Wednesday 1st February 2012

Well this will be a day I will never forget!! For all the wrong reason. One of very mixed emotions of sheer feeling of despair to wanting to burst at how proud I was of the local school’s children and Footprints at their debate, poems and the play we practiced – Wombat Stew. The village school kids LOVED it.

Kerry had had a visit from a lady on Saturday regarding the placement of 5 children who’s mother had died just before Christmas. She wanted Kerry to go and see with the village chief the situation. So the village chief arrived here and we set off this morning. We drove to Shimba village where we picked up the lady’s husband Titus, who was the cousin of the woman who died, and there the story began of these poor, poor children’s little lives of hell.
We drove several kilometres into the hills, the car had to be parked on the dirt road and we walked maybe 10 minutes along a track where we saw a mud hut and a mound of dirt which obviously was the mother’s grave. Kerry insists she sees where the children were living prior to the death of their mother and where they are living now. Coconut trees were outside the mud hut with the knotches in them for the tapper to climb and harvest the palm wine. As the story unfolded the mother lived a terrible life. 5 children to 5 different fathers, sold menazi (the palm wine) to live off and virtually that was all she lived on. She prostituted herself to get food for the children when she could, but basically the children fended for themselves living on coconuts and whatever they could find. No one knew any of the fathers and she had given birth to all 5 children in the hut. Kerry tried to ascertain if their births had ever been registered, or even immunized as that is how they find the birth dates from the local village clinic, or if the mother had a death certificate. As the mother slept on a bed that only had boards on it and the children – all 5 of them on a floor no bigger than an average bathroom size at home, dirt with coconut husks for warmth or to lay on, and she was prostituting herself in the partition next door made me want to throw up. Then I saw the ‘kitchen’. Again I felt nauseous. I’ve witnessed while here the drunkenness of menazi and how it must just take away the daily pain of surviving but then some just live on it and then the drunken fights start all in front of the children.
Wife beating is still a problem here, not to mention the children.
We moved onto about 100 metres away another hut where the dead mother’s step brother and his wife were looking after 1 of the boys. They couldn’t feed themselves let alone another mouth. The step brother was addicted to menazi as well Titus said and drunkenness occurred every night. Titus had been monitoring the situation since the children were dispersed when the mother was found dead. She died of HIV aids. Titus had been paying for them to feed the boy, but the boy had told him he rarely received food. This also was the case at the next house we visited.
Another boy was living here with the mother’s other step brother who was willing to look after and raise him, as they had an orange crop of trees and a few cows, goats and chickens. The house was good by African standards when we went in, however Titus had been told by the stepbrother that having the boy there was causing ‘war’ between him and his wife. The wife had never liked his step sister (the boy’s mother) and didn’t want to take him. Titus had been giving her money to feed the boy milk every day from one of the cows, but the boy had told him he had never been given any since his mum died.

Her own children confirmed this. The boy was sent away to look after the cows at mealtimes and only got a minimum of rice and beans that was left over. The mother resented having him, and didn’t want him there. She appeared so lovely and happy when we met her, but that was the story. The chief also asked the boy when we went to school if this was true.
At the school (which was much nicer than the local school here at Magimboni), the 2 oldest boys were pulled out of class for us to see them. Poor little, scared darlings. My heart sank. Scared out of their wits at why they were being called to the headmistress’s office. It was obvious they thought they were getting a caning. It is hard to ask if they had been fed, as they are too scared to tell you no, but undernourishment was evident. What little darlings with such a horrible life to date. No emotion in their eyes, they were dead, just sorrow. To see the light in the children’s eyes here at Footprints, who all came from same and even worse situations, you know what a difference the basic human needs of life make. The school did not have a feeding program so each day no food for any of the children all day. The chief ascertained they hadn’t eaten for 2 days+. I doubt how they would have eaten at their mothers unless they got it themselves.
The chief’s sub chief Mary came with us – she turned up at the mother’s house when we got there.
She took a distinct liking to my bag and insisted she carried it everywhere. I didn’t think I was going to get it back LOL. She was a darling. Next we went to another area of the Shimba Hills, even more remote, to see where the other 2 boys and their elder sister were living. The sister was taking care of them, with her husband. The cow was starving to start with, and such stunted growth. It could hardly stand up, and then there were the starving dogs and cat. You just felt so sick in the stomach. The chooks sat in the bowls used to eat and scavenged for water after the sister ‘washed’ some dishes in the outside kitchen – the dirt outside the hut, where the cat tried to get water as well, while the mangy dogs tried to find any source of water they could. The local village elder also came for the ‘conference.’ The 2 boys were brought out scared out of their wits and pushed in front of us. Don’t know if they’d seen white people before but their eyes were dead as well. They didn’t go to school. They looked around 4 – 6 years old, but so hard to say. The older two looked around 7-9 but again hard to say. We looked at where they were sleeping, and it was a mud storeroom, but it did have a bed with a filthy blanket on it – no mattress as usual – the 2 of them in the bed with the kerosene, and water storage, dirt floor and filthy, as bad as the first boy’s place, however better than their mothers. The sister looked no more than 17 but she said she was 22, and she had a child of around 5, but hard to say.
Nobody had any idea how old the mother was. She was ‘married’ to a man there and his mother and grandmother also lived in this mud hut. None of them could feed the children or want them. They are treated no better than the cats and dogs scavenging around for food. One of the men went and climbed a coconut tree and cut us some fresh coconut for a drink of the fluid. Kerry gave hers to the youngest boy who literally just gulped it down, and then Patrick cut out the flesh for him. It was like watching a dog eat that hadn’t been fed for days. The same was with the other boy. After trying to find out more information, Kerry explained how she would go home and discuss and think, and decide if she would or could take any. It is like playing god. How I don’t know will I ever be able to say I’ll take this one or that one. I would need to take them all. The oldest boy was living with Titus’s mother – in her late 70’s. The mother had been using him as a delivery boy for the menazi and the buyers would force him to drink it, and whatever else, and he had become addicted to it as well. He may be only 14 or 15, but without seeing him it was too hard to judge. Titus had taken him from where the first house we visited and put him with his mother as they too were getting him drunk and then ‘bad things happen.’ Makes me wonder what those poor boys were exposed to. Anyway with a feeling of utter despair we headed back to Shimba village, where we bought battered potatoes for lunch and a coke.
We bought the coke from a stall, but they had no opener. (no screw tops here). Wade used his teeth to open them for us – hot of course as not electricity.
Leaving those kids was so hard, knowing that they would have to spend more time in that environment. They would never have sat on a toilet, or even know how, had a lolly, even a hug or a kiss. You just can’t believe it. Living like stray dogs. I just wish Umoja was already built and I could take them. So the mum had 6 children, who knows how many more, none of which knew their father – or even the mum would have for that matter.
Those children made me more determined to raise more and more money to get Umoja up and running as fast as I can. So here I am in Kenya – “Why are you wanting to build another orphanage?” I have been asked many times. Well let me tell you, in the last 3 weeks, that is now 13 children in crisis. And that is ONLY because people knew the orphanage was here. Titus is a school teacher so ‘well educated’ by Kenyan standards. He teaches at a special school funded by well wishers outside Kenya. For every child we saw today, there are thousands just like them. As we left more people were outside under a tree with a lady (hard to say how old she was) lying on a mattress.
She was in mourning as her son had died (teenager from aids) and everyone around them were preparing for his funeral. The body would have been there somewhere, but thankfully didn’t see it.
Talk about ripping your heart out. I cried and cried when I went to bed. To say my heart ached was an understatement. To see what these children here have become at this children’s home, from having love, food, a home, and an education (and they come from the same situation – worse for Bakari, Hadija and Hassan), to what the children’s lives we saw today are and will always be cannot affect you I can tell you that, and our kids whinge about everything and have everything. It is such an unjust world. Why were we born into an affluent society with such utter wastefulness and these children are born into this one. I just don’t understand the inequality of life. 1st of February 2012 has been etched in my memory forever. If ever I get down, or want to give up at what I am trying to do as well – build an orphanage, I will think of those children, to give me strength to carry on, and there will be so many hard times ahead for sure. The stories Hadija and Mary have told me about their lives prior to coming here – you can’t comprehend what these children have been through. They are alive in so many ways – their eyes, their personalities, their expressions. The children I saw today are dead inside; eyes so lifeless – that’s the only way I can explain it. No emotion, no expression, nothing.
By Cathy Booth

I cried a thousand tears today
For what I witnessed I’m here to say
A little life so hurt and destroyed
4 little men, still only little boys

I cried a thousand tears today
As I wished for their pain to go away
Living as dogs on a filthy dirt floor
And we say our country has so many poor

I cried a thousand tears today
Shook my head as I walked away
We have food on the table, clean clothes to wear
In their little eyes, only the depths of despair
I cried a thousand tears today
Held my breath and felt I should pray
How could I leave them alone without hope
And how often we say “this week I am broke”

I cried a thousand tears today
Let’s go party and be happy, yeh!
That is our life so full of fun and joy
These little boys have never even seen a toy

I cried a thousand tears today
Held my head in shame as my shoulders began to sway
Guilty that I’ve complained, that I’ve wanted more
But for what reason, only to spend it and to store

I cried a thousand tears today
Couldn’t look back as I moved slowly away
Etched in my mind forever to be
Those little boys are now a part of me

I cried a thousand tears today
At times my plan may go astray
To build a home for children to be loved
Please help it happen quickly dad from up above

I cried a thousand tears today
There is nothing more now, that I can say..

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Umoja Orphanage Kenya is a Project of the Sunrise Rotary Club Bundaberg 
RAWCS Project Number 51/2011-12
Umoja's founder Cathy is a member of Fitzroy Rotary Club District 9570

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