ICN Archive - 6 May 2000. It's a long way from her flat in leafy Regents Park in Central London to the desert borders of north western Kenya - but that's where pensioner Peggy Campbell is setting out for shortly. The journey is one she's become very familiar with. Each year seamstress Peggy Campbell takes equipment and materials to the mission centre at Nariokotomo, and runs classes in sewing and handicrafts for local women.
"The workshop that we have established enable women to become self-sufficient and earn their own living," she explained.
Peggy made her first trip to Africa in 1996, soon after her husband died. For years she had been working with the homeless in London, and fundraising for the Catholic charity New Ways, which runs a school, health programmes, medical centres and many other projects on Nairobi and out-stations around the country. "After reading and hearing so much about it I wanted to see things for myself," she said.
Once she got there she took to the people immediately. "I think they liked me too," she said. "Most volunteers are much younger but I think it's nice, especially for the children and elderly, to see someone my age taking an interest in them."
Peggy also realised that her years of experience running her own business as a curtain-maker meant that she had many useful skills to offer. Conditions are very primitive. But Peggy is able to teach sewing and handicraft skills with the most basic equipment - including manual sewing machines. In the villages Peggy said people live in dirt huts. At the mission centre limited electricity is supplied from solar panels and batteries. There are outside latrines. Water comes from deep wells and is rationed.
"The climate is hot but wonderful," Peggy said. "I love to get up early and watch the desert sunrise. Situations can change so suddenly. On the way to the mission there's a dirt track crossing a dried-up riverbed. One day thunder began to roll and the ground shook. Suddenly there was this roaring sound and we saw a silver line snaking towards us. It was the river! Within minutes the bed had filled up and we couldn't drive over for days."
Living in Africa has made Peggy see life differently. "Things we take for granted like buttons or tin cans are really valuable there. People walk miles a day just to buy basics. Children at school treasure their one jotter and pencil."
Helping the women to learn a trade and set up business means that they will be able to improve the standard of living for themselves and their children. On this visit, Peggy will see how the students have progressed and bring in women from other regions to join her workshops.
On Saturday, 3 June, a benefit is taking place at Our Lady's Hall in Falkland Road, Kentish Town, North London, to support her work. Starting at 7pm, there will be an auction, raffle, music and food. Funds raised will be used to fund the trip and buy equipment and materials.