More than 27 years after he set his feet in Kenya, Len Morris did not know his pursuit to document stories about child and forced labour and child trafficking would turn to change lives for thousands of children pulled out from school to work in farms, quarries, gold mines and sand harvesting sites.
First, Morris, a journalist-cum and international child rights advocate, ended up in coffee plantations where children outnumbered the adult workers in expansive farms.
Filming the activities in the farms was faced with protests because most parents pulled their children from schools to help them with picking coffee and other physical chores subjecting them to the struggle of balancing the demands of school and child labour.
“I had been tasked by the then US President Bill Clinton to find out if there was child labour in the countries where the United States buys products across the world because there are laws that dictate that we should not buy products manufactured with child labour,” Morris recounted.
“Many of them picking coffee were young girls with their mothers with babies strapped on their backs. The local authorities did not take it lightly and I ended up in a room where a man probed me on my mission,” he added.
After spending six weeks moving from coffee plantations to gold mines and sand harvesting sites documenting child labour, Morris volunteered to sponsor the education of 50 children who had been denied childhood and education for hard labour.
It is from his encounters with the harsh realities of child labour driven by poverty that the Kenyan School House Programme was birthed in collaboration with the African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN).
“We put the children in school and pay fees because we believe the children should be in school and not working in farms, quarries, gold mines or sand mines,” said Morris.
We caught up with him after a field tour in counties where the organisation has sponsored children.
Over 22 years later, the programme has educated thousands of children from vulnerable families across the country with Morris noting that the number of children in need of support keeps growing due to poverty, and family feuds that subject them to misery.
“We resolved that if we enroll a child in school we’ll support them throughout their education regardless of their level of academic excellence. We have been adding children into the programme every year,” he added.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there was child labour globally at the beginning of 2020, accounting for almost 1 in 10 of all children worldwide. About 86 million children work in mines
Morris noted that the drought that has ravaged the country coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, more children were pushed into labour, and early marriages.
To ensure the continuation of the beneficiaries’ education and retention in schools, Morris is now eyeing long-term projects that can empower families to earn a livelihood.