Ngong, Kenya - My name is Martha. I am the House Mama at Faraja Orphanage. Faraja supports 35 children. The most recent child is Joy. She's nine. Joy was living on the streets. She was rescued by a lady in Kibera. She has HIV.
People just come and knock on the door here because they know I want a good life for the children. Initially I moved here because my husband died and the community, especially my late husband’s brothers wanted me to have an arranged marriage. I didn’t want to because there is an epidemic of HIV in Kisii. So I packed up and took my children to Kibera, and I tried to find work. I really wanted employment, but there wasn’t any. I had previously been trained as a teacher but hadn’t been observed by the government, so I couldn’t be employed as a teacher in a government school.
I knew I could be a teacher. I wanted to do tuition at my house so I could make money, but the problem was I didn’t get children whose parents would pay me. I had vulnerable and sick children knocking at the door. They came, and they stayed, and they are still here now! So instead of crying for my own problems, I started crying for the children. I knocked on friends’ doors, ask the church. They would come with cooked food and clothes for the children. And then the church, and the community, said, “we can’t take care of you, we have our own people.” And so they came up with the idea of registering, and so we were registered as a community-based organization. Then after that I could get relief and support from the office of the President – dry food like beans and maize. We don’t pay for the food, but we pay for the transport to get it here.
Twenty-eight children live in this house with me. They range from a little over 2 years, to 17 years old. All of the children go to school, except the youngest. All are in primary school. There are seven children who are HIV positive. Two of the children are on ARVS. The others take septrin (an antibiotic) and a multivitamin. We get the ARVS from the local medical clinic. It’s good that they are free.
Most of the HIV positive children here were born positive. Kephah, the youngest, came here to the house when he was four months old. A lot of them have parents who died of AIDS. Three of the children who have HIV are siblings.
We’ve talked to the children about how people get HIV and AIDS. I’ve told them, and I’ve also had friends who’ve visited to talk to them about it. I’ve not disclosed to the children why they’re taking medication, because they’re so young. The eldest found out about his HIV from people in school, which I wasn’t happy about. We make sure though that we teach all the children about HIV and AIDS – not just the ones taking medication. I don’t want to tell them until they’re older because it will take some time to accept and work through. I don’t want to traumatize them with the information about their illness.
We have to start giving our 12 year old some awareness about why he’s taking the medicine, but it’s so hard for me to do that. I would like someone to come from outside to do it – because I don’t want to be the one to tell them they are sick.
We do have to be extra careful with these children. We tend to put them away from using sharp things, especially things like razor blades, scissors, knives etc. What I have done as a mother is be extra careful. I tell them not to share toothbrushes and towels and things like that.
A big challenge for us at the moment is the price of food because of the drought. The chickens are not laying, they are eating each other because they are so hungry. Our main staple food is beans and maize. We normally take porridge made from millet but we’re using the maize flour because we can’t afford anything else. Even maize itself we can’t afford from the market – and we don’t get enough from the government.
I say I can’t really take any more children, but when a situation happens, like with Joy, we say better we bring them here instead of having them die in the cold. I’m not going to say no if they turn up at the door.
There is no support. It is so rampant that the government can’t take care of anyone.
Also with HIV/AIDS, they can’t control it in families – and there are some people who just think it’s witchcraft. The NGOs tend to look at people who are already getting help. But there’s too much of a problem here. And it’s hard, because we have no power so there’s no TV, there are no radios – it’s the same in the villages. People there don’t know what’s going on, they have no way of knowing that. There’s not enough education or awareness for people who don’t have power and what that means for getting information. People haven’t yet accepted that HIV/AIDS is around, and that it has no cure. I would like the government to try to change the stigma in Kenya about people with AIDS, and just more education really, especially, like I said, for people in rural areas.
The question of stigma makes me want to cry. I was denounced when children knocked on my door, because people said other children will be infected.
Even when they’re in school there is stigma. Our 15 year old says his teacher told him that he shouldn’t sit close to the other students. And this is a teacher!!
So many children perform poorly in school because they feel they are not accepted. It’s that sort of thing that I want to stop happening in this family. I have told my son to take care of one of the boys in particular, to help him if he needs it. I think, though, some of them realize because they are beginning to study it at school. They know the ones who take medicine every day, they know they are positive without even saying it. So I make sure that I educate them about how being positive doesn’t mean that we don’t love them. The stigma is really bad. That’s what kills people who are HIV positive.
Based on an interview with Alexi O’Brien in 2011.