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 registered charity number 1098731

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Elizabeth Gomm

I first met Sue Hayward on a June day in 2007.

I was women's editor on The Gazette in Blackpool, and had heard about how Sue and Dave were planning to sell their small hotel because they wanted to build a children's home in Kenya.

I thought it would be an interesting story, not realising the journey would take me on.

At the time Sue had no land, no formal plans and no money. But she did have a vision, her Happy House.

She wanted to build a real family home for children like those she had encountered during her seven years of charity work with a school in Watamu, children who had been abandoned, neglected or who suffering from abuse.

It was when Sue showed me a video of the kids that I knew I was destined to help- it was as if those children spoke to my heart.

Anyone who has met Sue, or who knows about her work, will know she's an inspirational, determined and dedicated woman. I had no doubt that Sue, and the charity she'd founded, would turn her vision into a reality.

I wanted to do what I could to make that happen.

I went back to the office wrote my story and badgered the editor into letting me start a reader appeal to help. I was on a roll.

Sue and I became firm friends, I did what I could to help and to publicise her work from then on and sponsored a child, beautiful Barke, on the sponsorship scheme Sue had started for at the school she was supporting.

By 2008, Sue had been given some land and there was a bit of money in the bank. When troubled times in Kenya led to a halt in tourism and put many villagers out of work, Sue thought by starting then she could get some people into work, and food on their tables, even if the build had to stop when the money ran out. It didn't. Together we kept the ball rolling, Sue working every hour trying to raise funds, me pushing her story, and the money kept coming.

In Blackpool, our Gazette readers were hooked on Sue's extraordinary story - raising money, donating goods, and joining our sponsorship scheme for our Happy House kids - before we even had any. By becoming sponsors they were helping to finish the build knowing they would be allocated a children as they started to come to us.

In 2009, I went out to Kenya for the first time and I met my beautiful Barke. I'll never forget the feeling of seeing her for the first time. My heart overflowed with love.

The Happy House was well on the way by then and it was just as Sue had told me it would be in 2007!

My next visit was at the start of 2010, the Happy House build was almost complete and I was due to report on the arrival of a container full of furniture and other essential items, many donated by Gazette readers. I travelled out with Sue and Dave who had packed up their lives in Blackpool and moving to Watamu for good to run the Happy House.

We arrived on time. The container didn't. That was one of my first lessons in telling the time - Kenya style. Never expect anything to happen on time as we know it!

I was there for two weeks that time, coming home well before the container arrived. And for Sue and Dave getting it safely had involved a great deal of wrangling with docks officials, worry and money.

With Sue in Kenya, she needed someone to look after things here in the UK and as we worked so well together I volunteered to take on the role of coordinator. That meant publicity, helping with fundraising, giving talks (something entirely new to me) and anything that cropped up.

In March 2010 I went out to Kenya for the second time that year, for the official opening.

It was a joyous occasion, there were 28 children in our care by then. Some are still there now.

There home was just what Sue had promised, a happy, loving, family home - full of sunshine and smiles.

Three weeks later on my first back at the office, I couldn't settle. For the first time in 44 years as a journalist, I wanted to do something different.

I knew, deep in my heart, that I couldn't do my job and look after things for the charity without compromising one or the other. I don't do compromise.

Later that year, to the shock of my family, friends and colleagues, I quit life in the newsroom. Now I could put the charity first, raising awareness and money.

Over the years I have carried on doing what I can to help the Happy House and to relieve Sue of some of the workload where I can and will continue to do so for as long as I am able.

I didn't volunteer for rewards but for what I could give but, even so, the rewards are immense.

They come in the form of love, love of a family where I am happy and grateful to be their "Auntie Libz". 

Best friends Florence and Fahima

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Copyright © 2020 Children of Watamu Reg. Charity No.1098731

Registered in the Republic of Kenya with the Ministry of Gender, Children & Social Development as a Charitable Children’s Institution. CS No. 000573

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