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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be raised in a Charitable Children’s Institution (CCI)? We spoke with Mary, who spent 14 years in a CCI, about her good, bad, and sometimes traumatic experiences, as well as how they affect her current life as a young woman.

Why were you taken to the Charitable Children’s Institution?

I was born in Kitui town but grew up in a CCI in the coastal region. I was brought up there since I was two years old and forced to leave when I was sixteen. My father died after suffering a stroke and my mother’s death followed soon thereafter. My three siblings and I were left in the care of my grandmother, a drunkard and she couldn’t take care of us. Our eldest sibling who was fifteen years got married and the rest of us were sent to the CCI.

What was your experience like living in the CCI? What did you like?

We lived together as one large family interacting with people of different ethnic backgrounds spoke the same language and got somewhere to call home.

Also, we concentrated entirely on our studies because the institution was very strict and there was that competitiveness among each other to do better to get rewarded at the end of the term. In addition, the staff would check our homework daily. 

 

 

What were negative experiences?

If you made a mistake for instance extended your playing time unknowingly, you would face the music one would be asked to cut firewood for a whole month and carry it using a wheelbarrow, if the time elapsed without having completed the punishment you would be added another tough task to perform. 

Furthermore, a parent has unconditional love for their children, so if they make mistakes, there is room to punish and forgive, whereas in the CCI, if you make a mistake, you are issued three warning letters, sent to the reforms section, then sent out of the institution and into the streets. We were expected to be perfect there, which is not the case in children.

Some staff had their relatives living in the CCI so when it came to resolving an issue that had arisen in the institution they treated the matter unjustly to favor their own.

Did the children in your CCI have all they needed?

We sometimes went without basic necessities like clothes or shoes because the institution only provided them once a year since it waited until there was enough to go around. We were only given food while in the institution, but if we left to go to school, we remained hungry for the rest of the day despite only having a cup of porridge in the morning. We were also expected not to borrow from anyone the lunch that we did not have but stay hungry the entire day. However, that changed once the institution was under new management.

Due to limited resources available in the institution once one completed primary education we were all sent to the same nearby secondary school despite having scored good marks in the national exams. This demoralized most of us from working hard because no matter the marks you scored the choice of a secondary school was the same.

What was the most traumatic moments you had?

A member of the institution’s management was interested in having an affair with me. He’d follow me around the home and inappropriately touch me. Because such relationships were discouraged, I took the initiative and reported the case to other staff. It was later discovered that I was not the only girl who had raised such a concern. However, since the accused person was in management the issue was discarded and the staff that was on my side were either fired or demoted.  My fate and that of the other girls’ stay at the institution was ended. This meant that even our education sponsorship was terminated. I fought back and was able to contact the director, who agreed to pay my school fees even though I would not be staying at the institution. However, for the others, that was the end of it.

You were in a Christian-sponsored institution…

Yes. We were forced to accept it regardless of their other religious beliefs once accepted. Even though I was born into an Islamic family, I was forced to become a Christian. Some were even coerced into changing their names to Christian ones.

Were you able to keep in touch with the rest of your family during the 14 years in a CCI?

My eldest sibling who got married only came to visit us twice ever since we went to the CCI because the institution is very far away from our upcountry home. Some of my relatives I have, I only know them by their names but can’t recognize them even if I saw them pass by on the road. I have an aunt also who lives nearby but she never visited us completely only her children came to visit one time during my entire stay.

Was it difficult for you to reintegrate back to the community after leaving the CCI?

Yes, it was difficult for me to make new friends because, unlike there, where everything was similar, outside children come from different homes and have different behaviors. On the other hand, in the CCI everything was given to us, and now I had to learn to fend for myself outside. To meet some of my needs, I worked as a waiter after school. I went to stay with my aunt and am still living with her, but even calling her by that name is still difficult because I don’t consider her a relative. in the beginning, she was a total stranger to me.

What are your plans?

After completing my education I did not enter any higher institution of learning. However, I worked as a waiter in numerous hotels until the Corona pandemic struck and most hotels were shut down. I paid someone on an individual basis to teach me how to mend torn clothing. I’d be grateful if I could find someone who would sponsor me in pursuing that career. At the moment, I started my own business venture of selling clothes which we call Madera.

Why have you decided to join the care leavers group at Kesho Kenya?

I joined the group, which is comprised of children who were raised in CCIs, to raise awareness about how important it is for communities to stop raising children in these institutions, as I was raised in one. Through the development of support groups, we have gained psychosocial help by engaging and sharing our experiences.

 

 

What advice would you give to struggling families from your own experience?

As an individual who was raised in the CCI, I can only emphasize the importance of the family bond. It was difficult for me to see that those that were supposed to be the most important people in my life had abandoned me. I could see that their families were doing just fine. So I would be if we shared the little resources that we had even if it meant having only a cup of porridge the entire day or just Ugali and Omena to eat – but we are together with the rest of the family and other siblings. Therefore, if it is possible, help should be provided to keep children at their homes and in their community.

Changing the Way We Care is an initiative that advocates for care reforms and embraces family-based care in order to promote safe, nurturing family care for children. So far, the project has worked with seven CCIs and reached out to 76 families in order to reintegrate 69 children back into their homes. Beneficiaries also received Income Generating Activity startup capital to help them start their own businesses and sustain themselves.