Where would we be without our fearless, faithful & visionary Founders? Please allow us to introduce...
Rev. Clive & Mary Beckenham
International Head Office, Nairobi
1. What led you to start New Life Home Trust? What was the inspiration?
Mary: Starting a children’s home in Africa was my childhood dream from age 7. This dream did not come true until my husband and I were 50 years old. Between those years, Clive and I were preparing ourselves for the fruition of this dream by training appropriately so that we would be ready to take care of abandoned and needy babies. I trained as a nurse and Clive received his training in engineering.
We first came to Kenya in 1989 to take up a 2 year assignment at a local Bible College. In 1992, towards the end of that assignment, I read an article in the local newspaper about HIV positive babies being abandoned in Kenyan hospitals. This article reignited my dream to establish a children’s home in Africa. I began researching what establishing a home in Kenya would involve by making inquiries with other homes. In consultation with Dr. Paul Wangai Jr., who was already working with HIV positive adults, I quickly realized that no one was working with HIV positive children. This was the gap that I sought to fill.
Initially, we entered into a partnership with another individual, but after 18 months of working together that relationship terminated and we decided to continue by ourselves. The first baby we identified for possible care was being held in the hospital indefinitely because there was no medically trained person outside of the hospital setting who was willing to care for him. It just so happened that this baby was released to us because I was a fully qualified nurse, capable of taking care of the medical needs of this child. This baby was our inspiration to continue pursuing our dream, our vision. The baby was 3 months old when he was released from the hospital, and for the first few months of nursing him back to health, we witnessed exponential growth and development. My husband and I fell in love with this baby and decided to keep him. He was named Clive Junior. We first applied to foster him. The courts looked on our application so favourably that we were awarded custody for an unprecedented 18 years. In those days, such long foster awards were rare. Eventually we applied for adoption and were successfully awarded the same.
In the early 1990s, people did not grasp the concept of sero-conversion. Most babies who were abandoned as being HIV positive died due to malnourishment, much too early for sero-conversion to occur. Eventually we began to notice that many of the babies coming in as HIV-positive were testing negative for the virus after a few months. There was a conversion rate of at least 80%. This incidence baffled even the medical community to the extent that the Kenya Institute of Medical Research (KEMRI) did a study to test this phenomenon, concluding that it was actually true. What a miracle!
2. When was that? What year?
New Life Home Trust was established in 1994. Between 1992 and 1993, we prayed, sought advice and received encouragement from Drs. Paul and Mary Wangai regarding the vision that we had to establish a home to care for sick, abandoned babies. We made a short trip back to the UK around this time, still praying about these things, and seeking confirmation that this was indeed the direction in which God was leading us. Among the many confirmations that we received, the Bible verses found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31-40, made us realize that we were doing the right thing. In December 1993, we made the decision to start the new children’s home in Kenya.
In 1994, we found a residence in Loresho where we lived upstairs and established the children’s home downstairs. We did everything together, simultaneously looking after our own biological children as well as the abandoned children in our care. The first 3 babies we rescued were 1 week old, 1 month old, and 5 months old. At that time, the staff was very small and everyone did everything. All the staff came in untrained but we trained them how to care for the children and the facilities. We were blessed with team members who were committed to our vision.
3. Looking back, what would be the 4 or 5 all-time highlights?
- Our experiences really stretched our faith. We believed in and saw God’s daily provision. We witnessed numerous miracles which bolstered our faith and encouraged us to keep pursuing our vision.
- The realization that sero-conversion was happening, that many of the children who were abandoned because they were HIV positive were getting better with medication, good nutrition, and compassion, was a great surprise and joy.
- Seeing the babies thrive – moving from imminent death, because of poor health and nutrition, to health and strength – was very encouraging. Children who were expected to die were surviving against all the odds and we were very excited to witness this happening, right in front of our eyes.
- Adoptions were growing. One of our first sets of adoptive parents was a Kenyan couple.
- Moving from a rental property in Loresho to our own facility in Kilimani, even though this move came with its own challenges. We moved into the new property on 14th February, 1999 – the perfect Valentine’s Day present.
4. What was the closest you ever came to quitting and why?
There were many setbacks along the way but even in and through those, we experienced God’s providence.
- The new Children’s Act in 2001 caused a steep drop temporarily in the number of adoptions and unfortunately this impacted our children. Kids who would otherwise have been adopted missed out on that opportunity because of legal constraints. This meant that we had to come up with a plan to care for these children for a longer period than we had initially planned, leading to the establishment of the family homes in Nakuru and Kisumu.
- We thought the home would close down because we were fast outgrowing the facility in Loresho and the landlord did not want to house older children at that property. At that time, we had 16 children. We sought God and he confirmed to us that the home was to continue. We started looking around for a new building and eventually located the property in Kilimani. The move meant that we had to dig into our personal savings to finance the purchase of the new facility, and to look for other funding opportunities to pay for the new building. By God’s grace, the financing for the Kilimani property fell into place and we were able to secure the property.
- Our vision disrupted the normalcy of our family life. We were very discouraged and Dr. Paul Wangai Jr. stepped in to encourage and to support us. Eventually, everything started to fall into place. We met someone quite by chance who decided to become a major benefactor of New Life. This donor supported the employment of more key people by providing for their salaries. We were able to hire a night nurse.
5. Looking to the future, what is your biggest wish for New Life?
We started New Life from very humble beginnings. As per the instruction found in Habakkuk, chapter 2, verses 1-3, we wrote our vision down. Our vision was to grow the home. In line with this vision, we commissioned an architect to draw a plan for our expansion. We put the plan in the lobby for all our guests to see. We happened to meet a very generous donor who had a foundation willing to sponsor New Life. We told him about the outstanding mortgage to purchase the property and he cleared the obligation on behalf of New Life. We spoke to him about our vision for expanding the Kilimani home, and he generously funded the entire construction project through his foundation. He did not show up for the official opening but he visited at a later time.
Again, we spoke about the Kisumu home and how we needed a permanent property for the home. This benefactor funded the purchase of New Life Kisumu. Eventually the homes in Nakuru, Nyeri, and Mombasa (which has since been closed) were funded through the same foundation. With all these amazing donations came many, many miracles. Most of the staff came in as unemployed volunteers who were eventually offered employment. Looking into the future, we would like to have at least one rescue facility in each of Kenya’s 8 provinces. We would also like to see a better family home for the older boys in Nakuru. We have witnessed so many miracles that we do not doubt the realization of these dreams either.
6. What was your favorite part of the work?
Mary: Rescuing babies, especially the very sick ones, and watching them recover and thrive.
Clive: Having an incredible team of trustees and staff. Most of the staff came in untrained and received their training from us.