Established in 2009 by Layla Yahya and Nawal Simpson, Bigger Heart is a Wales-based charity organisation that works to enrich the lives of children, young people and vulnerable members of the community.
Our mission is to empower the lives of these individuals, ensuring brighter futures for all, in spite of their backgrounds.
My name is Nawal Simpson and I am a university student. I am a co-founder of Bigger Heart Zanzibar and am the daughter of Layla Yahya.
It began with a visit to Zanzibar when I was seven years old. My mum and I went to visit family and explore her hometown. One day, we visited Kizimkazi Village for a dolphin tour, it was my first time and I was unsure what to expect.
When boarding the boat to go on the dolphin tour, I noticed a few young children on the beach selling beautifully handcrafted items such as carved dolphin necklaces and other items.
I was amazed at their skills, however, I also wondered why they weren’t in school as they seemed to be around the same age as me or a little older at the time. I had previously seen other children attending school earlier in the day and had thought that it was strange. I noticed that the children’s clothes were also torn and that they didn't have footwear.
Mum decided to talk to them, and we discovered that they were unable to afford the school uniforms, let alone even attend school. They instead had to make a living by selling items so that they could help their families. After hearing this story, I wanted to show my support by purchasing some of the necklaces that they were selling. I really admired their work but I couldn’t shake the feeling of sadness that remained. The fact that they did not have the opportunity to go to school made me think twice.
After this experience, I wanted to see the local school called Kizimkazi. A few of the children volunteered to take us to the school. When we arrived, I have to admit, I was quite surprised. The classrooms did not have any doors or windows and at the time, there were some rooms without roofs. The stark difference between what I was used to seeing at school and what I had just witnessed at the time was something shocking.
The floors were hard, and I sat with some of the school children to see what it felt like. After a few minutes. I grew uncomfortable and felt bad for those who had to sit there for most of the day. There were many potholes in the floors and the classrooms were dusty. The students in the classrooms without roofs had to also endure the hot sun as well as rain that would soak the classrooms.
It was not what I had expected at the time, and as a 7 year old, it was a lot to process. I had also heard that some children would attend without breakfast and would survive on one meal a day. I wondered how they were able to concentrate, especially with the climate.
Later in the day, I had the chance to play with some of the children, and also managed to learn a few more words in Swahili. As we played, I saw that some children weren’t wearing any shoes. This was also saddening, many of the children had to walk long distances to get to school, and doing it barefoot made it even more challenging, especially in the heat.
I asked my mum if I could give one of the children a pair of my shoes, as well as some of the toys that I had brought along with me. I was amazed at how they all fought over the toys, and how ecstatic they were upon receiving them. Overtime, I started to donate other useful items such as stationary and clothes. This led to others making donations that included these items and first aid kits etc.
It really was an eye-opening experience, knowing that there were children out there having to do difficult tasks, fetching heavy buckets of water, being responsible for their younger siblings, and finding ways to support themselves. It was all new to me.
After the visit to Zanzibar, I decided to share the story with my primary school ‘St Thomas’.
I am honestly glad I did because with the help of my primary school, the charity has grown. There is a Wales Africa Community Link and St Thomas library has also been a massive part of this ongoing journey.