A continuation from Mama Mercy
Mama Mercy got a little distracted, as two roughly five-year-old boys walked into the office, one holding his falling shorts above the waist, with some mucus peeping from kingdom come. Mama Mercy got up and fastened the shorts and instructed the boy to blow his nose, which he did, leaving a line on his cheeks, and they run out playfully.
“Some of these kids are slow, you have to instruct them on what to do, and at times do it for them”. She said as she settled back on her armchair.
I sat there watching her, trying to imagine the many students sharing a book, but the picture was blurred. It was hard imagining the limited space carrying so many kids thirsty for some knowledge.
“What happened to the education center, because I can see you no longer run it?”
“In 2003, with the new government, free primary education was introduced, so anyone would afford to take their children to public schools. I sat down with a few heads of public schools so they could take the kids into their schools, and it was a successful negotiation. I gave out the desks I had bought to the schools and terminated the educational center, remaining with the Rehabilitation and home facilities only.” It had come as a relief to her, since her children would now get good quality education, and she was able to concentrate on mentoring and bringing up the orphans.
“How can you rate the performance of the children who have been through your hands, academically?”
“We have a very positive academic record…” She started. In 26 years, around 100 graduates have gone through her hands at the orphanage, and many others are through college and other technical institutions. Currently, according to her, 62 of her children are in university, 152 in high school and an estimate of 250 in primary school.
“That must be a huge number of kids, and the space here seems quite insufficient.” I wondered aloud.
“Not all those kids live here, some have homes but no means of paying their high school education, so I chip in and get sponsors for them. Am waiting with hope for the free secondary education, then I can only stress myself with getting sponsors for college and university.”
At this point I was really considering asking what kind of help she received from the government, but decided to hold on the questions for some later time. My watch clicked 4.30 Pm, the orange sun rays were now cutting through a tiny opening on the wall, indicating a magnificent sunset almost going down.
“Who pays for these kids’ school fees?”
“People of good will. It’s all magical, I just find all the kids in school somehow! I have faith that the class which cleared their primary education will all go to high school, and trust me they will, you will come here after January and confirm.” I looked into her eyes, and the tigress fire had been replaced by a fortress of faith embraced by hope.
“About the recently released KCPE results, how did your kids perform?”
Her top student managed 378 marks, followed by a 373 , a 359 and a 344. I couldn’t believe it. In total, she had 20 students with over 300 marks; and 22 students below 300 marks, with the lowest being 250 marks and a special case student, as she called him with 203.
“What do you mean special case?” I asked, imagining a disabled child.
“That kid was an inspiration to all of us, he used to go for the papers with sniffing glue in his hands, and still managed to get 203 marks!” She said, her face beaming with excitement. “He stayed in the streets all through the duration, and sadly after the exams he disappeared back there.”
She looked at me, I stared back, dumbfounded. My tongue was dry, so I just looked back.
“We will get him, somehow, and we will rehabilitate him. That’s a genius brain, if only talked to. He too deserves a chance; don’t you think so?” She asked.
“I will tell you what I think, that you are their angel…” I finally managed. She went on and on how such were the kids running around mugging people, not because they intended to go down that road, but because everyone believed they should go down that road.
“Tell me about the 2007 Post Election Violence, it was a tough time in the slums, how did you manage to get through it…” The topic was crying out for change.
Once again, she seemed lost in thoughts, and I regretted the question for a moment. What if I had opened a scab which was almost healing? What if she had some memory from back then she wanted forgotten?
“I will surprise you, we were very safe during the skirmishes, and there is not a single day we kept our gates closed in fear. During that duration, there is a lady who had managed to flee from Molo, a red-hot area, and she had run in the company of roughly 50 kids whose homes had either been burnt or the parents killed. I took them all in.
“Something else happened during that time, the people affected in Mathare came to seek refuge at Good Samaritan, and we took them in too. They stayed until they found a safe camp on the other side of Ruaraka, where we gave them mattresses and blankets.”
“You gave them the same blankets the kids were sleeping on…?” I cut her half way, then realized it was quite rude.
“No, no, there is a mzungu who heard their plight and gave me 70,000 shillings which I used to purchase the items. Generally, we never felt the effect of the violence, despite being in a very volatile area, it was all God’s doing if you ask me.”
“Tell me one thing, what really inspires you to do all this Mama Mercy? Not everyone wakes up and thinks, well, let me help out kids” I asked, quite innocently.
“First, its all about love my son, if you have love you can do anything. Second, the love God had for us inspires me a lot, if he sacrificed his son to help us then why should we not do the same…? Mother Theresa inspires me too, she helped the dying, took care of them and still managed, I think what I do is fun, because nobody is dying on me..!” She said, and laughed. I laughed a bit to not look rude, but not because I meant to.
“Have you ever had any deaths here…?”
“I made a vow with God that we should have zero deaths here, and he has been faithful on that part. We only had one unfortunate case, a child who got into a seizure some time back after church and there was no grown up to rush him to hospital, and he passed on.” She said, with some rare sadness in her face. I remembered the unfortunate duration since I had attended a one-night vigil for the kid, a very sad night it was. The kids had not run around that night, the gate had been left open till late because of the visitors coming and going. The pale light in the library had been off that night, and the usual calmness as children did their revisions had been broken by sad mourning songs, kids mourning their own.
“you make it sound very easy running this place Mama Mercy!”
“When you accept it, it gets easy” She simply put it.
“What has it been dealing with HIV and AIDS in the slum?”
“If you look behind you, you can see a number of white plastic containers, those are ARV’s for kids here.” Behind me was the leaning rickety wall unit, carrying over a dozen white plastic containers. I picked one, and it had the name of the child and age on a white tape stuck on the side. It was heavy with tablets, which made my heart sink. “ I have 20 positive kids, across all ages, from 1 year to above 18 years.”
“But there are only about a dozen containers here..” I pointed out.
“I let the elder ones keep their medicines for privacy purposes, but I have those that tell me in case of defaulters.”
At this point, some two stocky men walked into the office, shook our hands and settled on a pair of armchairs which obviously struggled under the weight. Mama Mercy was unconcerned, and after assuring them that they would talk later, she looked back to my direction, and I did a happy dance. They must have thought I was from some very serious media house. I issued them names in my head, one round face and the other brown jacket.
“The Remind me to show you our youngest HIV positive girl, who is almost turning one year. When she was brought in, she weighed less than 2 kilos, and she was about six months old. What age was Alice (not her real name)?” she asked the direction of the two men.
“Alice, eeeh.. she was seven months Mercy…” Round face answered, and brown jacket nodded in approval. They were good men, and I rubbed off their fake names.
“Nobody thought she would make it this long, her hands were so frail and she rarely blinked, the virus was almost winning, but she is now almost 5 kilos, and doing so well, she even smiles!” She said, lifting her arms up. Apparently, for those who don’t know, healthy kids smile a lot, so if your kid is always frowning you need to get them checked. “Her hands were so frail, and she wouldn’t sit up on her own”
“Where did you get her?” I asked.
“Her HIV positive mother lived with her in the streets, and breastfed her, and so she contracted the virus. The mother was a defaulter, and was so weak to feed them both, so I took both of them in.” She said.
“With teenagers, I suppose there are many defaulters, due to peer influence. How do you deal with those who default ARV’s?”
“It’s not new for teenagers, and there is not much you can do but to counsel them and let them know that it’s for their own good. I have had to convince some of them that I also take the ARVs once they go to sleep, so they feel like am not forcing them into it, and after the talk they don’t default.” She told me about a wing of doctors, Frontier Doctors, where they got the ARV’s and who also offered guidance and counselling to the kids.
“I assume, here being a rehabilitation center, you have had a number of rape cases too?” I ask.
“Not one or two.” She said, and looked into her palms, like trying to fight back tears, and for once I saw a new side in her, a lady and a mother with a tender heart. “I have dealt with uncountable number of rape and sodomization cases, some of the most difficult things to do as a parent. I have a current case, of an orphan girl, Beth, from Busia who is currently in class seven. Her case was tender, she had been severally raped by her uncle. She never talked to anyone, and I had to put so much effort in her, always counselling her, and she came along quite beautifully, she is now back in school, some good grades and a very kind heart to the others.”
The two men walked out, promising to hang about till we were through. Mercy told me they are volunteers who help her around.
“How do you go about counselling such cases as rape and sodomization?”
“The first step in rehabilitation is love, you have to love the kid, then avoid judging them, no matter what. I also try my best to not treat them in anger, and this calls for so much patience. You have to be patient with them, however long it may take them.”
As I pondered on my next question, a thought crossed my mind. I had decided to let the interview flow, no order of questions, to make it formal and comfortable. “Tell me, where do you get all these kids?”
“First of all, not all kids here are orphans, some of them are brought up by abusive parents, or parents who can’t take care of them because of drug abuse, and so the children run to the streets where we pick them from. I currently have two children below one year who were either dumped by their parents, while weeks old. Most of the times police knock on my gate early mornings and tell me about a kid they collected somewhere who was still breathing, and so I take them and give them a life. One such kid is now almost two years, he was brought in by police on an early morning, less than a month old.” For the toddlers, she picks them and later registers with the authorities. “Another case I have currently, a kid’s mother requested a lady to hold the baby for her for some few seconds and disappeared. The lady was confused and brought the kid here in fear of taking it to the police, and I followed up with the recording of the statement. The child is now four months old.”
I checked my watch just as the hour hand kissed 6.00, and a cool wind had started blowing, as some darkness started creeping into the office.
“Apart from HIV, what other terminal illnesses have you had, TB, Cancer…?” I asked, clasping my hands together to preserve some warmth.
“Cancer has never walked those gates, and I believe it shall never.” She pointed the direction of the gate, “As for TB, I had two cases back in 1999, but the two healed in good time.”
“Finally, who are your sponsors, because I believe you can’t have done all this without an official sponsor?” I asked giving her a shy smile.
“I have no official sponsor or partner.” I looked at her, surprised and shocked. “ Kenyans, Kenyans (She said it twice) have stood by me in ways I can’t explain. Am a beggar, and they hear me. Our sponsors are the individuals or groups who come visiting and bring foodstuff to us, those who come and donate mattresses and beds. I have to admit that the greater number of these are youths, who come in groups with the little they have managed. For the many years we have been here, they have ensured that even when things are tough, we have at least a meal per day. School fees for the kids are also paid by well-wishers, where individuals or groups adopt a child’s education, and pay for the fees, shopping and pocket money.
“There are various organizations who also play a big part in the running of this home, organizations which mean the world to us, such as our friends from spain who have a number of our kids in academy primary schools; African circle of hope who are sponsoring some of our kids in secondary schools and colleges; Flamego Tours who supply us with foodstuffs; Friends in Norway; CBA Bank who are helping with the ongoing fourth floor building; Village care in the USA, and many more. (She insisted I had to mention the names of her friends, and who am I to object?)
“For nutrition purposes, I have 32 dairy cows, around 12 currently being milked, and they give us more than 150 litres of milk per day…” She went on.
“Wait, did you say cows? Where do you rare them?” I cut her and she laughed.
“They are just opposite the gate.”
“Tell me you are kidding me. Cows, in the slum? 32 cows in the slum? How is it even possible?” I asked, quite honestly dumbfounded.
“You will see them. I get free feeds from the waste from KBL, and also there is a company which brings us French beans for the cows. One well-wisher donated a three-acre piece of land at Thika road, where we have planted Napier grass, so you can see, my cows in the slums are very well taken care of. They in turn take care of us, and save us a lot of money. The milk is good for the kids, as you can see they are very strong.” She joked.
“Wow, I don’t even have any more questions, you win.” I found myself saying, and she just laughed and replied
“it’s God who wins.”
“What would you like me to tell my readers, something you would like them to know you for, and which can inspire them into doing things differently?”
She looked at me, this time with a serious face, hands on the table, like trying to read my mind. I looked to my right and read a poster badly written ‘Don’t tell your God how big your problem is, Tell your problem how big your God is.’, and scribbled it down. I looked back into her face, and she clasped her hands back together.
“I cant say am rich, I don’t even drive a car, but there is one thing I boast with – my heart. It’s all that matters. These children need care, they need people to take care of them, and it would be easier if we pulled together. From the Government to every one of us. They need us, and their future depends on us.” She said. I was touched.
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