This story begins with a cup of porridge.
Fidelis Wangari Maina, 65, was a porridge seller in the slums of Soweto when a cup of porridge literally changed her life’s path.
“I was selling porridge here in the late 1990’s There were many children in the streets of Soweto and they would follow me wherever I served porridge. I would also serve them as I was sympathetic to their situation. But in 2011, I started taking them in through the chief, churches and police. I couldn’t just leave them out in the cold.”
And homelessness was something that she could closely relate to. Fidelis and her late husband after fled Subukia in the height of Molo clashes. They lost their a five-acre piece of land. It was the place they called home.
A HOME IS BORN
Six years down the line, the founder of Bethsaida Childrens’ Centre in Soweto houses 45 children. Some of those who have passed through her hands are now grown-ups. Some are businessmen and women, others are studying in universities and some are waiting to join college.
“Most of the children come from within Soweto slums while others come from as far as Thika. Some are abandoned by relatives after their parents die, others are just neglected by parents who are alcoholics or drug users.”
Some of the children at the home have special needs children while a number are HIV-positive, meaning the cost of caring for them is quite high but Fidelis takes it all in stride.
NOT WITHOUT CHALLENGES
Fidelis, or Mama Bethsaida as she is popularly known, dreams of one day accommodating all the children that come seeking a place to call home and having a shamba to grow their own food.
“Unfortunately, we have to turn some away as we simply have no room for them. My prayer is that we get a shamba and be able to grow our own food. This will be a sustainable solution towards independence. Otherwise, we will remain vulnerable since we are at the mercy of well-wishers.”
But food and space challenges are not the only things that the home has had to overcome.
“In the afternoon of January 27, 2017 a big fire broke out and everything in this house went up in flames. Everything from beddings, furniture, food, utensils, clothing, shoes, phones and even medicine for the children. All the rescue efforts were in vain.”
Six-year old Mary is one of the special needs children at the home who lost her belongings in the fire, including her wheelchair.
“Tulikuwa tunacheza na Mercy na Njuguna, walikuwa wametoka Baby Class. Tukaskia moto ikinukia, Mercy akashout, nini hiyo inachomeka then kila mtu akaanza kukimbia nje, hata Cucu. Antie alinibeba. Nguo zango zote na wheelchair hata ngari yangu na madawa zilichomeka (We were playing with Mercy and Njuguna they had just come from school. Mercy asked what is burning, and then people starting running outside the house, aunty came and carried me outside. All my clothes, wheel chair and toys, my car, got burnt. My medication too),” Mary emotionally narrates, before she breaks into tears.
Mary can'Twalk unsupported. She suffers from cerebral palsy.
“She has improved by far, when she came in, her muscles were very weak. Therapy has assisted. She can now feed herself and hold a pen. She is still very dependent and not yet joined school,” says Fidelis.
The school-going children were left with the only clothes they had: their school uniform.
They were houses temporarily at The Worldwide Gospel Church, where they fellowship, as well-wishers helped them rebuild their home.
By the time of the interview, they have been back at the home for three weeks.
The mother of eight says that her love for children began when she was a young woman.
“Nimelea watoto wengi sana hata nikilea wangu. Sijaaza ati juzi. Napenda watoto sana. Niko na ile huruma ya watoto.
(I have taken care of so many children, alongside mine. I really love children and I just have a heart for them)”
And why the name Bethsaida?
“Just like river Bethsaida in the Bible, this is a well of healing. Any child who gets here regains hope and their heart is healed.”
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