A Child Champion and nurse follows her calling to serve vulnerable, abandoned babies at New Life Home Trust in Kenya. Her life, like the lives of the babies who are often discarded, is profoundly transformed.
Naomi Ndung’u has for the last five years been head nurse at New Life Home Trust, a nonprofit that rescues abandoned babies in Kenya. OneChild helps New Life give these babies the medical care that they need to survive and thrive.
Before joining New Life, Naomi worked as a nurse in a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city. Having worked as a nurse for the better part of her career, Naomi never imagined working outside a hospital, let alone in a babies’ rescue home.
She had initially visited several children’s homes in Nairobi during her years as a nurse when the hospital she worked in had outreach ministries as a way of giving back to the community.
“We used to visit children’s homes,” she says. “I did it, but in a light way. I never knew what it meant. All I knew was that they needed support, but it never occurred to me in real life that I’d be the one to offer the support beyond the donations we made then.”
Naomi had a colleague at the hospital who volunteered at New Life. Her colleague, who was passionate about the ministry at the home, kept telling her how New Life was different.
In early 2016, Naomi’s colleague hinted to her that the home was looking to hire a nurse.
“But I wondered what I would do at children’s home,” Naomi says. “In fact, I never knew it exclusively had babies.”
She later became curious. Naomi wanted to know more about the home because she had not initially known a children’s home to have a medical unit.
Despite her curiosity, Naomi did not see herself leaving the hospital for a rescue home, so she shelved the idea.
But the thought of working at a children’s home kept gnawing at her conscience. She shared her thoughts with her husband, and they agreed that Naomi should apply for the position at the home as they prayed and asked God to guide Naomi’s next step.
She was called in for an interview days after she sent in her application, and she was amazed by what she saw at the home that day.
“I was delighted, at first sight,” she says. “It felt like I had inhaled a new kind of air that I was not so familiar with. There was something that was different about New Life. I just could not tell then, but I knew the home was different from other homes I had initially visited.”
The numerous homes she had visited all had older kids and teenagers.
“In other homes, the children are old enough to talk, but I was shocked at how New Life had little babies and toddlers who could barely speak,” Naomi says.
After the interview, she was offered the job. However, before she could fully accept, Naomi visited the home five more times because she wanted to be sure it was what God wanted her to do.
“Now I look back and think it was the voice of God that continuously kept speaking to my heart about serving the babies at this home. The voice was so strong and kept bothering my heart. It only stopped when I finally listened and made a step toward the direction that I was being guided toward,” she says
Medical Care a Huge Step Up
New Life Home was established in 1994 by Clive and Mary Beckenham as a response to the plight of abandoned babies in Kenya. Then, priority was given to abandoned babies who were infected or affected by HIV/AIDS because very little was known of the virus and medication was not available in the country, and so the disease was not well managed
Over the years, as the home grew, and as Kenya learned to manage the HIV pandemic that was declared in 1999, the home opened its doors to all abandoned babies.
New Life currently has four homes in Kenya, with the one in Nairobi being the primary facility. One of the homes also specifically cares for babies with disabilities.
In the early years of its existence, the home outsourced medical care for the babies from nearby hospitals. But as it grew, generous visitors to the home donated medical equipment and the home was able to set up a medical unit there. The unit was then certified and licensed by the ministry of health.
From there, nurses like Naomi joined in to offer medical services to the babies. Apart from the nurses who work at the home, some doctors and pediatricians from other hospitals offer free services such as weekly checkups for the babies at the home.
The medical unit is equipped to be as functional as a general ward unit in a hospital. They are able to offer oral medications, intravenous infusions, and to dress wounds. They are also equipped with two incubators and two oxygen tanks that are used to treat babies in critical situations.
“Having the medical unit and staff who volunteer saves the home a lot of money, leaving us to only visit the hospital when the babies are in critical situations that cannot be handled at the home, like when a baby needs to be in a high dependency unit, intensive care unit, or in surgery,” Naomi says.
Without the medical unit, all rescued babies would need to be transferred to a hospital before being brought into the home, and Naomi says, the bills would be too high for the home to afford.
At a middle-care level hospital in Kenya, nursing care in a general admission ward would not be less than $25 a day. This is without including the admission fee, a doctor’s consultation fee, the drugs, and the theater fee if the baby needs surgery.
Nursing care in an HDU or ICU would cost $70 to $90 a day, and the rates would be more expensive in high-end hospitals.
Babies Often Discarded
Babies rescued by the home are found abandoned in both public and private places. The public places include open fields, market areas, pit latrines, garbage dump sites, and by the roadside. Some babies are abandoned in hospitals.
Naomi says because of the abandonment, the babies suffer low blood levels, low blood-sugar levels, and low oxygen levels in the blood. They are also prone to low body temperatures due to long exposure to cold. Some have difficulty breathing because they were abandoned in plastic bags, while those rescued from garbage bins or toilets come in with toxic burns.
The abandoned babies are also at times as young as hours-old, and their mothers take off, leaving the babies attached to the placenta. Naomi says this causes the placenta to suck blood from the babies the time it is cut off.
Some of the infections and conditions that rescued babies are commonly diagnosed with include blood infection, hernias, undescended testis, tonsillitis, hearing defects, eye squints, heart conditions, cerebral palsy, autism, emotional trauma, and low birth weight.
“Some of these conditions can be treated at the home, but where they need critical care, we transfer them to hospitals then, later on, continue with medication at the home after the critical situation is arrested,” she says.
Apart from just abandoning the babies, some mothers try to kill their babies either by suffocation or strangulation. Naomi says that apart from the physical injury inflicted, such babies suffer emotional and psychological trauma.
“There is the normal cry for babies that feel lonely, having been left by someone they loved,” she says. “But when a baby is traumatized, they experience frightening nights where they cry uncontrollably. For those that were strangled or suffocated, they fight off anything brought close to their necks and face.”
Healing With Love and Prayer
To help the babies heal from trauma, Naomi says the staff constantly reassure them that they are safe.
“We hold them close as we rock them because touch is the first language they easily understand. We also speak to them as we rock them, assuring them that we love them. Above these, we pray for them,” she says.
During the rescues, disabled babies are also brought in.
However, Naomi says it is difficult at times hard to tell if a baby has special needs when they arrive at the home. But once identified, they bring in a specialist to help with the care.
Where an identified disability is reversible, New Life ensures that corrective medical care like surgery and that other intense corrective measures are done to help the babies get better, while special care is offered to conditions that are irreversible, like cerebral palsy.
“The cost of treatment for the disabled kids is expensive, from the surgeries to the daily medication,” Naomi says. “Currently, about nine kids with cerebral palsy are daily on anti-convulsion medicine and painkillers that cost the home over $1,000 monthly.”
She continues, “We have not lacked to offer any service to any baby because of need. God has used people who have supported and reached out to help meet the medical need of these babies.”
Despite the home doing its best to provide medical care for the home, the need remains high. The need for drugs, enough oxygen supply, diapers, laboratory equipment, resources for surgery, and hospital bills for the babies whenever they are rushed to hospital is constant.
Naomi says her joy is seeing the underweight, weak, and sick babies who are brought into the home thrive.
“The transformational development that happens to the babies from the day they are brought in until they are placed into families gives me joy and the drive to every day touch a baby’s life.”
“As I help to medically care for the babies, I don’t look at them as patients, I look at them as little flowers that I have to care for, in order for them to flourish,” Naomi says. “Because if I don’t care for them, they will likely go back to the initial state of rejection that they were in, yet our hope is that each child gets a new life at the home.”
She ultimately hopes that they can rescue as many babies as possible and that the babies can get families to adopt them and thrive.
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