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We care for children who have been forced into motherhood

Saturday August 5 2017

The Kang’ethes holding some of the babies at

The Kang’ethes holding some of the babies at the Wings of Compassion home. There are 21 mothers and 19 children at the home. PHOTOS | ANTHONY OMUYA 

ELVIS ONDIEKI
By ELVIS ONDIEKI
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Two pregnant sisters were expected at the rescue home on Thursday but only one was brought in.

The sisters, aged 14 and 16 years, are from Gatundu in Kiambu County and are believed to have been impregnated by their father, who is currently in police custody.

The area children’s officer had made plans for them to be housed at the Wings of Compassion Rescue Home, located in Marurui on the border of Nairobi and Kiambu counties, but there was a problem with the 14-year-old.

“She started bleeding when they were taken to the police station to finalise the relocation plans. So she had to be rushed to hospital. She had been given some substance in what is suspected to be an attempt to induce an abortion,” Mrs Dorcas Kang’ethe, the home’s programme director, told Lifestyle on Friday.

“The 16-year-old was brought in by two women who are lecturers at Pan Africa Christian (PAC) University at around 9 pm,” she added.

Earlier on Thursday, Lifestyle had visited the facility founded and run by Mrs Kang’ethe and her husband Danshire Kang’ethe, a reverend with the Worshippers of Faith Chapel who is the executive director at the home.

Standing beside a creased murram road in one corner of the densely populated Marurui locality, Wings of Compassion is offering what its founders say is not provided anywhere else in Kenya — catering for teenage mothers who have conceived out of incest or rape until they get an education and a job.

The Kang’ethes’ organisation is among the charitable organisations seeking to offer solutions to the teenage mothers’ headache that is “a major health and social concern because of its association with higher morbidity and mortality for both the mother and the child,” according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014.

The survey focused on teens aged between 15 and 19. It revealed that between 2009 and 2014, 18 per cent of girls in that age group were already mothers or pregnant with their first child.

Wings of Compassion does not, however, offer relief to all teenage mothers.

“They must be total orphans, homeless and pregnant,” said Mrs Kang’ethe. They also focus more on girls aged 15 and below, though there can be exceptions.

The rescue home currently has 20 girls and 19 children aged between one month and six years. The girls come from Iten, Murang’a, Gatundu and Nairobi.

One of the 20 is a Standard Eight girl who is six months pregnant. Thursday’s arrival of the 16-year-old from Gatundu now raises the population of the school to 21 girls, with two of them pregnant.

The Kang’ethes talking to the teenage mothers

The Kang’ethes talking to the teenage mothers in their shelter in Nairobi on Thursday. There are 21 mothers and 19 children at the home. PHOTOS | ANTHONY OMUYA

During our interview with the Kang’ethes, it was one heart-breaking story after another.

The mother of the youngest child at the facility, who delivered last month, is a Standard Eight dropout who had allegedly been raped by her step-father.

“Her father died and then the mother remarried. The mother got pregnant but the pregnancy was complicated. So, she was admitted for a number of months to hospital. The stepfather turned on the girl,” said Mr Kang’ethe.

“He was like an animal. He would meet with her on the way coming from school, drag her into a bush and do it and then leave her there. Thank God he is also in custody,” he added, noting that there are plans to take the girl to Form One next year.

Another one was a street girl in Nairobi and she conceived at the age of 11 years. Now she is in Standard Seven at a primary school in the outskirts of Nairobi while her daughter, aged three-and-a-half years, is in Baby Class.

Two of the girls who have previously moved out of the home, who left once they were self-reliant, have equally moving stories.

Miriam*, for instance, was rescued after being dumped near Isiolo and left for dead. Her step-father married her off to an old man.

“The man took her to somewhere around Isiolo, very far from her home, and then abandoned her there, pregnant,” said Mr Kang’ethe.

From Isiolo, she decided to walk to Nairobi as she had nobody to turn to.

“She fainted somewhere. And when she fainted on the way — she doesn’t know exactly the place, but according to how she narrates — some Good Samaritan picked her and took her to a hospital,” Mr Kang’ethe said.

After she regained consciousness, the Good Samaritan offered her fare to Nairobi and Miriam was subsequently taken to Wings of Compassion.

“The first thing we do when we receive a girl is to assess her health. We were planning to take her to hospital for check-up a day after she arrived. Then the girls in the room told us, ‘Agnes has funny pimples around her waist and all over.’

“The following morning we took her to the hospital with the concern of those funny-looking pimples, only to find that they were jiggers on the waistline. I’ve never heard or seen anybody with jiggers around the waistline,” Mr Kang’ethe said.

OPTED TO GO TO COLLEGE

Miriam delivered her daughter in 2013, then aged 16. She had dropped out of school in Form Two and opted not to continue with school, choosing to take hairdressing instead at a college in Karasani.

“We took her to a college where she did a beauty and hairdressing course. Agnes did very well in that place. The school itself found a job for her,” said Mr Kang’ethe.

After she was hired at a salon, she found a suitor. The Kang’ethes interrogated him and gave her a go-ahead to marry him.

“In December 2015, we wedded her at a beautiful wedding within the home. Everyone wanted to come and see that girl who was nothing and now getting married. In that wedding, most people could not believe it. She was accepted with her baby and now they are living very well in Kasarani, and two months ago, she got a second baby,” he said.

Then there is Agatha* who was rescued in 2012 after her father almost killed her for conceiving at 15.

“The father wanted to kill the girl with a panga. And when he was almost cutting the girl in the neck, the girl raised her hand. And she was chopped at the wrist. So, the hand was bleeding, then she managed to run away,” said Mrs Kang’ethe.

Agatha would later be taken to the Kasarani children’s office and later to Wings of Compassion.

“The hand healed and she was counselled until she was okay and settled. She gave birth to a baby boy,” said Mrs Kang’ethe.

The home helped Agatha continue her education from Standard Eight where she had stopped. She later sat her KCSE and got admission at the Ruiru College of Catering from where she obtained a diploma in catering.

“Last year in November, she got a job. And we exited her from the programme in January 2017,” said Mrs Kang’ethe.

Exiting someone from the programme happens through an elaborate process.

“After the girl completes college, then we look for a job for her. After she gets a job, she enters into transition period. That varies, depending on the income. What the transition means is that we are giving her everything for free, as if she is not working, so that she can save even 100 per cent of her salary. We prefer that when we are releasing her, she’s having good savings,” said Mr Kang’ethe.

'EXIT PARTY'

After establishing that Agatha was self-sufficient, the home released her with an “exit party”, which entails inviting friends to buy household goods for the girl leaving the programme.

“We release her when she has saved some money and is working,” Mr Kang’ethe said.

The couple, married for 11 years, lives with the children at the compound. They say they have only reserved one room in a three-bedroomed house for themselves. The rest of the space is for the girls and their children.

“We decided not to begin the home and live elsewhere because we realised that the girls that we were rescuing were never raised well. They grew in a family where they didn’t have family values. And because we want to instil these values in them, the only way we can do that is living with them. It’s like adopting them,” said Mr Kang’ethe.

“Even the document that we get from the children’s office is like a partial adoption. That is, there is nobody who can take them from us until they’ve gone through the programme,” he said.

Beside the three-bedroomed house, which they are occupying on a leased property, there are rooms made of iron sheets (because they are not allowed to construct permanent structures). These are the rooms where the housed mothers sleep with their children. There is also enough space outside to allow the children play. On Sundays, the space is converted to a church that can hold up to 100 people. This is the church where Mr Kang’ethe ministers.

The facility has employed four women who take care of the babies when their mothers are in school – feeding them, washing their clothes and generally being around for them.

The services provided make the girls full of praise for the home.

“For me this is heaven. I have a home and loving parents,” said the girl who was rescued from the streets. “I have hope and a future despite delivering a baby at 11 years. May God bless mum and dad.”

The 13-year-old who is six months pregnant said: “I tried committing suicide for I wanted to die. That’s when I was rescued and brought to Wings. Dad and Mum welcomed me and treated me as a queen and I felt I needed to live again. I’m now doing well. I smile all the time.”

ON THEIR SHOULDERS

The one who delivered last month was also beaming with optimism.

“Mum and dad welcomed me with a lot of love. I could cry on their shoulders as they embraced me every morning and evening before I retired to bed. They also taught me about forgiveness and I gave my life to Christ,” she said.

Being called “mum and dad” is music for the ears of the Kang’ethes, who have three children and who do nothing else but take care of their dependants.

Mr Kang’ethe, 60, worked at the Water ministry between 1979 and 1986 when he was ordained as a church minister. Since 1986, he has not worked anywhere else but the church.

Mrs Kang’ethe, 48, trained as a teacher and graduated in 1993. She taught at a private school in Nyahururu for two years but quit to work with children’s homes.

The two met in Ngong while working at a children feeding programme. Both having experience in taking care of children, they started Wings of Compassion as a feeding programme in 2011. But later that year, they realised the need to offer shelter for abused pregnant girls.

They moved to the current location of the home on December 31, 2011 and ever since they have been providing shelter to mothers referred to them by children’s officers.

The money they use to pay fees for those under their programme is sourced from well-wishers and their biggest challenge is getting enough resources to run the facility.

“That’s the most challenging area. We don’t have permanent donors but we have few individuals who give randomly,” said Mr Kang’ethe.

Besides the mothers housed at the facility, there are 15 others who are being accommodated outside and whose needs the organisation also supports. That does not come easy on the Kang’ethes.

In July, they ran out of food and had to turn to the Red Cross to keep the dependants.

“Somebody had to connect us with the Red Cross where we received one sack of beans and unga and rice. And that is food for a week or two,” said Mrs Kang’ethe. “As we speak, we have porridge only for tomorrow (Friday). It’s what I’m trying to source. My phone is full of texts. I’m requesting for uji flour from the community.”

To ensure the mothers do not face stigma in school, the organisation takes them to institutions that are far from Marurui and at times it is not easy to raise the fare to enable the girls travel to school.

The girls’ children are also taken to a gated private school for their own safety.

“Remember, there is this rape case whereby the man’s case is pending in court and the baby is the evidence. So, the kids cannot go to public schools because of their safety,” said Mr Kang’ethe.

But whatever the ups and downs, the couple says they are not regretting any moment of the six years when they have been running the facility.

“By seeing them changing and becoming people who have hope, that encourages me and I feel like I’m doing the right thing. I’ve never regretted and I feel I’m doing the right thing and, yes, I’m strong and I want to continue to do it,” said Mr Kang’ethe.

His wife said: “I’m so much fulfilled, even though this work has a lot of challenges now that we are dealing with adolescents and teenagers. Sometimes they don’t have even the discipline; they will just talk rudely.”

Part of her work involves comforting the inexperienced mothers whenever they give birth.

“When we have a new mum, I don’t sleep for the very first month. Because the girl is traumatised, she doesn’t know even how to take care of a child; she’s breastfeeding, the nipples are paining; so the baby is crying, the girl is crying. And sometimes the baby resembles the person that she hates most in life, the one who raped her. So, there is a lot,” she said, adding that her fulfilment comes with the change she sees.

After a tour of the facility, where we were shown the double-decker beds where the dependants sleep and the space where they take meals and watch selected TV programmes, it was apparent that Wings of Compassion is giving young mothers renewed belief to fly to a better life — despite the Kang’ethes struggling to keep the home afloat with limited resources.

* Names changed to protect identity

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