The past two days have been the beginning of our job at Neema Children’s Home. Technically, we were supposed to start Friday morning, but we escaped for a short time to go to a support group for teens who are HIV positive at Moi Hospital. However, after waiting for about an hour and a half (a shocking thing to do in Kenya… haha), it was apparent that the teens weren’t going to show up. Friday was an interesting day to be in Kenya as it was a new national holiday for the signing of the new constitution. It was interesting to be here in that it was much like Obama’s inauguration in the states – everyone gathered around the hospital televisions to watch the huge celebration taking place in Nairobi. It was all anyone could talk about.
With some time to kill before our lovely driver, Michael, came to get us, we headed to Sally Test to spend some time with the babies. While Sally Test is primarily a place for admitted pediatric patients to spend the day, it is also home to children who have been abandoned at the hospital. Currently they have five abandoned kids – Peter, 12, who is severely disabled with Cerebral Palsey, Sydney, 2, who is a major fan of attention and corn on the cob, Alex, 4 months, and Samuel, 3 weeks. While we were at Sally Test on Friday, they found out that a baby had been abandoned that morning at the Riley Mother and Baby Hospital. However, the baby was premature, and can’t move into Sally Test until he weighs over 2 kilograms. When he is older and stronger, he will be tested for HIV as it is clear he has been exposed to the virus. Many of these abandoned children will go to a children’s home. If they are HIV positive, it is increasingly likely that they will end up at Neema, as it is one of few homes to accept kids with the virus.
After a shopping trip to Nakumatt (the Kenyan version of Walmart) and a few Curios (small souvenir kiosks on the side of the road) to grow our new Hippo collection that resides on the top of our toilet, we headed back to Neema to start our work. To sum up our work, I’ll just say that last night at 8:00, Annie and I were so tired we could barely eat our dinner and were in bed by 9:00.
Today the real work began. Though the screaming children usually wake us up around 6 or 6:15, we don’t usually have to get out of bed until 7:30. This morning, we were expected to be bathing and changing babies at 7:30. It was a difficult task, made more difficult by our sudden lack of hot water. I opted out of a full sponge bath and instead stood beside the shower and just stuck my head in. Even so, I ended the makeshift “shower” with a brain freeze and chattering teeth. We’re really hoping the repairman is here by tomorrow morning.
The day was spent running after kids, giving twenty-too-many piggy-back rides, making little adorable Tana laugh, attempting to understand about 30 toddlers talking to us in Swahili at once, and finally, teaching the primary students how to tango. All in all, it was a pretty excellent day. We’re hoping our Swahili improves so that we can maybe answer one of the five million questions we’re asked by the kids. On the art front: the past few nights we’ve been teaching the older kids how to make embroidery floss “sister bracelets”. Tonight we became adventurous and made paper beads with 25 of the children. Though a little daunting, with our handy-dandy Swahili words (ngojea = wait, hapana = no, engoda = go) we managed to create some excellent looking necklaces that the kids seemed to really enjoy.
After a 16-hour day of babies, I’m about ready to pass out. So, I’ll leave you with a story: Mwania. Mwania is about six years old and in class 1. Joshua and Miriam found him, his four brothers, and his sister, living under a bush in Makueni, where Joshua grew up. Before this, Mwania’s fifth brother died from being attacked by a rabid squirrel. His mother abandoned the children, leaving them in the bush, for a second husband and children. The father, an alcoholic, took them in for a short while but then abandoned them again. It was at this time the Joshua and Miriam found the children. His brothers and sisters were placed in children’s homes around Makueni and Mwania, the youngest, came to Neema. Recently, Mwania’s father died; the Mbithi’s haven’t told Mwania yet and are unsure how to do so. Informing children of the struggles they have gone through is one of the biggest problems the Mbithi’s must face when raising 39 orphaned and abandoned children. They constantly worry what will happen when the children begin to realize that some have to take a lot of medicine every night while some don’t. Fortunately and unfortunately, 29 of the children are HIV positive; when they do find out about their status, they will, at least, have others going through the same thing and won’t be alone. While they want the children to know where they came from, they don’t know how to tell the children some of the horrible things they’ve been through but were too young to remember.
It’s something to think about… how would you tell a child that their HIV positive, or that their mother has died, or that they were abandoned they day they were born? It’s an impossible task.
Love to all,