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The Reality of Orphans in Rural Kenya

Matunda Nyanchama

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

August 27, 2009

In my last trip home, I visited orphaned children from Nyamira Orphan Project (of which I am part sponsor) as they were about to close school. It was fun seeing them, healthier and jollier than the last time I saw some of them last December. Here they were with other children in a school environment, with food shelter and clothing; and an opportunity to learn.

Nyamira Orphan Project was conceived back in 2008 following recognition of the growing number of orphans[1] in Nyamira area. The project leadership, of which I am part, resolved to put in place a program to start supporting the neediest cases. We challenged ourselves and came up with the meagre resources that have started these children off!

Our view is simple: every child deserves a chance to take a stab at life and explore his/her potential; society has the responsibility to ensure this potential is realized and that the results/benefits are used for the common good. Moreover, when we don’t nurture these children, there is an opportunity cost: we lose something whose value we don’t know!

Who knows which of these children could become tomorrow’s teacher, scientist, political leader, pastor, etc.? Unfortunately, the needs exceed the means available!

As we visited with them (it was late in the evening) we talked and took turns taking photographs; and yes, the children also took pictures as seen below.

Some of the Orphans in School

Some of the Orphans in School

The children watch as we leave

The children watch as we leave

…….

Two days later, we (from Nyamira) were invited to attend a meeting dealing on issues of orphans and widows. Our objective was to learn how they are dealing with these issues, the challenges they face and how they are overcoming them.

Children from there orphan facilities attended, along with their benefactors, caregivers and mentors.

At the meeting, we listened as the children sang of their dreams of becoming “something” or “somebody”: a teacher, doctor, pilot, farmer, and scientist! They sang some more and asked that they be heard and implored: haki za watoto (rights of children)! They sang songs, poetry, talked and played, all expressing the need to be given a chance on this earth.

When the widows turn came, they spoke about tribulations they faced even as they grieved their departed husbands. Many of these tribulations tag on “cultural practices”. One spoke how her brothers in-law continued to frustrate the management of her family resources; resources she needed to educate her children.

In her case, they depended on earnings from the tea crop. However, since the death of her husband, the brother in-law is the one who gets the money and decides what portion to pass on to her. And yet she did all the farm work: weeding for the tea and picking leaves on a regular basis. A lot of women in the audience nodded in agreement suggesting it was common practice in the area!

Do I hear widows’ rights[2]!

Bomachoge Orphans & Widows

Bomachoge Orphans & Widows

…….

Later, we toured some of the facilities where many of these orphaned children live and school.

In one, a person has converted his homestead to house and feed orphans. His compound has been demarcated with two dorms on extreme ends: one for boys and the other for girls. The children work together as kids in a family, with the older ones cooking and younger ones helping with other chores. They study in the local primary schools.(Click here for details of the home and needs.)

Among the older kids was a high school student holidays; he had come through the home.

In another facility a family has converted its three bed roomed house into a place (home and school) for orphans. The family housed more than tens of children at any one time. Classes are on the outside and built of logs. More than 120 students (mostly orphans or without one parent) study there!

As with the first facility, the children are taught to work hard and share chores, with older ones taking on harder tasks and caring for younger ones. The family teaches them, mainly in English and Kiswahili, saying that this is the future of Kenya. Indeed, their children are a mix of Kenyan ethnicities from the region: Kisii, Maasai, Kipsigis, and Luo.

I asked what really motivates them to do such weighty things when their children have matured and gone their way.

The answer: it started with one needy case, discovered during community outreach by one of their sons. The boy could not understand why life had to be so cruel for other children on meeting the child. He promptly asked his parents whether the kid could move into his room, now that he was in high school.

As they raised the child, they realized the extent of need and slowly started accepting more and more, one at a time! And see where they are today! And with that, many children will have a chance at life.

Consider the process of accepting a new child into the home: get them cleaned up, given fresh clothing, get them medical attention (many arrive in unhealthy condition and usually worm treatment), introduce them to other children and find space to accommodate them!

Only people with BIG hearts can do this. If only all of us were born thus!

Time did not permit us to tour the third facility. However, we have promised to visit them in the future.

…….

Please note that all the facilities indicated they received NO support from Constituency Development Funds (CDF) even in the face of their needs!

CDF committees and government MUST hear the cry of the children: haki za watoto! Indeed, if these children are our future, we should do better in investing in their development and growth.

The alternative is worse: project 20 years from now and you have the children, then grown men and women, with no employable skills or ability to earn a living. And they will have needs (food, shelter and clothing) like everyone else else! And you have a real difficult social problem at hand!

Granted, many CDF committees support orphans, especially with respect to school fees in secondary (not primary) schools, yet there is greater need in primary school level. Moreover, there is a lot of competition for the little money allocated. In some cases children are supported only partially through their secondary-school education. In some cases, awards are given based on “who you know” in the CDF committee!

…….

Later at the meeting site, I was approached by some women who had been at the meeting. They spoke of money coming to the local DC’s office; money meant for orphans and widows. And they spoke about the dubious ways in which the money was dispersed. They swore that they knew people that were neither widows nor orphans that received the money. They also thought that much of the money was skimmed as it tricked down to “recipients”!

I asked that they raise the matter with their local MP[3] when one was elected and their jaws dropped! From the reactions one could get a sense of the degree of trust and confidence they had in their elected officials: very little!

Then I suggested that they formally raise a complaint with the DC’s office, send copies to their elected representatives and the press. I hope they did this!

…….

Seeing the numbers of orphans who turned up in the Bomachoge event and thinking of the situation back in Nyamira, sent the reality home: the orphan problem in rural Kenya is bigger than acknowledged. It is much bigger than the resources and the means of the people driving it. It is NOT getting the attention it deserves and requires leadership focus to deal with it!

Should you want to support any of these orphan initiatives, drop me an email message at matunda@gmail.com. Your support will go a long way towards shaping a needy child’s future. A child’s full-year tuition & board in the area is between $300~$400, which is less than $1/day if you chose to sponsor one such child.

…….

Matunda Nyanchama is an Information Security professional based in Canada. Read more of his opinion at www.matunda.org.


[1] One of the children was orphaned following the post-election clashes of 2008.

[2] In 2005 Kenyans rejected a constitution that substantially enhanced property rights for women. These rights clash with some traditional practices such as women inheriting land from their parents! The same rights exist in the Bomas Draft!

[3] It was by-election time then. Indeed, on our way out, we met lawyer Joash Maangi’s entourage has he traversed the constituency fighting for ODM nomination. Engineer Ogari (ODM) later won the by election.

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