Jun 14 2012
by Brian McIver
Angela, seven, is bright and full of fun like any other youngster her age.
But her grin hides the horrors she experienced as a newborn.
Angela is one of many African tots whose lives have been saved and then turned around by Ann’s kids’ charity.
Ann said: “A dog was scavenging for food and found a newborn baby in rags buried in rubbish.
“The dog picked it up and carried it half a mile and put it in with its own puppies, where eventually somebody in the surrounding houses heard it crying in the middle of the night and called the Abandoned Baby Unit.
“The staff called me here to tell me they needed medical help for a baby which was really sick and the health costs were going to be huge and I said to take it to hospital.
“Her umbilica was full of maggots but she got the treatment she needed.
“I later brought her to my house in Kenya and my house girl, who has her own kids, bonded so well with her that she adopted her.
“Angela is now seven and is the most beautiful and bright little girl you could imagine. She’s really cute and calls me Sho Sho, which is Swahili for grandmother.
“That’s a really great ending. She was really, really close to dying but she is now this lovely, bright little girl. That’s what makes me feel very lucky to be able to help.”
Ann set up the Kenya Children’s Home 23 years ago after finding an abandoned baby on a bus in Nairobi in the middle of the night.
It is one of the main projects of her charitable organisation, the Balcraig Foundation.As well as regularly visiting the centre and being on the phone every week, the Stagecoach tycoon covers all the administration costs, so that any money raised goes straight to the home who care for 1700 every year.
The Abandoned Baby Unit help look after the frightening number of newborns dumped in toilets, buses, bins or by the side of the road.
Speaking of that first visit, Ann said: “I remember it vividly. We had just bought out Kenya Bus back in 1989 and there were a lot of problems with the company but one of the biggest was diesel theft so I decided to go there in the middle of the night and get a feel for what was going on.
“That’s when I found the first abandoned baby, just left on the bus with nothing on.
“It must have been three kilos, if that, and I was trying to find someone to ask what was going on then bumped into a cleaner, who said that it was nothing and it happened all the time.
“He was completely unperturbed and when I asked what he was going to do about it, he told me that if they had time in the morning they would take it to an orphanage then.
“I said, ‘No, you’re not,’ wrapped my scarf around it and took it to the orphanage, where there was a wee nun looking after 60 kids who had not been fed for two days because they had no funds.
“The worst thing about it all for me was that this bus company had been taking babies there for years and nobody had ever sent one bag of maize flour or potatoes to help out.
“So that’s how it all got started for me. Bang, this was Africa.”
From that moment on, Ann has been directly involved and rebuilt the entire facility, including the dedicated Abandoned Baby Unit, and they now care for kids from cradle to grave, including health and education costs.
The former nurse, who co-founded bus giants Stagecoach in 1980 with brother Brian Souter and remains a non-executive director of the firm, has a special attachment to the unit which can care for 40 babies at once and need £100,000 a year to keep going.
It’s for this facility that Ann is launching her latest charity venture.
She and some friends and family are hoping to raise thousands for the charity through a rally across Europe next month, and Ann said that every penny would help because their costs and numbers of kids are rising as a result of the famine in Kenya.
“The babies come in every week and have been left in rubbish dumps wrapped in rags, or in latrines, or left in poly bags by the side of the road or at our gates.
“There has been a real increase in the number of abandoned babies in the last 24 months and it is amazing in 2012 to think that people still have the horrendous choice of thinking it might be better to abandon a baby than try to take care of it.
“At the moment there is a very acute bacterial pneumonia out there and we have had 15 babies with that so far – that means our health care budget has been unbelievable. There is no NHS and private healthcare costs more in Kenya than it does here.”
Ann added: “It’s hard not to condemn the mother but you have to understand the levels of poverty they live in. It’s horrendous.
“I don’t think we can begin to imagine what these women go through to give up their babies. We have always been very lucky in this country that we don’t have to make these choices, because we would probably end up in the same place.”
Ann is asking Scots to get behind their efforts to raise funds through the 1500-mile Banger Rally.
She and a group of family and friends, including leading lawyer Angela McCracken, are taking part in a 13-year-old Vauxhall Astra.
After being talked into it by family as a good way to boost the charity, Ann has taken on the challenge with her team Gloag Girls, and is racing against a boys’ team from Backhouse Jones
solicitors and some other members of her family.
They are using a friendly rivalry to spur them on to the end of the race, from Lille in France down through the Alps and then across the Pyrenees to Barcelona. While Ann is not a woman who likes to lose at anything, she hopes both teams can raise as much money as possible for the charity.
“It’s a long drive and we’re all excited about taking part and enjoying the adventure of trying to make it all that way in the old car. I’m sure the girls’ team will win,” she laughed.
“If you give me £2 that £2 will go to a baby.
“And for me, value for money is key.