STILLWATER — Life at the orphanage
AMCC has five staff members. Muhika desires to see the lives of AIDS and at-risk orphans transformed, while seeking to meet the physical, academic and spiritual needs of every child. Programs are approached with a biblical perspective serving as a moral compass.
The orphans range in age from 9 to 21, and all are enrolled in the local public schools. When not in school, their day is filled with studying, chores, praying and songs. They work hard to keep the home running as they sort beans and rice, wash dishes and floors, and scrub the few clothes they have by hand.
In their spare time, they love to play card games and soccer. The children’s home is a simple two-story cement structure that originally was a chicken co-op. It’s the result of an attempted income-generating project of raising chickens for capital to cover the costs of running the home.
The rising costs of chicken feed forced them to prematurely halt the project, and when their landlord began demanding three times the going rate for their former place, they moved into the chicken co-op, the only property they owned. There is no electricity, and the only running water is a small tap from a local well. They have three large tanks to collect rain water, a separate wood-structured kitchen and a few tin washrooms and toilets.
Drinking water is treated with chlorine. Laundry is done by hand with bar soap or detergent. Clothes are hung to dry. The kitchen often is smokey and warm because of an open fire, although it is ventilated fairly well. Most of the food consists of maize and red beans boiled together with little spice added. Ugali and bean stew is another staple, along with beans and rice. Cabbage is more of a treat and often is eaten with chapati, a thick tortilla-like bread. Beef or goat meat is more of a delicacy and is only served on big occasions.
There is Internet access in the town of Thika, but it takes about 40 minutes to get there by “matatu,” a public minivan often filled with grain sacks and hordes of people. The closest place for Wi-Fi is a three-hour trip to Nairobi. Yet, the children don’t seem to notice the lack of amenities and help with duties every day.
“The children are very engaging, asking lots of questions about American culture, and they enjoy teaching us about their way of life,” said Maggie Jackson, who also holds a master’s degree in public health from the University of Oklahoma. “The day begins for them at 5:30 a.m. as they rise to sing and pray immediately after eating porridge and before they report to school by 7 a.m. Each evening, they return to sing and pray before they eat dinner and head to bed by 9:30 p.m. The children seem genuinely happy to be here despite their humble conditions and difficult past.”
Physical dangers from tribal conflicts can disrupt daily life. One of the longest nights happened when an organized gang called “mungiki” was attacking villages, Dawson said.
“Our village had been warned that they might be a target, so the elders arranged for all of the men to stay up through the night patrolling with whatever weapons they could muster, mostly just farming tools,” Dawson said. “Nick and I were supposed to help patrol, too, but they decided last minute that the work we were doing with the kids was more important, so we should just stay at the children’s home and be alert to protect them there.”
Dawson has returned to the United States and is a Rapoport Center Human Rights Scholar at the University of Texas law school.