PROFILE

Lennox Head's Sarah Rosborg has transformed the lives of countless children in Kenya through charity Rafiki Mwema

Sarah Rosborg. Photo: Olivia Katz

Sarah Rosborg. Photo: Olivia Katz

From the time she was a little girl, Sarah Rosborg knew she wanted to visit Africa.

"I can't quite explain it, maybe it was in part because of my mum, who is a really generous and beautiful person," she says.

"She was a single mum and she was always knitting or sewing or making things and sending them to Africa."

All through her twenties, Sarah searched for volunteer opportunities that would take her there, but most of the organised volunteer trips tended to be expensive and it was often unclear whether the funds would actually go to those in need.

Then, in 2005 an opportunity arose to accompany some family friends who were starting an orphanage in Kenya.

Sarah, who was living in Scotland at the time, said yes without hesitation, and two months later was on a plane to Kenya.

"I fell in love immediately," she says.

"Kenya was everything I had imagined, but it was a lot worse and much sadder than I expected. There was no way you could go there and then come back and do nothing."

The trip solidified her love for Africa and gave Sarah the clarity of purpose she had been searching for.

PLEASE LET ME LIVE

A week after leaving Kenya, Sarah travelled to the US where she was involved in a serious accident. She and some friends were on a road trip from Las Vegas to Los Angeles when the car hit a sharp turn at 120km/h and spun out of control. Sarah, who was sitting in the backseat without a seatbelt, was thrown out of the back window. She suffered horrific injuries including a broken femur, pelvis, foot and sacroiliac joint. She was lucky to survive.

"I'm not religious but I do believe in a higher power, and when I opened my eyes in the desert, lying in a pool of my own blood, and there were people on their knees praying like I was dying, all I could think was, please let me live so I can go back to Kenya and help those kids."

"I'm not religious but I do believe in a higher power, and when I opened my eyes in the desert, lying in a pool of my own blood, and there were people on their knees praying like I was dying, all I could think was, please let me live so I can go back to Kenya and help those kids."

Sarah Rosborg

FINDING HER PURPOSE 

After a couple of months of intensive care in California, Sarah returned home to Australia. Her recovery was arduous and painful, but her newfound purpose in Kenya kept her motivated and positive.

During her rehabilitation, she taught herself web and graphic design and used these skills to raise funds and awareness for the charity she had volunteered with.

In the years that followed, Sarah went on to start her own graphic design business, Castle Design, and continued working in a variety of philanthropic organisations, but she always had Kenya on her mind.

In 2013, Sarah was approached by a contact in Kenya and told about Rafiki Mwema, an organisation in Nakuru, just northwest of Nairobi, that was helping little girls who had suffered sexual abuse. The organisation was struggling to stay afloat financially and was at risk of shutting down.

"The thought of the doors closing was too much for my brain to handle especially since I had a little girl of my own," she says.

An initial online auction organised by Sarah raised $17K, but it was only enough to keep the home open for three months. That's when she decided to start an Australian branch of Rafiki Mwema.

Sarah in Africa with some of the Rafiki Mwema girls

Sarah in Africa with some of the Rafiki Mwema girls

WORLDWIDE ATTENTION

"It went gang busters from there," Sarah says.

We had sponsors for all of the girls in around three months and we gained a wonderful, caring community on Facebook with lots of offers to help from all around the world."

High profile blogger Constance Hall is a supporter of the charity

High profile blogger Constance Hall is a supporter of the charity

Celebrity supporters like blogger and influencer Constance Hall and comedian Celeste Barber helped raise the profile of the charity, and in 2019, Rafiki Mwema gained worldwide attention when the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle highlighted the charity on her Instagram account.

The support received has meant all the girls are all safe and there is no risk of the home closing down.

A PLACE OF HEALING

In recent years, Rafiki Mwema, which means 'loyal friend' has expanded to provide support to the broader community, including boys who have ended up on the streets due to poverty, violence and abuse.

The charity is run by a powerhouse team of volunteers in Australia alongside an team of Kenyans on the ground in Nakuru who continue to launch new programs to expand the scope of their impact and support for the community.

Doyle Farm provides food for the Rafiki Mwema kids and the charity's outreach programs

Doyle Farm provides food for the Rafiki Mwema kids and the charity's outreach programs

From one tiny rented house, Rafiki Mwema has grown to four houses on an beautiful expansive property named Doyle Farm. There's a 'Queen's Castle' for the girls and a 'King's Castle' for the boys.

They've planted an abundant farm that provides food not only for all of the Rafiki Mwema kids but also for many of their outreach programs including the Rafiki Feeding program, which provides a healthy fresh meal to up to 90 kids living on the streets in Nakuru every day. The program gives the Rafiki Mwema managers a chance to connect with the kids and hear what's really happening. Sometimes they play football together, sometimes they just chat, and sometimes the kids fall asleep, exhausted from the terrors of living on the streets.

Boys dance at the opening of King's Castle

Boys dance at the opening of King's Castle

They've also built their first school on the property for the smallest girls who are in too much danger to leave the farm due to current court proceedings.

And in 2017, the charity installed two video links - the first of their kind - in local courts in Kenya, a massive step, says Sarah, as it protects children from having to sit meters away from their perpetrators.

Sarah says the intention of the Rafiki Mwema home is to provide the infrastructure for the children to heal, learn, grow, and ultimately re-enter Kenyan life safely and successfully.

She says the kind of abuse some of these children have experienced, starting as young as nine months old, is incomprehensible. They need a lot of support and care and Rafiki Mwema is the only organisation in Nakuru helping kids recover from this kind of trauma.

The charity uses Rafiki the therapeutic model of Dyadic Developmental Parenting, which encourages healthy bonding between the child and a safe and loving adult. Rather than being asked "what's wrong with you?" these children are asked "what has happened to you?", thereby changing the narrative from blame to one of understanding, empathy and genuine concern.

BREAKING THE CYCLE

Sarah says the Rafiki Mwema home isn't a placeholder until the kids find somewhere else to go: "it's a place to heal and it's a place for them to reclaim their confidence and sense of self-worth so that they can one day return to their communities in Kenya and bring all that they learned with them."

The ultimate aim is always to try and get the kids back to a safe family member once they have recovered, although things aren't always that simple. Sometimes there is a safe family member to return to, but their family is living in poverty, in which case Rafiki Mwema steps in to try and help. They'll spend time with the family to understand what their skills and interests are and then provide them with training to start a small business.

In cases where the kids do not have a safe family member to return to, they can stay at Rafiki Mwema until they are 18. Rafiki's newest endeavour, Rafiki Social, is a program to help these children make the transition when the time comes, providing funding for vocational training and job experience programs with the aim of bringing stability, sustainability, and self-sufficiency for the children when they leave.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Over the years, many people and companies have offered to donate goods to the children at Rafiki Mwema, but due to the high prices charged in Kenya to collect large and heavy parcels, the charity was unable to accept most of them.

Recently, a long term supporter, Simone, came up with a plan to collect all of the donated products and hold a monthly market stall in the Northern Rivers region.

The stall has started to make the rounds of our much-loved weekend markets, selling a huge range of Rafiki Mwema merchandise and donated products. A wide range of goods are on offer, from baby blankets to tea towels, stunning Jaase dresses and hand knitted beanies.

The Rafiki Mwema stall has been setting up at Northern Rivers markets

The Rafiki Mwema stall has been setting up at Northern Rivers markets

Every month the charity is faced with a bill of $45K just to keep their doors open and children cared for, and all proceeds go to help meet these monthly running costs.

The stall has recently visited the Mullumbimby Markets, Bangalow Flea Market and will be at the Bangalow Market this Sunday. Visit the Rafiki Mwema website to keep up to date with upcoming locations.

Other ways you can help include:

  • Buying a gift or Rafiki Mwema merch from the website
  • Sponsor a child
  • Create a fundraiser
  • Donate directly
  • Volunteer with the charity

Visit the Rafiki Mwema website for more details.