10 years ago Simmie Issenberg’s life was changed forever. She planned a trip to Kenya to help impoverished children. She figured if she could change just one child’s life for the better, then she will have succeeded. During that trip she fell in love with the children of rural Rescue Center– All 26 of them!
Countless trips later, she has earned four names. The children call her “Auntie Simmie” or “Mum,” the respected patrons of the Kiserian community call her “Mama Africa,” but she is called “Mama Simba” by those who have inflicted harm among the children in one way or another. Simba means lion. It is a good name. She fiercely protects her cubs.
In return, Simmie has been rewarded by the enormously progressive changes in the children whose short lives had previously been consumed with neglect, abuse and emotional trauma. She has witnessed the bright spirit of these children as they heal and begin to thrive. Even more inspiring is the strong sense of community the children have cultivated.
They take care of one another, as a family should.
Simmie now refers to Kenya as her ‘home-away-from-home’. It has not been an easy road. Corruption and selfishness have limited the amount of progress she could make at the Rescue Center. But where there is an obstacle there is always a way around.
Simmie has learned to work within a convoluted system, how to be extremely resourceful and assertive while maintaining her integrity. She is known in the markets as a force to be reckoned with, as she is intolerant of corruption and refuses to be exploited.
In early 2013, WatotoWorld was given land by our extremely loyal Kenyan friend, Tony. We have built a new home on that land, away from the corruption and difficulties that plagued the previous home.
Simmie understands that the joy, heartbreak, frustration and cultural differences are simply part of the process. She now has a network of people that can be trusted and the perspective that comes from knowing the territory. Simmie’s focus can now stay on the future- building a new community to better serve these children.
"On one particular visit...a teacher came out to greet me and said 'We always know when Auntie Simmie is here, because the children carry themselves with pride and confidence. Their mood is lifted and they are all so happy.'
I asked this teacher what it is like when I am not here, and she responded simply 'The children pray for you.''
Simmie’s love for the children is everlasting. The children are more resilient than you can imagine. They are brimming with kindness and good humor. They are worth every moment. In fact, Simmie's entire immediate family have also fallen in love with the children and are deeply involved.
Simmie’s departures back to Boston always seem to come too quickly but they are never permanent. Mama Simba always returns shortly to the watoto (children). And she is always greeted with enormous smiles and big hearts.