“I used to be married. My husband and I got a son but his family made him divorce me when they found out I was an abandoned child. In their culture, children like me are a bad omen.
I want to get married again, live my life. I graduated with a First Class Degree in Education from Laikipia University six years ago. I’ve received multiple job offers but I’ve turned them all down. Getting a job would mean leaving, and I can’t bring myself to, not yet. I wouldn’t feel at peace wherever I went. I need to first make sure my mum and the children have a home and are alright, then I can build a career and create the life I desire for myself.”– Rachael ‘Stephens’ Wambui Makimei, 36.
I met Rachael in the last week of August (I can’t remember the exact day), when a work colleague and I visited Makimei’s Children Home in Gitaru, Kikuyu, some 20km northwest of Nairobi.
Rachael helps her mother, Margaret Wambui Makimei, run the home that she (Margaret) founded. Rachael is the first child Margaret adopted. She was just a few days old when Margaret took her in, well over three decades ago. Margaret describes her decision to adopt Rachael as spur-of-the-moment, an unconscious choice that set her off on a trying and spirited yet rewarding mission of not only rescuing and raising children no one else wanted, but, more importantly, loving them too.
Rachael told me she didn’t know Margaret wasn’t her biological mother until much later in life, when she was a teenager.
“Mum would bring home all these children… It got to a point where the house became too crowded and I had an outburst. I asked her why she kept bringing more random kids yet we didn’t have space. That’s when she told me…that at one point I had been just like them. I felt so terrible about myself. I just cried.”
Around 40 children live in the medium-sized grey stone house in Kikuyu.
“These children were not meant to live,” Rachael and Margaret told me, “Most of them were found in a desperate and horrifying state, proof that their parents wanted them to die”.
Twins Joy and John, for instance, were found near a river in Karura mere hours after their birth, naked and wrapped in a filthy and smelly gunny bag carrying animal manure.
John was also rescued just hours after birth, with his umbilical cord still intact. Margaret used her bra straps to clamp the cord and a police officer cut it with a knife.
Nick’s mother aborted him two months before he was due. Everyone doubted his survival, but he’s much healthier and stronger now, the flower that bloomed in a dark room.
Mary is battling eczema because her mother violently squashed one of her eyes, pulled the umbilical cord from her body, then wrapped her in a polythene bag and dumped her in sewage, perhaps so she could die faster. No one knows how she survived, but the scars of the neglect are visible for all. Mary is a beautiful little girl with big, longing, soulful eyes and round soft cheeks. When I met her, she had a dry, shriveled skin that had turned scaly and grayish from scratching too hard, too much. Dark scabs and red open wounds tortuously punctuated her tender body terrain. Sometimes, Rachel and Rebecca said, Mary cries herself to sleep because she can’t take the pain.
Two-year-old Adam can’t see yet due to head injuries he sustained as his mother disposed him. He is completely dependent; he cannot see, stand, sit, talk, grasp or do pretty much anything else by himself. But at least, Margaret said, he has recently learnt to smile.
30 other children from the home have been living at a centre in Kangemi, since Makimei can’t fit them all.
But Margaret keeps taking in more children.
“The police keep bringing neglected children, some infants, others older. But I can’t turn them away. I have to try to help”.
“We get many people wanting to adopt the children, but they get frustrated along the way. Adoption in Kenya is expensive and takes years, and some rules make it harder. You can’t adopt a child with features different from yours, and you also can’t raise a child far from where the child was born. The government says the child has to grow up in a familiar environment, so it’s difficult to take them out of the county (Kiambu County),” says Rachael.
I was deeply moved by what Rachael and Margaret have given up to bring up the children. They have denied themselves simple comforts of life, basic things like rest and sleep, which we take for granted everyday. They often sleep for less than six hours every night because they have to care for infants and sick children. It’s a bit easier in the summer, when they get volunteers, mostly students from Europe and North America. Even though well-wishers are often helping out with daily necessities and money, it is never enough. Most of the children need specialized treatment that can only be gotten at expensive private hospitals and the kids in primary school had to be transferred to private schools because of bullying.
Margaret still finds herself working odd jobs even at 57, and when her biological children send her money, she uses it for the kids she rescued. Sometimes, Rachael told me, visitors masquerade as well-wishers, then use photographs of the children to extort money from social media users.
We went to Makimei to highlight the stimulating plight of the children, who risked becoming homeless again. At the time, Rachael and Margaret had raised Ksh 2.2 million for a one-acre piece of land with a selling price of Ksh 15 million. The article was not published, and I never followed up to see if they got help. Maybe it’s time I checked in on them.
Also note that I have changed the names of the children in this post to protect their privacy.