Lydia Njeri: Raising children in the light

The gate at the Ngamwanza Children’s Support Centre in Rongai, Kajiado County quickly opens as the school van I am in drives in. I see a group of around 45 boys and girls aged around 4-10 curiously standing in front of their institution, wondering who their visitor is. I’ve looking forward to this visit since last Christmas. They seem excited as it is break time. Some of the little ones suckle their fingers, others wave and while the rest just smile. As for me, I’m quite nervous. How do I relate with so many children? I wonder. I alight from the van and founder of the institution Lydia Njeri, escorts me into the facility. My first expression; oh what a lovely home, walls painted in yellow and pink, my favourite colours.

It is very rare to find children’s institutions that support orphans and vulnerable children. A friend directed me to this place and my conversation with Lydia and the treasurer, Moses Kamalik left me wondering why many times, people who have the will and the heart to care for the needy often don’t have the funds. Many times, it is those who have the money that lack the will and the heart as I have seen many people suggest.

Lydia hands over a board that has photos of the children she has supported since 2004, the year the institution began. I am pleased to hear that one of the children who went through the institution is now an engineer who graduated from the University of Nairobi. She started with 25 children back then and the aim was to feed, clothe, provide medical care and educate them.

Happy faces

Once some of the children leave the institution, they enroll others. They often rent a place to host the children since they do not yet have land to build a place. Many of the children are orphaned or vulnerable since their parents are either very poor or suffer from terminal ailments which means they cannot work so as to provide for them. Ngamwanza has a bed capacity of 12 hence most of the children are brought in the morning and go back home later in the evening. This allows them to access a nutritious meal every day. They also provide basic education with the assistance of trained teachers who are passionate about early childhood development.

She was inspired by her own past, when she did not have enough to even feed herself. This really gave her the will and as they say, those closest to the problem are the ones who are very close to the solution. Many of the young ones have gone through mental and psychological abuse. They work hand in hand with the Children and Gender Desk to identify cases of child abuse and also to seek justice. They are also placed in the care of institutions that can support them. Some of the perpetrators of defilement have been jailed.

Like many Community Based Organizations, Ngamwanza faces financial challenges to buy books and pay the workers. She hopes to gain more support so as to sustain what they do. In such situations, passion is required. Once they reach class three, they help them to join the public schools around. They tuition children so that once they get into the mainstream education system, they find it easier to blend in with their peers. Without a proper education, many children often end up on the streets. It is sad to find a 10 year old boy who can’t even spell their name and this is what they are working to change this in achieving SDG 4 on increasing access to education.

They also assist children to get into high school by working with the county government and constituency so that they get bursaries. However, the money isn’t always enough and she often has to get something from her own pockets. Currently, one of them has a fee balance of Ksh 25000.We pause for a moment and I hear screams and shouts in the background…the innocence of childhood. Oh such energy that we must invest in as much as we can. Moses tells me that they are happy to see those they have supported coming back to volunteer to take care of the place.

While watching the news a few days ago, there was a news feature of a school where children have to report to school with a desk paid for by their own parents. This is not new to Ngamwanza as I learnt. Every time they want to enroll a child in the local public schools, they are asked to pay for a desk, an additional expense since the uniform is already very expensive. It saddens me, what are our priorities; have we done enough to invest in education?

The importance of team work is encouraged through football. There are tournaments where children form teams and play. There are several trophies in Lydia’s office, an indication of the spirit of excellence portrayed by Ngamwanza.

Many cases of child abuse are often reported where children are supposed to be cared for, either in the home, school or institutions like these. Lydia ensures that this does not happen. Moses says that they have policy guidelines which all the workers must follow. Before joining Ngamwanza, you must be vetted so as to determine your suitability. Since the children they support are few, it is also easier to manage and cater for their psychological needs. Lydia is often around and has developed a system where children can speak out when someone hurts them including their peers. She owns a little suggestion box where they write the issues affecting them so that they are properly addressed.

One of their greatest successes has been in providing healthcare. There are children who face severe ailments such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS. Lydia once shared what they do on KTN News and was lucky to get a donor. Dr. Kirtida Acharya, the chairperson of the Diabetes Kenya Association assisted two children in getting medical assistance from the MP Shah and Aga Khan hospitals in Nairobi, Kenya. They were even provided with Diabetes monitoring kits which are usually very expensive.

My visit concludes with a tour of the massionate turned Childrens home.  I am very proud of it. The bedding and showers are clean. Every bed has a little doll on it, a reminder of the love that children need.

‘Who wants to tell me their name?’ I ask. ‘Me!’ They all shout in unison. ‘I want to be a pilot. My name is Samueli,’ says a little boy from the corner of their classroom. Such joy, such hope, I am filled with wonder. At that age, I didn’t even know my name. For children like little Samueli, we can only do what we can, give our best every day. Never think that your work is less important.


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