Posted on December 14 2017
Anyone remember the Mabu billboards back in the day? Mabu was my previous label/store and Susan Saleeba was our model. She looked (and still looks!) great in that gear. But now she’s living a very different kind of life. She splits her time between South Freo and Kenya, where she’s set up a school and orphanage.
Nakuru Hope is the charity Pekho is now happy to support, and the tireless Susan remains a great inspiration. In this frenzied Christmas month, she’s a great reminder of what this whole love and giving thing is really all about.
Happy Birthday for Christmas Day, Susan!
You had two weeks to set up your first school in Kenya. What does it take to do that?
A lot of patience, a lot of determination, a lot of guts. I had 2 weeks left on my visa when I decided I was going to do something to meet the need I saw. I met Christopher, now my school director, who guided me through the Kenyan ways. We found an old run down house on the border of the slums. Then we met with some women we wanted to help – sex workers, alcoholics, the ones in dire need. We had to teach them Swahili, then English, and then dressmaking so they would have a tool to earn their own living.
We converted the lean-to garage into a pre-school. In two weeks we had 50 women and 30 kids in our care. I got back to Perth and it hit me: ‘What have I done? How am I going to support this?’
How did you?
I fundraised like I’ve never fundraised before. I made a promise that 100% of everything donated would go to the needs of the kids and families. Everything is voluntary. I have a board but no committee, it’s just me. WA people are very generous but I compete with the big charities so it can be hard to lift the profile. But as of now I have 300 kids at school, look after 400 families, and I’m responsible for 50 orphans. So I keep going!
What good things have happened along the way.
I was in Kenya once and my car got stolen. That was good. I collected the insurance, bought a little bomb, and with the rest of the money bought my first block of land right in the heart of the slums. I started putting crops on that land, so we had food. I’ve since built my own school, which opened in 2014, and we have a farm and orphanage too.
What do you need?
That one big word – money. I have so many wonderful offers of clothing and books, but the reality is that it costs to get them there. I prefer to buy over there to suit the need.
And volunteers. They bring so much to the life of a child. It shows them that there are people that care. Each volunteer has something to give, even if they just sit and chat to a child or hold their hand. Children don’t get the love like our kids do. A mother’s got 11 kids; she doesn’t sit each of them on her lap and tell them a story.
What does Christmas look like for you?
The kids in Kenya take a little video on the phone and Chris gets a cake and the orphans celebrate my birthday. I look forward to my video – that’s the greatest gift that I can be given. My mind is also on our food parcels. I like to know that when I’m sitting down with my family for a meal, the families in Kenya that receive food parcels will also be sitting down with food.
Does giving mean something different now?
As a mum you want to give your children everything. I don’t believe that now. I think sitting down sharing a meal and just being there for each other is more important. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you need to show each other you love them.
Describe your personal style
Eclectic! Once upon a time I was married to an architect in Cottesloe. I thought I had to dress in black with diamonds and my hair pulled back. Now I wear so much colour it’s unbelievable, mismatched clothes – whatever makes me happy. I live on the bread line, and everything is for the charity. I do have an op shop (at the Wool Stores) so I have a nice array of shoes to chose from! I always wear heels with a pair of jeans, but I’m 66 so it bloody near kills me.
What do you want more of?
I’d like more people to take a compassionate journey, rather than another trip to France. I did, and now I know I’m making an enormous difference - contributing to the world rather than a 5-star hotel.