A Widow Champions for Orphans in Kenya

Story and photos by Donna Atola, Kenya Field Communications Specialist

A life-changing event acts as a wake-up call for a woman in Turkana as she discovers a new calling. Over the years the calling has grown to a passion that helps her champion for orphans in her village.

Ekiru, right, stands with his little brother Caleb outside their home.

It is Saturday morning at Lokori, a market town in Turkana, and I can tell that just like the previous day, today is going to be scorching hot.

Turkana is a hot, arid region in northwestern Kenya.

Lucky for me, Alfred, a Child Champion at Morulem Hope Center, is picking me at 6:30 a.m.  on his motorcycle so we can spend some time with sponsored kids Ekiru and Caleb in Morulem village before the weather gets too hot.

We bump along dusty rock-strewn paths. As we near the village, I notice strands of sticks roped together and hanging from hooks in fruit trees. Alfred explains that they’re used by herders to shake fruit from the branches for goats to eat.

As we arrive at Ekiru’s home, the day is just breaking. There’s a woman doing dishes, and another is folding bedsheets and mattresses.

The beds are outside under a tree because the family sleeps outdoors when it’s not raining as the heat in the house at night is unbearable.

A young man dressed in a T-shirt and a cloth knotted at the waist to form a tunic, typical of Turkana, is helping the goats and sheep out of their pen. They pass through a small gate made of wood and an iron sheet, heading into the brush across the road from the home.

Ekiru,7, and his younger brother Caleb are squatting outside their house facing the gate as they catch the soft morning sun that’s shining on their sleepy faces.

Their great aunt, Margret, welcomes us to their home and offers us chairs under a tree as she sits on a wooden Turkana traditional bed that’s under the same tree.

Margret says she felt led to care for the children in her village, especially orphans.

As one of Margret’s nieces leaves to help Ekiru and his brother get ready to go to the Hope Center, Margaret talks to us about her journey to becoming a Child Champion.

Margret’s Wake-Up Call

Margret is a widow with two adult children. However, she currently cares for six other children.

Four of the children are her nieces and nephews whose mothers — Margret’s sisters — died. The remaining two, Ekiru and Caleb, belong to her niece, who lives in another town.

“I don’t remember ever having just a few people in my home,” Margret exclaims. “I love it when I have a lot of children to care for in my home.”

This journey to care for so many other children began when she was widowed.

“When I lost my husband, I had a reality check,” she says.

At that time, Margret noticed there were many orphans in her village who needed someone to take care of them. That’s when she decided to welcome orphans and kids living in poverty into her home.

In Kenya, an “orphan” refers to a child who has lost one or both parents.

“This village is full of orphans — more than half of the kids here are orphans,” she tells me. That makes me wonder why there are so many orphans here.

I learn that the Turkana community has been pastoralist — nomadic herders — from time immemorial. When men become herders they often have to travel a long way to find grass for their cattle.

Unfortunately, they have also had to endure often-deadly raids on their livestock from neighboring communities. Margret’s village is close to the bordering community, making them the easiest target for the raiders.

Ekiru peeks out from behind a wall in his home.

During the raids, Margret says, men in the community are often killed by the raiders as they try to protect their animals from being stolen.

Life in the region is hard, and a mother may pass away from illness. Other times a mother remarries, but complex cultural norms may prevent her from bringing her children into her new husband’s family, leaving them in the care of elderly grandparents who are unable to provide for them properly. In the end, the children suffer.

Acting on the Call

After her husband died, Margret felt led to care for children in need in her community, giving priority to the orphans.

She began by taking in one of her late sister’s kids. She then quickly realized that the children of her other sister were struggling. So Margret offered to take care of that sister’s kids while the sister looked for a job in another town.

Ekiru and Caleb show some of their goats.

Unfortunately, that sister later became ill and died, leaving her kids in Margaret’s care as well.

With her newfound passion for caring for orphans and kids in need coming to fruition, Margret sought to ensure the well-being of other children in the community.

She began by trying to find out about any child who was being mistreated and then becoming their advocate.

“Some people mistreat kids, more so when they know the kids have no parents to defend them,” Margret says. “The community knows to report to me any mistreatment a child goes through.”

She started reaching out to the people who were mistreating their kids to talk to them about their actions and try to get them to change their ways.

Around that time, education was being championed in the community. Parents were being urged to take their kids to school, but Margret’s biggest worry was whether orphans or kids from poor families could afford an education.

“This is a hard place. It only takes one cattle raid for lives and property to be lost, and a family that is well off today would have nothing and no breadwinner after [such] a night,” she explains.

Ekiru holds a letter from his sponsor.

Luckily, in 2007, a Hope Center was opened at Margret’s church. She offered to volunteer on the center’s leadership committee.

With the leadership role, she helped people register their kids into the OneChild sponsorship program. Margret then went on to volunteer at the Hope Center for the next 15 years.

Along the way, the kids in her household grew into young adults and some left home, including Margret’s niece, soon to become the mother of Ekiru.

Standing in the Gap for Her Grandkids

After leaving home in 2017, Margret’s niece settled in Lodwar town, 96 miles from the village, with the hope of finding a job and establishing her independence.

After not hearing from her niece for many months, Margret became worried.

She traveled for over four hours on the rocky and dusty road from her village to Lodwar town to look for her.

Margret found her niece with a new baby, Ekiru, living in a small shanty and struggling to get food. Efforts by Margret to have her return home bore no fruit. So, Margret tried to support her from there.

After a while, her niece had another baby, Caleb, and the situation grew more dire as they struggled to make ends meet.

Margret stands with Ekiru and Caleb outside their home.

Because her niece refused to return to their village, Margret convinced her to let her take Ekiru and Caleb back to Morulem where she could take care of them.

Back in Morulem, Margret was able to register Ekiru and Caleb at the Hope Center.

Margaret tells me that both boys have sponsors, and she is grateful that as she ages, she never has to worry about the fate of her “grandchildren.”

After two years in the program, the boys have a lot to show from the Hope Center. Ekiru’s sponsor has sent family gifts that have allowed the family to purchase some goats that have since multiplied in number.

Margret is hopeful that eventually the proceeds from selling the additional goats will allow her to pay for the boys’ high school education fees.

Holding the Village Accountable

Margaret’s courage in championing children has led her to a position of leadership in her village.

Margret eventually became a pastor and now leads a satellite church of the mother church in their village. She is also a village elder, a role that she says has helped her advocate for children in the community.

Before, she only talked to and enlightened people who mistreated children. But now, she has authority and connections to hold such people accountable for their actions.

“With this new role I am loved and hated in equal measure — perpetrators know they have to deal with me,” Margret says.

This is because she now follows up and ensures that perpetrators are brought to justice, and they do not like it, she says. “But I believe in what the Bible says about caring for widows and the orphans.”

The orphans and the poor who see her as a symbol of justice love Margret and run to her in times of need. She also helps ensure that whenever there’s a donation for food or scholarships, priority is given to the poorest in the community. Margret has a list of all the orphans in the community and knows where each one lives.

She says she feels fortunate not to need food donations for the kids in her home.

“God has blessed me. The Hope Center greatly helps my grandchildren, and I’m able to take care of my children without needing the extra help. I know there are a lot of people who would benefit better,” Margret explains.

As she champions the orphans in her community, Margret believes that changing the world begins within each individual.

“If something tugs at your heartstrings, do not ignore it,” she says. “Find a way of acting on it, begin small and watch the world around you transform. That way, the change can slowly spread to the rest of the world.”


Help Child Champions like Margret advocate for kids living in poverty by donating to OneChild’s Partners Fund so we can open more Hope Centers in hard places.


Read how Child Champions help transform the lives of Turkana boys who normally would be expected to be herders all their lives.

 

 

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