The night of December 31st, 2007, Kibera
Deep inside Kibera Slums, an elderly lady sat alone in a huge, old brick, double roomed house. In Kibera standards, that’s a humongous mansion. This was a wealthy lady… I mean, who owns a brick house amongst all the mud, mabati and polyethene structures?
Normally, the old woman would have gone to church for the New Year’s vigil on this night. But this time… this time things were looking complicated. An election had just ended and some people were unhappy. It was turning violent. And this violence was not political, it was getting tribal. And as usual, Kibera was at the centre of it all. She had heard over the radio a few people had been killed within the slum, bit she had locked herself in the house all day and hadn’t seen any of it.
But suddenly, outside her door, she heard people quarrelling. One was pleading with the others but from the gruff, they were having none of it. She closed her eyes as she heard panga swings and the deathly sound when the machetes connected with bodies. People were being killed outside her door.
Her heart sank when she heard a knock on her door. Maybe this is the day I will die. But the voice that came through was that of a child.
Shosho, nisaidie. Nimekatwa nifungulie.
For a moment, she thought she was either dreaming, or this was a trap. Maybe someone wanted to trick her into opening the door. The more the child pleaded, the more the chords of her heart were strung.
“I don’t have children of my own but God Himself knows how much I love kids. I wouldn’t have helped it… so I told God if He wanted me to die for helping a child, I would have peace with that.”
So, she opened the door. And there was a boy out there, barely ten, soaked in blood. She dragged him in and closed the door. And cleaned him, the blood forming rivers in her house, but she didn’t notice that. She just wanted the poor boy to be free of pain, cold and thirst.
Throughout the night, more knocks came, from children and adults alike. She was the only one with a house that could not be torn down using a razor blade, and her age could deter would-be killers.
And the killers kept knocking at her house, seeking for people from a certain tribe, to kill.
“I hid all the people in the next room and stood at the door, crying, telling the marauding animals ‘My children, I’m just an elderly woman living alone and there’s no one else in the house.’ Some would come inside, with their bloody pangas, look around, and leave. Had they seen the people I would be dead now”
She kept receiving people, kids especially, whose parents had been killed or fled and their houses burnt, used up all the food she had and scraped around for more.
Weeks later, when the slaughter had subsided. She was left with several orphaned and abandoned children…
And thus the Kibera Truthful Talent Children’s Home was born. This remarkable lady’s name is Mama Lorna.
10 years later, now.
My colleagues and I are visiting the Truthful Talents Children’s Home, Kibera. It is my first time in Kibera, and we get lost a couple of times. See, Kibera is a very large area of nothing but shacks for houses. There are no landmarks like you would say KICC that you can see from whenever. The only landmarks here are toilet blocks because there are only a few of those in Kibera. And no, you can’t go around asking for directions in Kibera. So, we have to grope our way around to a place we can park the cars and dive deeper into the slum.
A guy from the Children’s Homes is here to pick us, and he takes us through paths ridden by human waste, surface sewage, giant flies… and mean looking people eyeing the packages we are carrying. The twists and turns lead us to a small mabati gate, a corridor-like compound into this room:
It has three double and triple-decker beds and smells a whiff of acrid smell and there are clothes strewn all over. We stand around, confused until a bubbly lady comes into the room and greets each one of us, warmly… and invites us to sit on the beds and on a few plastic stools that she brings in. “Be comfortable, our mama is coming.” Her name is Beatrice.
An elder woman who looks a lot like Sarah Obama comes in followed by a few shy children. You know, the way we would curiously peep at visitors when we were kids. The lady also greets us with a serious expression and taunts us:
“I hope you are comfortable. This is one of the most comfortable rooms in Kibera.”
And starts laughing! The damp room is now suddenly lively. Life of the party right there. She introduces herself as a lover of Christ and tells us the story of the Home. And why she does this, which is utterly remarkable:
I run this home because that’s what I was created to do and I don’t expect payment here on Earth. I remind God every day that if he has to pay me, I want to get a first class ticket to Heaven. So I tell Him every morning that the only reward she wants for her work is to have a guaranteed place in Heaven when I die.
Turns out, she shares this small, cramped room with over 20 girls. This is just her home, remember? That’s where our eyes start getting damp. This old lady sleeps in this very room that the seven of us can’t fit… with 20 urinating and sometimes screaming children!
The boys sleep in a separate room, the same size, chaperoned by the guy who had come for us, who, by the way, is THAT first kid who had knocked on Lorna’s house ten years ago, all bloody. Now he is twenty and takes care of the smaller kids. Oh, he is joining the Cooperative University of Kenya next week! A couple of the other young men will also be joining the university in the next few months.
The Home now has 42 children of different ages, and they all live here. They start their basic education here in the biggest room, tutored by the older ones and alumni, and Beatrice is one of them:
This is where I grew up. I got married but I come here every day to help Mama with the kids and the chores here. She is getting old and I owe her my service. If it wasn’t for her, I would be out there, or worse.
We go into the “school” to play, sing, dance and eat with the kids. The innocence simply overwhelms us. I see tears, I hear laughter… and sighs.
And the cry of a baby… she is only 3 months old and had been thrown away in some Kibera trash site immediately she was born; where she was collected and brought to Mama Lorna. The other kids are her elder siblings and Mama Lorna her mother. Just as she has been a mother to all these children.
They sleep hungry sometimes. They don’t get that many visitors or donors and to make ends meet, they make beads and other art stuff that Mama Lorna goes to sell around Nairobi.
As we leave, you can feel a shift in every one of us. Something in us has changed from this trip. We sleep in our bedsitters, one and two bedrooms in flats and get 3 compact meals daily; and still, complain about our living standards. If we could ask God Himself questions, we could have, at that moment, asked Him why He gives wealth to selfish people and not to people like Mama Lorna who are changing the world.
But then, one, you don’t ask God questions and 2… there is no greater wealth that this. Taking care of vulnerable children and setting them up for life!
Meanwhile, an angel lives in Kibera, surrounded by other small, innocent angels.
You can help, too. If you want to visit this Children’s Home… holla and we will go together. They will give you a pup (yes, they rescue dogs, too) 🙂