Christmas Joy for a Family in a Hard Place

Story and photos by Donna Atola, Kenya Field Communications Specialist

For the first time in their lives, a family in Kenya gets to celebrate Christmas with presents and delicious food, thanks to the support their child receives from her Hope Center.

Swabia is registered in OneChild’s program at Mijomboni Baptist Hope Center.

For most Christians, Christmas brings joy and is a time of the year that everyone looks forward to. But to Swabia, 7, and her seven siblings living in poverty in Malindi, Kenya, Christmas only brought sadness because they couldn’t afford to celebrate like other families.

Swabia’s family is part of an extended family. Her mother, Chirindo Dhahabu, is married to a man who has a second wife, and they have their own kids.

Chirindo’s husband is a casual laborer who at times goes months without any work, leaving his two families struggling.

Chirindo used to plow people’s land to earn a living. She earned the equivalent of $25 to $40 per acre of land after a month of plowing. On weekdays, she would till alone, but on weekends, she had her three eldest daughters join her to maximize the money earned.

Chirindo picks up some groceries for her family of eight children.

Currently, Chirindo works as a housemaid and caretaker of a home, where she earns $60 per month. The money earned pays for food, clothes, and school fees for her eight children.

“To ensure I get it right with my finances, I bring it all home once I earn it, and ask my eldest daughter to help me plan for the money,” she says.

“So they help with the budgeting because most times my husband never has money, so I am partially a sole provider.”

Like Chirindo and her husband, most members of their impoverished community struggle to provide for their families.

Most of the villagers are peasant farmers and rely on farming cassavas during the rainy season to feed their families. Some work at quarries while others have small grocery shops, and they make $1 to $2 a day.

Chirindo cooks up the family’s Christmas meal, thanks to a food basket from Swabia’s Hope Center.

When Swabia, Chirindo’s sixth-born child, was registered into the OneChild sponsorship program at Mijomboni Baptist Hope Center in 2019, Chirindo felt relief.

She says a burden was lifted off her shoulders because Swabia’s school needs are all taken care of now by the Hope Center, and she even receives food baskets from them, which she shares with her kids.

Hard Choices Living in Poverty

Chirindo says that despite the poverty in the community, most people start saving for Christmas as early as August.

They save to purchase food, which is a major part of the Christmas celebrations in December, and clothes. Unfortunately for her large family, saving for a big celebration was never an option.

Swabia with some of her siblings.

“Every coin I get has a fixed budget that is critical,” Chirindo says. “I could not afford to save for Christmas [because] my kids have to attend school and eat a meal a day. It is impossible to save the little money I have.”

So as other families prepared sweet, aromatic food on Christmas Day, Chirindo would have her kids stay in their house and only leave the day after Christmas.

“It killed me to see my children sad on Christmas, but I had to keep them in the house to save them from feeling extremely bad after they walk out and see my neighbors feasting, yet they cannot,” she says.

“But of course, they could smell the aroma of food, but I could not afford it.”

Chirindo adds, “I had to choose between celebrating in December and my kids missing school in January. I want them to have an education that I never had, so school to me was and still is a priority. We would rather not have a celebration but be in school in January.”

First True Christmas Joy

But 2020, despite being a difficult year full of lockdowns and restricted movement in Kenya due to the COVID-19 pandemic, proved memorable for Chirindo and her kids, thanks to Swabia’s Hope Center.

Swabia and her brother enjoy their Christmas meal.

When Christmas came, Swabia and other kids at the Hope Center received Christmas gifts, as is the norm at all Hope Centers. She was gifted a mattress, bedding, and a food basket.

“I was elated!” Chirindo says. “For the first time in my kids’ lives, they had a chance to experience a celebration at their home during Christmas.

“It is every mother’s joy to see their kids happy, and mine were happy. To date, we talk about our first celebration and each of them has a memory of what joy during Christmas feels like.”

They were able to prepare pilau, a Swahili rice dish; chapati, an unleavened flatbread; and some chicken stew. She was also able to prepare milk tea and bread scones for breakfast that morning, something they rarely have.

“On that day, we did not stay in the house and sleep,” Swabia says.

“I was happy that we had sweet meals, I had the beautiful dress that my Child Champion got me, and we were free to walk out and play with our friends. We also took photos on that day.”

Mattress Gift a Big Hit

Swabia’s mother says that the gift of a mattress was priceless to her family because before, they slept on a tiny matt on the floor.

“My kids take turns sleeping with Swabia,” Chirindo says. “So on a day, two of her seven siblings share the mattress with her and this has brought so much joy to us.”

“I am humbled that the Hope Center, beyond helping my child, is a source of joy to my whole family. I now know what joy Christmas brings.”

Her hope for her kids is that they may grow never to depart the way of God and to be successful in life because she is confident that the support Swabia receives from sponsorship is a steppingstone to a brighter future.

Help kids in poverty like Swabia celebrate the joy of Christmas by giving to OneChild’s Christmas Gift Fund.

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