The whole family at Upendo Children Home. Photo || Quincy Kombe||

Bottomline: family taught her how toxic marriage could turn out having undergone the stigma of her in laws loathe she considers remaining single rest of her life, instead she has dedicated the remainder of her life to looking after orphaned children.

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced – James Baldwin.

Mama Pendo, as she is commonly known, shares an inspiring story of hope amid despair. her in-laws blamed her for their deceased son thats where her story begins…..

As a widow she had a turbulent relationship with her in-laws whom she has since forgiven. Social challenges pushed her into structuring an orphanage at Kashani, Bamburi ward.

“After I lost my husband (withholding dates on anonymity grounds) I felt like some part of my family God had graced me with had left for good. Concerned about our daughter, knowing I could not understand how she perceived our situation at that time considering her tender age. The idea of having a big family arose as a result of the ongoing rift between her and her late husband’s family.

Upendo Children Home. Photo|| Quincy Kombe||

In 2010 she established Upendo orphanage, a home that has brought back joy to 10 children housed therein majority from the nearby locale in a bid to actualize her dream of one day living with a bigger family.

Manpower to run and maintain the place is solely sourced from within. She struggles with her only daughter Bakhita, aged 23 to clean the home and wash clothes for the younger children below 9 years. Most of them require help during weekdays to get to school and back a role Bakhita plays.

Dozens of questions came across my mind when I first thought of the idea. I was on my own with the support of a Danish sponsor (name withheld) who came to my aid through a friend. We did not want to have a lot of staff because of operational costs. To this end, the manpower to handle day to day activities for the children comes from my daughter and I. The sponsor provides financial support but operates from Denmark.

The Joyful ten at Upendo Childrens’ home. Photo ||Quincy Kombe||

Having lost her husband in 2010, the 48-year-old lady and her daughter have found it rough identifying with a father figure. The void seems bigger with the nightmare of losing their breadwinner unforgettable.

It hasn’t been easy sourcing the head for a small family, thus the desire to expand their home with the orphanage project. Currently, the sponsor who helped them initiate Upendo orphanage plays father to Bakhita and her new siblings as well.

Sometimes I have to act like the mother and father to these innocent kids. Our sponsor participates actively in funds but works from Denmark. So his physical presence to the children is so limited. To the kids, I have made them know that the sponsor is their patron father figure.

Bakhita, the biological daughter to Mama Pendo is happy having the kids around. Her ever-smiling face makes one to fully understand she loves and cares for her siblings who are orphaned, with one parental figure left in her life she selflessly assists the younger ones as their elder sister.

I’m happy around them. I was lonely before the orphanage got established. Now, I have 10 siblings who I can talk to, confide in, laugh with and do home chores alongside. I accepted them from the start and continually take them as a larger family bestowed upon us by God.

Mama Pendo with her family at a past event. Photo Courtesy

She takes them as her younger siblings because they play together, laugh and make jokes together. The kids know her as their firstborn sister. Says Mama Pendo.

The orphanage is registered and authorized to operate by children offices in Mombasa county. This enables the organisation to freely operate without any hinderances.

We had the orphanage registered under the children department in Frere Town, Mombasa. We are a known children home allowed to carry out operations aimed at helping the kids through their lives.

The kids’ presence has enabled both mama Pendo and Bakhita understand the meaning of oneness, sharing, equality before the eyes of God. It has made them yearn to serve others willingly rather than crave to be served which has also impacted well on both of their individual lives.

I was left with my mother after dad’s death. Her in-laws developed bad blood towards us leading to a rift between my maternal and paternal families. With the presence of the kids however, I personally feel like we managed to get a new family,precisely one that loves us as we are, says an emotional Bakhita.

Concerning the orphaned kids, Upendo orphanage obtains them through help from Catholic churches and the community, they are contented with the number of orphans on board with no plans to take in more kids at the moment due to finalcial and infrastructural challenges.

The children are brought into the facility at a very tender age.There is a protocol to be observed in bringing them into the orphanage. We first have to ascertain that their cases are genuine by doing follow-ups on death certificates of their parents to verify their eligibility.

Most of the children housed here we’re sourced via the church since I’m a catholic faithful. Some are forwarded to us by villagers upon neglect and we come to their rescue. We currently look after ten kids, five girls and five boys.

She admits that sometimes, health issues are a headache since the kids are all below 16 years old and anything that happens to them is the responsibility of the management. Some children are asthmatic, others have a health history of stomach ulcers. To this end, a lot of attention is given to the type of diets the children take and their medication.

We have not witnessed serious health issues but a number of times we have had to admit some of the younger kids suffering from asthmatic conditions, ulcers and anemia. The sponsor really helps to foot hospital bills as we take care of them. The local community around Kashani commends her for her passion when it comes to taking care of the less fortunate children under her roof.

However, a section of the villagers are opportunistic viewing the place as an institution they can obtain handouts from. This bothers hers since the locals should be the ones supporting the establishment in any small possible way donating  anything that can facilitate the establishment instead of coming for free food, clothes and petty cash.

This sometimes pulls us back. We are Christians and charity is part of Catholic teachings. We strive to teach the kids about sharing. So we cannot just chase villagers who come for handouts from the orphanage.

At 48 years she does not consider marriage at this point. She narrates that family taught her how toxic marriage could turn out having undergone the stigma of her in laws loathe she considers remaining single rest of her life, instead she has dedicated the remainder of her life to looking after orphaned children.

Another challenge that hinders daily operations at Upendo orphanage is poor drainage of the locale close to the establishment. During the rainy seasons, the place gets so muddy and impassable. This comes as a stumbling block to the day to day operations around the orphanage. To this end, the management pleads with the ward and county government to develop feeder roads so as to ease operations within Bamburi ward.

She has for years thought of having a big family. A friend that she met spoke to her and the idea gained attention. The friend helped connect mama Pendo with a Danish sponsor who also had an interest in establishing an orphanage to look after the less privileged kids. The sponsor and founder met had a lengthy talk to plan for its construction,scope of operations amongst other logistics that come with running a children home.

I got to learn about the sponsor through my friend. We constantly keep tabs on each other,he has been so supportive. He helps me pay the children school fees, purchase their uniforms, school bags and with their general upkeep. Medical allowances are also sent to us to have the children go for quarterly check-ups in pediatric facilities.

Mama Pendo with her children at a swimming practice. Photo Courtesy

The society has failed to take up responsibilities claiming that the conditions under which the 10 beneficiaries of Upendo orphanage we’re obtained seemed so disturbing. A lot of the children were neglected and found themselves at the facility which has since been a source of hope to them notwithstanding a fortress of joy.

Many children are victims of circumstances. Some of them were abandoned at hospitals, Catholic nuns’ convents and dumpsites. Some were conceived out of wedlock thus the danger of murder at infancy.

On their spiritual lives, the children attend catechism classes on weekends at St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Church-a parish of the sacred heart of Jesus Catholic Church, Shanzu parish. This enables then to grow spiritually. Their foster mother attends mass with them on Sundays as prayers are part and parcel of the orphanage’s daily program.

“We make sure that their spiritual life is closely monitored. The children are still at a young age thus it is vital that their lives are built around the church. We have pushed them closer to God by ensuring they attend catechism classes. We have assigned them a catechist, Peter Harry Njuguna, who takes them through religious classes aimed at making them ethical, trustworthy and people of integrity,” says Mama Pendo.

The children also take part in games, with their sponsor “father” providing materials to enable them to actively participate in sports activities. The boys engage in ball games, indoor games including scrabble, badminton and ludo whereas girls play with ropes, engage in athletics and swimming is part of their weekly programme also.

They are good boys and girls, obedient and courteous, some could give us headaches at times but their general conduct is convincing.

Were she to meet another sponsor, she would appreciate if her facility is expanded and more resources channeled therein to ensure Upendo orphanage is at a place capable of housing over 100 unfortunate children.