COVID-19: Home with 63 children
Kithoka Amani Children’s Home (KACH) is a program of International Peace Initiatives (IPI). KACH opened its doors to 10 orphans on 23rd August 2009. In a few days time, KACH will be eleven (11) years old.
Today KACH is home to 63 orphans and 10 others who do not live at the Home but are supported by IPI. COVID-19 had not only brought the world ‘home’ to stay, it also brought KACH kids, all 63 of them, Home to stay.
I do not know how many children you have in your home. I have 63 at this time. When COVID-19 knocked at our door in March and all schools were closed, I thought the closures will be over by June. In June the new COVID-19 cases were not declining but rising in Kenya. The government announced that schools would reopen in January 2021. That was a game-changer for me.
How were we going to survive a whole year at Home, with 63 mouths to feed breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Looking around, most other homes sent their children ‘home’ to live with relatives. Knowing the kinds of places my kids came from, there was no way I would send them ‘home.’ We sat down with them and I asked how many wanted to go ‘home.’ Not a single one lifted their hands up. I said to them: “I am really okay with you going home if you will take care of yourself with COVID-19.” No one chose to go ‘home.’
I laid down what it would look like staying at Home for the next 6 months – all of us at KACH. I have about 33 girls and 30 boys at the Home. 30 boys and girls (half of them) are teenagers. Do the math!
Once it was announced schools would reopen in 2021, I started to re-strategize. In the first four months, we did some farm work and a lot of school work since we thought schools would reopen in September. I did want my kids to be caught up with the syllabi. Once it was clear they would be repeating the year, no one was interested in studies anymore. In any case, from the beginning, with the loooong ‘holiday’ mood in the air, few kids were motivated to study.
During one of the farm visits, when we went to plant 100 banana plants (I knew with COVID-19, if anything else fails, having our own food to feed the kids would be critical), the high school boys and a few girls loved the place so much they wanted to do more. We went to our second farm to fence the land. The high school boys decided they wanted to pitch tents there and stay. It has been four months now and we are creating a permanent living site there.
This has been a journey of giving the children an opportunity to make decisions themselves. I decided that I was not going to be a Mother and Father to 63 kids with the disciplining rod in my hand. I wanted them to use COVID-19 as a school of learning. Everyone has thus been busy. University level kids assist high school level kids with school work, especially in Math and Science subjects. High school level kids assist primary school kids with school work. Everyone has chores they have to complete by 8am in the morning. With most of the staff home due to COVID-19, we cook for ourselves, wash our clothes, keep the Home clean, graze our goats & cows, and work our farms. At the Njuruta farm site where the older boys are building their living quarters, everyone contributes (even the 5, 6, 7, and 8-year-olds) and together we are creating a Home we are all proud of.
My children have learned to work in teams; to make decisions about what they plan to do every day and how they choose to show up every day; we all have been given an amazing opportunity to live together as a family for these months – learning to listen, speak, BE with each other; each one has bonded with everyone; and we all have realized how blessed we are to have a large family. Every kid has an ‘older’ sister or brother to look after them. We have accomplished so much together. When we go to harvest beans, we do it so fast since we are many. Every piece of work we do is so much fun because everyone shows up and we complete it fast. We have days to rest after accomplishing a difficult task.
What we will do with the money raised through iMPACT direct is buy food for the children (that is my biggest challenge, food); replenish their clothes because many have outgrown their clothes and shoes these past 5 months; take the kids for a one-day trip to a place they choose (being Home for 5 months without going anywhere but to the farm is not easy – we all need a break); we will buy books and study materials for the kids; and buy some materials for the boy’s dormitory we are building.