What has happened to Africa’s 20 million orphans? I found a few of them today. We had driven for two hours outside of Machachos town, down red-earth roads where we saw no other cars, just motorcycles, improbably loaded with people and sacks and even animals.
There are not enough orphanages for all of Kenya’s AIDS orphans, but even if there were, I’ve learned that when a child goes into an orphanage, he or she loses any property that their parents might have owned, as well as any tribal and family identity. They are also vulnerable to abuse.
Today we saw what a group of 40 African women in an impoverished village are doing to help orphans stay in their homes and in their communities. They support these households where the orphans live, whether the hosuehold consists of a grandmother taking care of 5 or 6 grandchildren, or a 10-year-old taking care of his younger siblings. The grandmother might need support earning enough money to support her grandchildren, the 10-year-old might need to be taught how to cook, wash diapers, clean the houseThe women also raise money for school fees and school uniforms and try to give each family of orphans a goat for milk.
Hamutati, one of the women, told us proudly about a young boy who was the head of the household after his parents died now has a job and is able to support his younger siblings himself, and how five of the orphans they care for are now in secondary school.
When we first arrived in the village, they hadn’t seen a visitor for over a year. They greeted us by singing African songs and insisted we take tea with them (“In Kenya it is always tea time”). a delicious milky tea, which came with bread and butter, fried donuts, a banana, egg and sweet potato.
Afterwards they showed us how they use drama to raise awareness about HIV. Under a tree they put on a play about how a husband who had sex outside his marriage ended up inadvertently infecting his whole household with AIDS.
After this we walked down the hill to the dispensary, a three-room cement block building, we met the team who dispense medications for the big three: malaria, typhoid, HIV. When they have them. They are supposed to give vaccinations to children: all children under 5 in Kenya must be immunized. But they don’t have a carrier or a refrigerator so the vaccines would spoil. For a lack of a refrigerator, these children aren’t vaccinated against polio, tetanus, typhoid or measles: (of these, measles is the most deadly).
Despite all this, the women were happy we had come and gave us baskets they had weaved and skirts they had tie-dyed, and tried to teach us to dance while they sang. Despite myself I smiled. Later on we were all given Kambo names. Mine was Mutanu, The Happy One