Ditte and the Street Kids

Kenya has 300.000 orphans; they survive on less than a dollar a day. The children are malnourished, sick and addicted to sniffing glue. However some of them can now look forward to a better life.

23 year old Ditte Engelbrecht decided to make a change and this year she opens up the doors to a home for 20 kids.

Stuck in Denmark

Five years ago Ditte Engelbrecht’s life was like most teenagers. She lived with her parents, hung out with friends and played sports in the local club. Had you told her that in a couple of years’ time she would live in Africa speaking Swahili she probably would have taken you for a fool.

When I first came to Kenya I hardly spoke any English. But instead I learned Swahili.

“Back then I hardly spoke any English at all. Actually the worst situation I could imagine was to speak a foreign language.

Ditte Engelbrecht has purchased 4000 square meters near Mombasa, Kenya. Soon they will start growing vegetables in the garden. Her plan is to be self-sufficient with vegetables.

I never planned on leaving the safe haven of Denmark”. Ditte Engelbrecht recalls her life before everything changed.

A life changing phone call

Just like many teenagers Ditte Engelbrecht was thinking of dropping out school. She longed for a change in life and on a hunch she rang up ICYE (International Cultural Youth Exchange). That phone call changed her life.

A lot of young people dream of traveling the world. But only a few actually does it by traveling to Kenya and start an orphanage

By the end of the call she had signed up for one year in Kenya working with street kids. “I allowed myself a week to think it all through but it felt right so I stood by my decision”, she says.

Low English skills

Many of the kids have experiences loneliness, violence, drugs and have learned to beg for money on the streets to survive.

The night before leaving she laid in bed worrying about her poor English skills;

“I asked myself Ditte, what words you know in English? Basically all I knew to say was ‘Hello, my name is…’  I thought about what would happen if I got hungry – and realized that I didn’t know what to say.

On that thought I fell asleep; next morning I boarded my flight and my life would never be the same”. Ditte Engelbrecht describes how it felt before she left the safety of Denmark.

Going to Kenya – again

A year passed quickly and it was time for Ditte Engelbrecht to return to Denmark. However that turned out to be harder than expected; “Looking at these kids I realized it was impossible for me to say good bye and move on with my life. I wanted to do more for them”.

As soon as Ditte had her feet back on Danish ground she started finding new ways to help the kids in Kenya. She sent money and clothes donated from her local sports club. However that was not enough for her.

Buying a piece of Land

The home will be offered to children in the ages of 1-5. Ditte Engelbrecht locates the kids at local rescue centers where police brings them in

Ditte Engelbrecht realized if she really wanted to make a change she had to go bigger. What the streets kids in Kenya needed the most was a home; a place that offered them safety, healthcare and education.

In that moment the idea of an orphanage was born and Ditte Engelbrecht began the long process of purchasing a piece of land and the planning of the house she is about to build.

It took two years of hard work and fundraising. Finally in 2017 the papers was signed and later this year the first kids will move in.

Surviving on glue and gasoline

The children that are offered a place at Ditte Engelbrecht’s orphanage are in the ages of 1-5. They live on the streets sniffing glue and gasoline when they are picked up by the police. Sniffing is very normal and often the addiction starts when the children are very young. Many times it is the parents that introduce it by giving them a bottle of glue to make them sleep and make the sense of hunger to go away.

So many people have told me I could not do this and look at how far I have come!

As a part of the program Ditte Engelbrecht helps the kids to get of the addiction. “It is crucial to locate the kids as early as possible before their brain is damaged too much.” She explains.  After a few years of sniffing the brains has taken severe damage and the kids show reduced functionality and has difficulties handling even basic social skills. Many get a permanent brain damage.

Trusting your gut

Because of her white skin and due to the colonial history in Kenya white people are not allowed to own land in the same way as the locals. Ditte Engelbrecht has worked up a strong network of people who step up and help her both in Denmark and in Kenya. “There is no way I could have pulled this through if not for my network ”she explains.

However, there are some stepping stones from getting the idea of an orphanage to actually making it real. “It is not like you can walk into a library and find a book about how to start an orphanage in Africa.

I have to learn everything from scratch.  I am only 23 and I know there is a lot of experience that I simply don’t have yet”, Ditte Engelbrecht says about her situation.

Besides from building a strong network along the way she also learned the importance of trusting her gut. She experienced the hard way how seemingly nice people in reality only tried to get a hold of her hard earned money. “You have to let things take its time and trust your gut feelings. If you don’t then it is almost impossible to get things done”, she says.

Cars and Barking Dogs

Ditte Engelbrecht has learned a lot since she made that phone call to ICYE. Not everyone supports her mission of helping children in Kenya. Dealing with critics has become a part of her routines.

Ditte spent two years (2016 and 2017) fundraising money for the land she wanted to buy. At the same time she went to school, in the evenings she studied the legislation in Denmark and Kenya. To make ends meet she worked night shifts cleaning trains. Working days that exceeded 12 hours was normal.

“There is a saying that A dog don’t bark at parked cars. A dog only barks at cars that are moving and going somewhere.

The point is that if you want to make a change you must be prepared for people who disagree with you.

But it´s ok because if you hear the ‘barking dogs’ it only mean you are moving. To take a risk you have to move!” Ditte Engelbrecht explains how she deals with critics.

I do not worry about what people say or think. There will always be people with opinions just as I have mine

She has met adversary in Denmark as well as in Kenya. However when she encounter harsh words and resistance she turns her focus on the positive instead. Such as the new well they are digging or the vegetable garden. All the little things that are small victories to her.

“I do not worry about what people say or think. There will always be people with opinions just as I have mine”, she says.

Fucking up is part of life

At the orphanage Ditte Engelbrecht and her staffers will do their very best to help the kids to stay in school, of the drugs and offer them a safe haven. “At my place they will not get kicked out if they do not do well in school or get into trouble. Sometimes they fuck up but that is part of life. We are there to help them.”

Sometimes they fuck up but that is part of life

Her local Lions Club in Denmark s a big supporter. They have helped her raising a lot of money by inviting her to speak at arrangements.

She hopes to teach the children that it pays off to have dreams and believe in them. Leading by example Ditte Engelbrecht does not let anyone tell her things are impossible.

“So many people have told me I could not do this and look at how far I have come!

It is important to understand that we all have the possibilities to follow our dreams. You just have to find the right way to do it and be willing to work for it”.

Three Things about courage you can learn from Ditte Engelbrecht:

  1.  Hear ‘yes’ when somebody says ‘no’. If somebody says it can’t be done – try it anyway. They said she was a dreamer – but this month she started digging the well at her land in Kenya.
  2. Don’t overthink things. You risk talking yourself out of a good idea. Ditte could only speak a few words of English. But she stepped on that plane to Kenya anyway.
  3. The day has 24 hours use them well. Back in Denmark Ditte went to school during the day, in the afternoon she studied Kenyan legislation and in the evening she cleaned trains to get the money she needed. Have the courage to choose hard work instead of TV and social media.

If you want to book Ditte Engelbrech as a speaker you can contact her on info@makethemsmilekenya.org

Stay tuned. In the next article in this series I will interview  Heidi Droescher about being one of only 130 special Tony Robbins trainer.

You can also read the  previous article about Fatima Al Zahraa – one of the most brilliant scientist in Scandinavia.

All pictures in this artricle are from Ditte Engelbrecht Sorensen

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