State of the child in Nyeri worrying as Huruma Children’s Home stands as a beacon of hope

Children living at Huruma Children's Home in Nyeri harvesting kales in their farm. [ Picture: Waikwa Maina]
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On entering any children rescue home or centre, one expects to meet faces of sad-looking kids, in secured gates with equally strong fences.

However, this is not so at Huruma Children’s Home, one of the oldest children’s facilities in the country. When one is welcomed by happy, busy children, with an environment that looks like any other normal homestead, then there is a story to tell.

As others are washing clothes, others are cleaning the compound, younger ones playing while some are doing their homework and others are in the farm.

However, one person, though cheerful, appears fatigued with the large number of visitors seeking her attention, visible queues of files are seen in her office.

Nancy Nyambura is the manager of Huruma Children’s Home, where thousands of destitute children have passed through since it was started in 1958.

She has worked here, witnessing very low moments when the children go to bed hungry. She has also seen some perform very well but fail to join secondary school, college or university. Nyambura has seen the beddings at Huruma Home at their worst and pathetic state, yet she has had no option but to encourage the children hoping for a better tomorrow, which eventually does come.

And better days do come, and that’s when well-wishers come knocking, or when she happens to get a sponsor for a child proceeding to higher institution of learning. However, the most joyful moment is when the children finally graduate from different colleges and come to celebrate with their younger brothers and sisters at the facility.

“We have a staff of four, me included. It’s impossible to think of an off, leave alone an annual live. We have to put in long hours,” explains Nyambura. She explains: “We may not be able to give the children all that we would wish, but our desire and dedication to bring them up, as role model and make them resourceful members of the society is our motivation. Luckily, we have staff that is dedicated to all that.”

Though the facility has a capacity of more than 120 children, stretched resources has made the institution accommodate only 77 destitute.

“The number of street children is on the rise in Nyeri town, it pains  me when I go looking for help for my children here but find others in worse situation in the streets yet there is nothing I can do to help,” observes Nyambura. She notes: “It bothers me and I wonder what crimes these innocent children have committed.”

Nyambura stresses: “It pains me because I am sure there is a better way of addressing this problem once and for all instead of criminalizing the innocent children at that early stage in life. Surely, we can’t say that there is nothing that can be done.”

Nyambura’s sentiments are shared by Nyeri Branch Red Cross Society Coordinator, Paul Gatitu, who says that the trends and state of child is Nyeri is worrying.

“Rising cases of poverty, burden of disease and domestic violence are key factors contributing to deteriorating state of children,” explains Gatitu. He says: “Go to coffee growing areas and see the number of children not in shoes. It is sad indeed.”

According to Gatitu, the rate of school dropout needs to be addressed, both poverty and disease burden especially in chronic diseases that Nyeri is leading in percentages is affecting the children. He says jiggers are also affecting the children’s attention in education.

To help address the jigger problem, Nyeri Branch Red Cross Society has this year donated more than 12,000 pairs of rubber shoes to school going children.

However, the solution is not in donating shoes. “We need long-term and sustainable poverty and disease eradication initiatives,” reiterates Gatitu.

According to Gatitu, most parents are unable to adequately provide for their children including taking care of health bills because their ailments take a big chunk of the family budget.

To address this, Gatitu say, both national and county governments must heavily invest in screening of the children for the chronic ailments, as early detection can mitigate their effect.

These sentiments are echoed by Nyambura who observes that the solution to mitigating children’s problems begins with empowering families and ensuring access to education for all children. She notes that hungry and naked children can’t resist the temptation to move into the streets.

“We can’t accommodate all children in rescue centres.  Something must be done to address poverty at family level,” says Nyambura. She adds: “Let’s not bury our heads in the sand while kids suffer.”

Huruma Children’s Home has travelled a long painful journey but has also lived to tell success stories.

The Home was started as a malnutrition and marasmus ward under the then Nyeri Provincial Hospital, now a county referral hospital.

At some point, the hospital was unable to run the home and it was taken over by the Ministry of Social Services, then by the Red Cross Society, then Caltex Oil Company which sponsored the home and children’s education for five years but later withdrew due to the increasing number of children.

At one point all children stopped going to school and they were also starved. Area District Commissioner intervened and formed a committee to manage the facility and ensure the children were fed and returned to school.

“That was in 1997 when my children more often than not went to bed hungry. Presbyterian Church then chipped in and children were back to school,” Nyambura recalls.

Today most of the children are sponsored by well-wishers and are either in secondary schools, universities or technical training institutes, while a good number has graduated and others are waiting to graduate.

According to Nyambura, the biggest challenge facing them now is lack of bedding and she is appealing for support. The other challenge is lack of books, especially text books.

The facility has a number of children living with disability and some of them are unable to attend school.

“The disabled children need love, they can’t go to school and they need someone by their side all the time. We have no option but to overwork our staff” says Nyambura. She adds: “I thank God the staff are supportive and understanding, they bath, dress and feed the children.”

Giving the children special assignments such as cleaning is also a motivation to them. According to Nyambura, such assignments make them feel they are in a homely environment, such that, none of them is reminded of their responsibilities and indeed compete among themselves.

Janet Wanjiku, a Form Two student at Riamukurwe says: “I love cooking and washing as well as taking care of the young ones.” She explains: “The facility has trained me a lot of things after I had lost hope in life but God gave me this opportunity.”

Wanjiku adds: “I am working very hard to become a lawyer. I am aware of many other children outside there who are not attending school, I pray for them and advise them to trust in God, they will one day get an opportunity.”

James Maina, a student at Methodist University is the Home’s the role model and mentor.

“We are one large family, sometimes we all work at the farm, both boys and girls, when girls are helping in kitchen, we are cleaning the compound,” says Maina. He adds: “We also have general cleaning days where we all participate until the compound is completely neat.”

Besides instilling a sense of responsibility in the children, the farming activities also help the home save some money. For instance, milk and vegetable would have cost them more than KSh 2,000 every day.

Nyambura says the children’s good behaviour and willingness to learn new things is a motivation. She gives the example of the dairy cow project where the children don’t wait to be told when to feed the cows or make the silage.

“We equip them with all life skills. We know some of them will own farms and I can tell you some of them are very keen on farming, asking questions that sometimes force me to invite agricultural experts,” says Nyambura.

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