- Published Date
Read about the journey which has lead to the creation of MJL, and why, in spite of so many initial obstacles and crises, we now have faith that Everland Children's Home is destined to succeed!
From June 25th, 2009, like many others around the world, we became grief-stricken for many months. We knew that in order to survive the heartache, we all needed to transform our grief into something lasting and tangible but we had no idea how to go about this, or where to start. All that had happened had been such a shock that so many of us felt helpless and often inconsolable. Indeed, it took a long time to gain enough strength to think positive, let alone to dream.
On 29th January 2011, our founding director had something firmly placed on her heart, but it seemed too big and too impossible, especially given that she had no contacts and no experience in the area for which this project might happen. The vision was to build an orphanage in the Third World or in Eastern Europe, in Michael’s memory. Everyone who knows of Michael knows that he adored children and always wanted the best for them, at whatever cost. It seemed so perfect then, to build something lasting that would not only give fans a chance to participate in something positive, but would change and transform the lives of needy children for years to come, and would act as a lasting legacy for Michael and all that he stood for.
But Dee wasn’t quite sure where to start. She had never been to the Third World, but had seen pictures of the poorer areas which would always leave her restless and wanting to do more. Liberia, Romania and Kenya were all on her heart, but even making as decision as small as this was difficult, because choosing one inevitably meant turning away from another. She called the embassy for the Ivory Coast to see if they had more information on transport and travel into an area where Michael had been crowned ‘King Sani’, thinking that this might be an ideal place to begin some research, but they couldn’t understand and passed the phone to several people before she was eventually strongly advised not to go out there at all due to unrest in that area. She had no idea how to make trustworthy contacts in these countries, let alone how to find land and to build on legally and without any objections. But she couldn’t get the vision out of her mind and felt restless.
On 23rd February 2011, Dee met up with a friend for a drink at a local café. It was at this meeting that she mentioned the vision that had been placed her my heart. Here friend explained that she had a friend, Sheila, who was out in Kenya, doing voluntary work out there, and Dee asked if she might put her in touch, not realising just how fortuitous this would be.
On 4 March 2011, Sheila got in touch. She had just returned from Kenya and informed Dee that she had been helping at a children’s home out there. She told of needy children, mainly orphans, living in a small tin shack next to an abattoir. “They have land and plans for a proper building but no money,” Sheila said. Dee could hardly believe what she was hearing. Here was a place with very needy children who clearly needed a proper home, and they had land; two whole acres of land! Not only this, but it seemed like a miracle that in such a short space of time she had been connected with a lady who knew the area, the right people, and the ideal plot for a project such as this. As with many Third World countries, Kenya can be a very dangerous place if you don’t know where you are going or who you are dealing with, but Sheila could not only vouch for the people, having stayed with them several times for long periods, but could also vouch for their genuine needs.
However, there was an unforeseen problem - and it was one of many we were to encounter along the way. Whilst Sheila was very keen to work with us on the basis that the orphanage would be built in Michael’s memory, on 8 March 2011 the pastor of the church that manages the Children’s Home declined the offer on the basis that he feared dedicating it to a ‘pop star’ might affect their reputation with other funders. Moreover, and possibly due to the fact that Michael is considered a dancer and secular star, they were under the impression that he was a ‘devil worshipper’. This, of course, couldn’t have been any further from the truth, but it is, we are told, an established belief in some communities over there.
At this point, Dee almost lost all hope of the project being completed in Kenya but, with Sheila’s encouragement, she determined to send across as much useful information on Michael’s life that she could possibly collate. She spent much of the day compiling and sending videos, pictures and information pertaining to Michael’s humanitarian work, especially that in Africa, and his deep Christian faith. Dee's friend Debbie had compiled much of the latter as a resource on one particular website, ‘Reflections on the Dance’, and that became extremely useful in order to send a collection of invaluable material quickly and without delay. However, she wasn’t holding out much hope. Would they read it? Were their beliefs so ingrained that their minds would not be changed no matter what material was provided?
On 15th March 2011, Pastor Paul Kingori got in touch. He had been through all the material, apologised for any offence and what’s more, he had completely changed his viewpoint about Michael, and had realised that he was a good man of faith who had spent much of his life not just entertaining, but caring for others. Not only did Paul confirm that he was happy to work with us, but he was now willing to have the orphanage built in Michael’s memory, too.
On 13 March 2011, Dee realised that there was another Children’s Home with exactly the SAME name, in the same area of Kenya. It has a website and seemed to be well run. Realising that this would cause confusion once we began to procure donations, she suggested that the Children’s Home might be called ‘Everland’ to save any confusion and - they loved it! Wheels were at once set in motion to secure 'Everland' as the official name of the orphanage. It just seemed so perfect.
Even more uncanny was the fact that the chocolate Labrador that Michael bought for his children four years previously is called 'Kenya' and the dog they had out in Kenya is called Wendy - the very nickname given to Dee by Michael himself . It all seemed as if this project was destined and meant to happen.
On 25 March 2011, Pastor Paul of the Children’s Home in Kenya agreed to a host of conditions and ideas that Dee had been working on, including the placement of a plaque to dedicate the building in Michael’s memory, a road sign on the approach to the building, and a couple of posters showing his previous visits to Africa inside, as well as the opportunity for donors to visit.
Five days later, on 30th March 2011, Mimi Lola, the brilliant artist responsible for the paintings in the book ‘Ever After’ agreed to work on a logo for us and to be our official artist for the project.
What’s more, on 1st April 2011, a man whose young inspirational late daughter Dee has written about after she founded a school in Uganda before she tragically passed away, put her in contact with the web designer of their own legacy project, and the designer offered to do this very website for no charge other than the hosting fees.
On 22 April 2011, Good Friday, Dee wired across the full fees for the architect’s bill. No building could begin until they had some drawings. The code she was given to pass to Kenya in order for them to collect the money at their end comprised of just a few digits, and right in the middle was a consecutive ‘777’, something which Michael often wore on his shirt collar and, in Christian terms, is symbolic of perfection or wholeness. It was difficult not to wonder if all these coincidences were coincidences at all, or if God was urging Everland on, not wanting this project to fail.
Dee spent several months working on the material and design and then waiting for the website to be completed, she put together a strong and commited team who would each prove invaluable in the testing months to follow. Mimi, an incredible artist from California whose paintings of Michael are full of innocence and beauty, was the first to join the team, having already designed our logo. She would later offer all proceeds from her paintings to go towards building Everland. Karen from Hawaii proved invaluable time and again through good times and the bad. Orginally taken on as our 'prayer warrior', we soon realised how much we needed prayer. But aside from prayers, Karen put herself forward for just about every task necessary, from making unique Legacy Bracelets for which she even refused to accept postage costs, to contructing a blog, to designing a poster and special donor cards which would enable people to donate to Everland on behalf of a friend, Karen's tireless dedication proved indispensible. Another team member who joined us, initially not knowing how she would fit in was Susie. A lifelong optician, she should really have been in PR, since her dedication and hard work at promoting the website and Facebook Page have known no bounds. Once we had been stuck at under 100 people. It wasn't long after Susie joined us that the Facebook Page numbers increased to over 500. Then we have Tori, our secretary and joint bank signatory, who is wise beyond her years and whose ideas and input are invalauble. And Lisa is is incredible. She is responsible our beautiful You Tube Page and has constructed and edited the most wonderfully heartfelt videos. Each person in the team has proved invaluable and indespensible, and we have grown in friendship as well as commitment to see this project through to its conclusion. However, more valuable than anything have been our donors - those who have believed in this from the outset.
Our website was launched on 7th August at 7pm (GMT). In just one month, we had collected over £2000 for the building! By mid October and mid-trial, kind-hearted fans from 15 different countries had raised a total of £2367.80 ($3717.45)! That's £647 ($1049) for the land excavation and £1721 ($2668) for the digging of the trenches and the concrete foundations.
However, all wasn't plain sailing, and little did we know just what we would come against. Firstly, the website - whilst done for free and spectacular on completion - took seven months to complete during which time Pastor Paul was urging us to move faster because they faced closure of their current home, so there was a lot of stress from the outset. Then, due to a glitch on Facebook, on launching the site, we were not able to promote the link. Each time we tried to insert the link to the website, it would say, 'this website is spammy or abusive' - not a good promotion for a new site! This was eventually rectified after the team sent numerous emails to Facebook, but then we faced problems with the website's server. In the first five weeks, the site went down at least five times, and always during important occasions, such as the initial launch, Michael's birthday, and when a newsletter would go out. So we had to transfer to a new and reputable provider. For a while after this, all seemed well. Donations tailed off in spite of having more people on the Facebook Page, but this was to be expected with the trial of the doctor accused of manslaughter taking place throughout October 2011.
Then, just a couple of days before the trial began, when emotions were already high, we got a devastating blow from Pastor Paul Kingori in Molo. He had decided to pull out of the project in spite of having seen how much work and effort had been put into the website, into fundraising initiatives, and into raising over £2000 for the building the children so desperately needed. You can see the full story of why he made the decision here but suffice to say that our differences became irreconcilable and we could no longer give to a project that refused to honour Michael's legacy, nor trust someone who had entered into a formal agreement only to backtrack months later, having used the architect's plans to forstall the closure of the home, but having no intention to honour his word, all on the basis of those around him who had condemned Michael and clearly believed the worst without any evidence whatsoever.
However, by mid-October and in spite of many tears, much stress one extremely worn out and deflated team, we had managed to find a wonderful pastor of a church in Monrovia, Liberia. Not only was he fully in support of our aims and objectives, but his whole church were delighted to hear about the vision, too. We went about drafting an announcement letting donors and supporters know exactly why we could not allow their hard-earned money to go into the project in Kenya, and set about detailing the new and exciting plans now emerging in Liberia. Here was a pastor eager and excited about the vision, who was not afraid of mentioning Michael's name. Not only this, but many of us already know of Michael's song 'Liberian Girl', not to mention his being crowned a king by an African tribe in the now sadly war-torn area of the Ivory Coast, which neighbours Liberia. With children, some as young as seven, being recruited for this war as 'child soldiers', and with many others arriving into Liberia from those stricken areas, with nothing, it truly is the perfect place for Everland, and maybe, just maybe, this is where it was destined to be all along.
Two acres of land, waiting for a miracle to happen!
So, we move forward, worn down emotionally and yet excited to see how this project will progress. When there is little else that can go wrong, there is only one way to go, and that is towards success. Our Karen always ends her emails with the words, 'For Jesus, for Michael and for the children' and this is what we bear in mind as we strive to continue Michael's legacy of love in his absence.
Reverend Dekontee shows us the land in Caldwell, around ten miles from Monrovia, Liberia, where Everland will be built