orphanage in October 2011, and who knows … while we are over there, we might get ourselves fit enough to climb Mt Kilimanjaro!
Final word about G.J. Gardner Homes?
After building over 25,000 homes worldwide, G.J. Gardner Homes has built a reputation as the new home builder you can totally trust.
Kate and I are very happy to be part of such a reputable company.
We love living in Armidale; it’s a great place to raise our children. We are building great family homes in the region and if you are thinking of building, give us a call. We look forward to meeting with you personally and helping to make your experience of building your new home as simple as possible – and becoming good friends along the way.
Thank you Chris.