A schoolboy from Kenya who won the hearts of Maitland people with his courage after he survived horrific burns in his village as a young boy has undergone his 18th and final operation to receive a new left ear.
Safari Kimanthi, 19, told this week of his ordeals – and of his gratitude to all the people and organisations who have helped him to lead a new life.
And he spoke of his two overriding ambitions: to try to give something back to everyone who has helped him in Australia – and to one day aid the people in his poverty-wracked Kenyan village of Kasaala.
When he arrived in Australia many years ago, at aged six Safari was malnourished and unable to eat or smile because of the damage to his face suffered in the burns accident.
When he was back in Kenya between between operations, Safari’s mother was killed in 2001 after being bitten by a snake.
This led to Project Snakebite, organised by the Rotary Club of Maitland Sunrise.
Throughout his ordeal, Safari has been supported by various charities in this area and around Australia, including the Rutherford Lioness Club.
In 2011 he was generously offered a four-year scholarship with St Philips Christian College School and after spending one year at its Gosford campus, he moved to its Cessnock school.
“I don’t know why I have been so fortunate, being helped by so many people in Australia, when so many in life have been through far worse times,” Safari said.
“There must be a reason for me having survived.
“I don’t know what it is, but I do believe in God and I believe I have been looked after,” he said.
“The doctors in Australia have done so much to help me recover when once everyone thought there was no chance I would survive.
“The big thing for me now is not to waste my time thinking too much about my experience – but to try to help people and to give something back to the community that has given so much to me.”
Safari loves mechanical plant and he has started a course at TAFE which he hopes will lead to a diesel mechanic apprenticeship in Australia.
He is also working extremely hard at school in the hope of extending his visa.
“Where I come from in Kenya, life is very hard for most people,” he said. “There is so much opportunity for people in Australia compared to back home.
“I can see why so many people want to call Australia home.”
People in his home village had no water, electricity and not enough food.
“While I am here in Australia I want to give somethin back to the people and to one day have the opportunity of helping those in my home village,” he said.
“I will always be grateful for the things I have been given – and trying to help others is the best way for me to show it.”