If you ask me to describe my typical day, I could not tell you. Each day is so very different. It may involve jumping on a matatu and heading down to Kibera early in the morning to run creativity class. It may involve doing home visits to check up on kids or their families. It may involve sitting in 5 hours of traffic. It may involve tramping through mud and open sewage to reach our other centre in Kibera where upon you find a safe haven in amongst the chaotic and bustling slum life. Or it may simply involve sitting in the office all day catching up on admin and other bits. No, I could not tell you what a typical day is.
But last week, one of my days looked like this. It involved catching the bus into downton Nairobi, jumping off the bus (quite literally…the bus doesn’t stop) just before we hit city centre, meeting my colleague Joyce and two of our kids who are in the sponsorship programme, and spending the day with these two lovely girls, J. and N., relaxing in Uhuru Park. We sunbathed, we ate ice cream, we went on the lake in pedal boats, the girls went on the merry-go-round, and we wandered round the park gardens. But most importantly, we talked.
We talked because these girls have not had an easy time recently. They are sisters and their mother has been severly depressed for the past year. This has led to her becoming mentally unstable, which results in her screaming for no reason, waking and beating the J. in the middle of the night for no reason, refusing to wash herself or allow the baby boy (2 years) in the family to be cleaned, among other symptoms.
N. is 14 years old and in her final year at primary school. It’s an important year for her as the exams she takes at the end of this year will determine whether or not she will be able to join secondary school. N. is a bright girl, and up until recently has been performing extremely well in school. However, with her mum now unable to care for the family, and her father no longer living at home, she has become the head of the house. When she gets home from school she must cook, wash the clothes, clean the house, wash the baby, and look after her mum as well as herself and J. This leaves no time for homework or studies and her school days are spent worrying about her mum and baby brother at home.J. is 11 years old. She helps her older sister look after the family. She wonders why her mother only wakes in the night to beat her and not the other two. She tries hard in school but, like her older sister, her grades are dropping due to the pressures at home.
What makes this situation particularly sad is that before J. and N.’s mother got sick, she was so very caring and responsible. She was one of our best mums. She would make sure the girls got their homework done. She would come to the office when called and always bring receipts to prove what she’d bought if we’d given her money direct. She cared and loved her girls abundantly. And I believe she still does, it’s just hidden by her sickness.So we took the girls out for the day, and we talked about the challenges they face, about how life really is at home and we talked about their mum. We had fun and we laughed and the girls had a little break away from their difficult home situation. Even if only for a day.
And that was how I spent one day last week.