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Kenya’s village for orphans seeks to restore hope

A unique way of tackling the impact of the HIV/Aids scourge in Africa is shaping up in Kitui County, Eastern Kenya.

Orphans left under the care of their aging grannies after the death of their parents are being nurtured to re-establish the continuity of the broken families.
Modeled alongside a small pilot project in Kwa-Zulu region in South Africa, Nyumbani Village has evolved into the panacea for restoring hope, healing and fresh opportunity to those devastated by the disease.
The orphans are placed under the guardianship of a grandparent, not necessarily their own, charged with the duty to create an atmosphere as close to a normal home environment as possible.
The village is a self-sustaining community centre, where two generations, the orphans and the elders who have been left behind by the “middle generation” claimed by the deadly pandemic, are finding a second home.
According to Sister Mary Owens, a nun who co-founded centre with the late renowned catholic priest Fr Angelo D’ Agostino, the village currently hosts 1,000 orphans and 100 elderly grandparents in 100 homes.
As the name suggests, Nyumbani (Swahili for homes), it harnesses the energy of youth and the maturity of elders to create new blended families, thus providing compassion and care for the destitute.
Owens said in an interview on Thursday in Kitui that many of the children admitted were destitute, roaming the villages, begging or scavenging for food after their parents died.
“The village is halfway between an institution and the community. We try as much as possible to simulate normal village life, with grandparents and the children forming blended families,“ she says.
The village, said to be the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa stands out from the conventional set-up of children’s homes where kids are confined in an institution with a centralised authority to watch over them.
It has three learning institutions including a primary school, secondary school and a polytechnic, a medical clinic, a worship centre, a police post among other community facilities.
“Nyumbani is unique in the sense that, the children live together with their guardians in a real family set up where they are provided with basic necessities, contrary to the traditional way of taking care of orphans in children homes,” Owen explains.
The village manager Nicholas Syano, says the model is geared to assist the orphaned in recollecting their shattered existence and rise up to lead productive, fresh, safe and comfortable future lives.
“We have basically translocated them to just another family home to overcome the trauma of losing their parents, without necessarily herding them together into an institutional orphanage, “ he said, adding its occupants receive constant counseling, sustenance, health-care and education, aiming at their physical and welfare development.
For instance, Esther Ndulu, one of the pioneer beneficiaries of the village, lost her only daughter in 2001. She left behind four children thus reversing roles in the family where she automatically assumed the roles of their mother.
The widow from Ikutha area in southern Kitui had to struggle to put a single meal on the table for the orphaned kids, let alone getting money to buy clothing and pay for their schooling.
“I found myself in a precarious situation that even threatened my own health, because I personally needed special care and attention due to my age,” the 79 year old granny explained in an interview.
Amid desperation over the uncertain future, she was admitted into the village together with her four grandchildren in February last year, following reference by the local Catholic priest.
“I was weak, elderly and vulnerable, but now I consider myself lucky for having benefited from this home-care program,” she said, adding she does not intend to return to her home.
Esther Ndulu is among 28 pioneer elderly mothers who for the last six years have been receiving care at the rescue facility since it was established in 2006.
Their only duty is to ensure that the African culture is maintained and that disciplined is instilled in the children as they grow up.
“We use a committee that includes a social worker, community leaders and religious leaders to help us make the choice and ensure only those who really have no other option are taken in,” Owens said.
Impassioned about making a difference in the lives of children orphaned by HIV/Aids and left in the hands of caregivers who are already vulnerable and helpless, the priest approached several stakeholders including a coalition of donors to make his dream a reality.
Through careful planning and strategy, Fr D’ Agostino and his group obtained a vast 1,000 acre land 14 km off the Kitui -- Nairobi road near Kwa Vonza area and started working on the project.


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