A rescue home in Kenya ensures that abandoned babies get the love and care they need to survive and thrive.
“When you hold a baby that has just been rescued, the hug sparks an attachment that stays with you for a long time,” says Ann Wambugu, chief administrative officer at OneChild partner New Life Home Trust, a rescue home for abandoned babies in Kenya.
More than 21 years ago, Ann wasn’t sure what she wanted to become in life. All she knew then was that she loved children but wasn’t certain how she could turn her passion for babies into a career.
“I was confused as a young adult,” she says. “I never knew what I wanted to become. Whenever I got asked about my dream career, I amazingly did not have a word to describe exactly what my dream was.
“I loved babies, but I did not know how to phrase it into a career.”
After college, Ann settled on serving babies in need of love and care. In her quest to align to her dream in life, she tried working in a kindergarten but realized that the kids had parents who lovingly cared for them, and she was looking to serve abandoned kids in hard places.
Then she heard about New Life Home in Nairobi.
New Life Home was founded in 1994 by Clive and Mary Beckenham as a response to the plight of abandoned babies in Kenya. At that time the home gave priority to abandoned babies who were infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
According to the World Health Organization, Kenya declared HIV/AIDS a pandemic in the year 1999. It was in the same year that Ann’s journey at New Life Home began.
She began by volunteering at the home for several months, and then later was hired as an administrator.
Conditions Babies Left in Are Heartbreaking
Even though she was an administrator, Ann enjoyed going out for the baby rescue missions. Babies are abandoned in both public and private places. Public places range from open-air markets, dumpsites, playgrounds, and police stations, and some are thrown into pit latrines.
Some are abandoned in hospitals by their mothers soon after delivery, and some are given up for adoption willingly.
Many find a hope-filled future at New Life Home.
Ann says New Life is well known in the community. This makes the rescue missions easier because when a baby is found abandoned in a public place or rescued by a good Samaritan, the police are notified, and they call the home to pick up the baby.
When a baby is abandoned in a hospital, most hospital workers will contact the home to come pick up the baby.
When a call for a rescue comes in, a driver, a social worker, a caregiver, and a nurse from the home leave to rescue the baby. They bring milk, warm clothes, warm baby shawls, diapers, and wipes to care for the baby.
Most of the abandoned babies are dirty, depending on where they were abandoned, and they are usually hungry because many are left out in the open for long hours without food, and some without diapers or clothes on.
“We always look forward to such calls, and it excites us,” Ann says. “The caregivers at times ask for the gender of the child so that they can know whether to carry pink clothes for the girls and blue for the boys.
“I have gone for child rescues both during the day and at night, and the experiences remain precious and live with me.”
Ann, however, says the conditions that the babies are left in breaks her heart.
“Most times the babies are always crying,” she says. “You can tell the distress in the cry is because they have been separated from the person they loved. I ask people to try to imagine themselves out in the cold at night even as an adult, without clothes on, and hungry, yet this is what abandoned babies go through at times.”
As soon as they meet the abandoned baby, the rescue team cleans and covers them up with shawls and then feeds and embraces them as they drive back to the home.
Ann says that at times, the rescues are challenging, and they are forced to come up with solutions on the spot.
“We once rescued a 4-month-old baby at night from the police station,” she recounts. “The baby was crying, so hungry, and did not know how to suckle from the bottle. This made it difficult because the baby was hungry, and we had to take some time to figure out how to feed the baby.”
After the rescue, the baby is brought into the home.
Ceremony Welcomes Babies
When the rescue vehicle honks at the gate, everyone at the home is notified of a new baby coming. They all put on hold the activities they are doing to welcome the baby. They gather around the baby to sing celebratory songs and dance as the baby is carried into the home from the gate.
It is a welcome ceremony.
In Kenyan culture, ceremonies are graced with song and dance, and at the home songs from different tribes in the country are sung to a rescued baby during the welcome ceremony. The caregivers also dance, and some musical instruments are played.
In addition to notifying the staff at the home of a new baby, the welcome ceremony helps create good memories for the babies.
Ann says that the celebrations make the babies feel loved.
“No matter how young they are, they can feel the love and change of environment. If they were initially crying before the rescue, we see them calm down during the celebration.”
After the ceremony, the baby is given a name and then prayed for.
Ann says that previously, when a baby was rescued by a good Samaritan and the case filed to the police, the police would give the baby a name that described the public place where the baby was rescued from.
“For example, if a baby was found thrown in a pit latrine, their file would come in named, ‘baby pit latrine,’ and we know that names are powerful. It is for this reason that we decided to be naming the babies,” Ann says.
The names given to the babies are significant and reflective of things that the caregivers at the home wish the baby would grow into, she says.
“We give them beautiful and powerful names that have meaning, like Angel, Blessings, Joy,” Ann says. “We have one called ‘Harmony,’ and she has lived to be a good singer.”
Sometimes babies are named after a visitor in the home on the day of the rescue. Rescuers also sometimes give babies their biological names after tracing their families.
After naming the baby, the caregivers take turns to bless and pray for the baby.
“We believe in praying for the babies when they come into the home because we want to delink any past traumas, any curses from the people that abandoned them, and also break the spirit of rejection. We also assure them of Jesus’ undying love,” Ann says.
After the prayers, the babies are given a warm bath, swaddled, dressed in warm clothes, and then given milk.
A nurse then physically examines the baby. The nurse further checks the baby for any infections and advises on the kind of treatment and care the baby needs. During this time, the baby is left in an isolation unit within the home where a caregiver is present around the clock until the new baby is cleared to join other babies in the home.
Talking Soothes Little Ones
The caregivers at the home talk a lot to the babies.
“Speaking to the babies has over time proven to calm them when they are nervous,” Ann says. “So when one is crying, we embrace them and talk to them until they are calm.”
She says they also hold the babies close because touch is one of the languages that babies understand best.
“What you do when they are small translates to so much love and care in the future, so we give them a lot of hugs and embrace them because we are in the business of unapologetically loving them.”
Ann says that despite the financial constraints that the home faces, the staff at the home are passionate about rescuing babies.
“We at the administration are always looking at how many babies our budget allows us to rescue, but our staff are always looking at rescuing all the babies we possibly can.”
In addition to rescuing the babies, New Life Home also champions for babies to be reunited with their families whenever possible, and some are placed into adoption. The home works with the government and a child adoption agency to place the babies into homes.
When a child is adopted into a family, there is a routine follow-up from the adoption agency during which the families are required to bring the babies into the home for checkups. The home is then able to assess how the baby is faring and how they have blended in with the family.
“We get emotional when the babies exit the home because we are attached to them. But the joy comes when we later realize that the baby has blended in well with their new family,” Ann says.
“We can easily tell if a baby is comfortable in their new family by how they interact with their caregiver. If they cling on to them and want nothing to do with us, that is an indication that they are comfortable.”
Ann explains, “Children crave families, and that is why placing them into families is important.”
However, not all babies are lucky enough to be placed into families. For those who are not adopted, New Life Home transfers them to other homes that have the same standards of care as New Life.
Those who are neither adopted nor transferred into other homes remain at New Life. The home has three other branches in three other towns in Kenya. One of the branches specifically cares for children with disabilities.
The home has a current program of integrating the older ones into the community.
Ann sadly says, the other form of exit for some babies is death. Some die because of injuries inflicted on them before they were abandoned. Harsh abandonment or severe neglect can cause death.
“Back in the early 2000s, children came, in a heart-wrenching state,” Ann says. “I got angry; I wanted to care for them with the hope that they would get back in shape overnight. Unfortunately, some never made it. But our founders taught us to love them even if they had hours left to live, and this is what we carry with us daily. For those that pass on, they die knowing they were loved.”
For 21 years, Ann has seen abandoned babies transition from babies to young adults. She has seen generation after generation of kids come through the home, and what keeps her going is that every day is a chance for her to love a baby unconditionally.
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