The Orphan Crisis in Kenya:
As reported by UNICEF (a branch of the United Nations focused specifically on children), in 2012, Kenya had approximately 2,600,000 orphans. Kenyan children become orphans for a variety of reasons, but generally speaking, AIDS is the single largest factor which leaves children parentless.
HIV/AIDS and Orphans:
In 2012, approximately 1,000,000 children were orphaned by HIV/AIDS alone. HIV/AIDS, otherwise known as human immunodeficiency virus infection/ acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is virtually a death sentence for those living in poverty within Kenya. Healthcare is not subsidized by the government in Kenya, and the treatments used to manage HIV before it transitions into full-blown AIDS are costly when considering the low income of a vast majority of Kenyans. Without treatment, those with the disease wither away, often leaving their children without a primary caregiver. It is common for a child to lose both parents to the virus because HIV is often transferred through sexual intercourse with the passage of bodily fluids. Although HIV/AIDS is not exclusive to Africa, the continent has been most dramatically affected by this deadly disease.
Source: The CBC, URL: http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/aids/. Originally from UNAIDS.
Orphans of Political Violence:
As we learned, the 2007/2008 political violence in Kenya resulted in tragedy, death, and instability across the country. One such story as reported by the BBC on December 29th, 2008, by Juliet Njeri, reads, “Orphaned by Kenya poll violence”. It follows the story of a brother and sister who walked for safety after their parents were killed in political violence… does this sound familiar?
Njeri reports about the siblings who arrived in Kibera, stating that, “Neighbours turned against each other because of ethnic and political rivalries and the police were accused of using brutal force to quash clashes and protests. But it was here that John Okello and Jane Ogolla, both ethnic Luos like then opposition leader Raila Odinga, sought refuge after they were orphaned during violence in other parts of the country. Fourteen-year-old John says he walked more than 62 miles (100km) to Nairobi from Naivasha after his parents were shot and killed. ‘I didn’t know where I was going but luckily through God’s grace I finally arrived in Nairobi,’ he says.” (To read the rest of the story, please visit – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7792818.stm).
Politics in Kenya has a ripple effect, touching people who are far removed from political affairs in unimaginable ways. For instance, young children who have little concern or interest in politics suddenly become orphans when their parents are the victims of political opposition and hate. Although this is a less common narrative of the orphans in Kenya when compared to that of HIV/AIDS, this is still a harsh reality for many children in Kenya.
UNICEF, Kenya Statistics. (2012): URL: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/kenya_statistics.html. Njeri, Juliet. “Orphaned by Kenyan poll violence.” BBC News. (2008), URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7792818.stm.
Kenya is home to more than two million orphans. More incredible nobody seems to know the numbers. This is just a guess. Most children who are orphaned end up being cared for by extended family members. Some end up in orphanages. Many end up living–and dying–on the streets in situations that can only be described as tragic and horrific.
While AIDS remains the larger contributor to these numbers it’s not the only factor. If the cross-section of our orphanage offers some insights we have children who have become orphans because of AIDS, malaria, infectious diseases, cancer and other illnesses, and accidents–most commonly motor vehicles. Poverty is a fact in so many of these deaths. When there is no money for medication, surgery, food, and adequate living condition then Illnesses that could have been treated in our society result in death in Kenya.
Ideally children who have lost their parents should reside in a caring home provided by members of their extended families. The vast majority of the children in our program live in the homes of extended family members. They’re supported through monthly food distribution and are supplied with school uniforms, beds and blankets, tools, goats and chickens. However, for some orphans there are no family members able, or willing, to provide this care. These children are residents of The Rolling Hills Residence.
Throughout Kenya there are hundreds and hundreds of orphanages. Some are registered and monitored by the government. Many others are not. Funding – including those registered with the government – is often tenuous and fragile and insufficient. Our program receives minimum government payments constituting less than 2 % of the money necessary for the program. The rest comes from private donations and sponsorships, money collected from local churches, and an occasional corporate donation. Our Children’s Residence – as with the vast majority of those throughout the country – is trying to do the best they can with the limited resources that are available.
In my story the ‘threat’ of Muchoki and Jata being sent to orphanage is the factor that motivates him to take his sister and leave. Partly this is out of fear that they would be separated and placed in two different institutions. Given the scope of the ongoing orphan crisis in Kenya, combined with the political violence that killed and forced hundreds of thousands of others to flee their homes, this is a very realistic outcome for these children, including the possibility of being sent to different institutions. Some Children’s Homes only take girls and others only boys.
Joseph Stalin – one of the most monstrous mass murders in history – is attributed with saying that ‘the death of one is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic.’ I wanted this story to be told through the eyes of this one child so that the tragedy could be felt by the reader. In taking pictures and posing two of our orphans as these two characters I wanted you to look them in the eyes. I made up Muchoki and Jata. I didn’t make up the real situation – one in which millions of children in that one country live – and die.