Diaspora Returnee:She’s only 30, but already ‘mother’ of 17
The year was 2008. Wamaitha Mwangi, a 25-year-old, had just returned home, armed with a child psychologydegree from Australia.
She could have had a successful career abroad, but preferred to use her knowledge to mentor and nurture the minds of the children she’d left back home. She found a teaching job at a kindergarten, but it didn’t take her long to realise that this wasn’t her calling.
“I loved working with kids, yes. But I was working with privileged children, who had food, clothes, love and parents. My heart was pulling me towards helpless children,” she explains.
Fast forward to two years later at a meeting for managers of children’s homes in Limuru, Central Province. Pastor Steve Githire, manager of Elshadai Children’s Centre, spotted a young feisty woman who looked out of place, nose ring, tattooed arm and all.
“Who is that and what is she doing here?” he wondered.
He was further astounded when Wamaitha stood to talk about the challenges she was facing running her children’s home, Angel Centre.
“I couldn’t believe that such a young woman was already running a children’s home. I was amazed because this is not the kind of thing women her age are doing.”
Pastor Steve is sharing this anecdote on an unusually sunny day at the Angel Centre for Abandoned Children in Rironi, Limuru. It is perfect weather for the home’s third anniversary celebration in the usually chilly locale.
He is addressing a crowd of friends, family and curious strangers who have joined Wamaitha and her children to mark this milestone.
Wamaitha is 30 now, and just like that day two years ago, she stands out in a single-strap orange and green African print dress that shows off the tattoo on her right shoulder: XV.VII.XXX. It stands for 15th July 2010, the day her leap of faith to set up Angel Centre bore fruit.
Wamaitha, or Wam, as her friends call her, is a “mother” of 17, and counting. She picks up a crying baby here and soothes her, calls out “baba” to a toddler and rubs his head, cuddles another, gives directions to a nanny there…Wamaitha has settled beautifully into the role of mother.
She says this is a calling that was in her long before she left for Australia for herundergraduate studies. Her friends recall that she loved children, often volunteered at children’s homes, and had a desire to set up her own some day when she was older. But her dream materialised sooner than anyone had imagined.
She says of the kindergarten job she got after returning home.
“I felt unfulfilled…my ideal job would have been to work at a children’s home or a similar set up.
“Out of frustration of not finding the perfect job, I decided to find out what it took to start a children’s home. I thought I would just register the home, just like people do with businesses, and keep it pending till I was old enough to run one. But after talking to a children’s officer, I asked myself: What is stopping me?”
Wamaitha started on the paperwork, got two friends on board as directors, registered with the relevant authorities and got approval to run the home. But from the start, she faced naysayers. Everybody wondered why a young educated woman without children of her own wanted to do this.
“As part of my research, I talked to owners of more established homes, but most discouraged me. They asked me: Where will you get donors? – I think they worried that I would “steal” their donors. People automatically told me that I could not do it, but a woman with a vision cannot be stopped, so here I am,” she says, smiling.
Wamaitha describes herself as a person who does not quit easily, who gives her all, and to judge for herself if indeed something is impossible. It was this drive, passion, and her friends’ faith in her that urged her on. But because she was known more for being a party animal than for anything else, her friends were shocked at first:
“I don’t blame them for doubting me. I knew where all the hottest parties were, and I was the last person people expected to start a children’s home. Some honestly did not think I would make it, but I am not one to worry about what people say. I was going to do this and if I failed, at least I had tried.”
One of the people who helped her set up Angel Centre was Patrick Mungai, the founder and manager of Limuru Children’s Centre. Whenever she was stuck, she would call him and he would point her in the right direction. Unlike other home managers, Patrick did not see Wamaitha as a threat, and he went out of his way to help her.
“I knew the challenges and I knew that Wamaitha would not have come all the way from Australia to do this if she was not passionate. Furthermore, the existing homes can’t take care of all the children, so I welcomed her efforts” he explains.
Her family and friends tried to talk her out of it at first, but now they are her biggest supporters. Angel Centre started off in her mother’s unfinished one bedroom house in Limuru, before they moved to a bigger three bedroom rental house in Rironi, where they have been for two years now.
Wamaitha’s dream though, is to buy two acres of land where she can set up a proper home for more abandoned children, because the current space can only accommodate a maximum of 25 children.
Home at last…
After setting up the home and getting the necessary approvals, the only thing missing was the children. Meanwhile, Wamaitha continued partying as she waited for the elusive first child.
In fact, on the night the child finally arrived, she had planned to go for Bend-over Thursday (a dancehall party at one of the night clubs in Nairobi) with her friends. But at 4pm the Limuru children’s officer called her.
“She said: “We have a child!” I was so excited, I grabbed my jacket, sent a quick SMS to my friends that I wouldn’t make it because I now had a child, and went to bring the little boy back home with me.”
He was a one-year-old toddler who was very tiny for his age. She took him in her arms and smiled. In her head a fairy tale played: She would give him food, he would sleep and they would be a happy family. But the evening did not follow the script; the boy was so scared, that he refused to eat, to be cuddled or soothed.
“That first night was a nightmare. He cried incessantly and I was so traumatised, that doubts crept in: Is this what I really want to do?”
Her friends kept sending congratulatory messages, and thankfully, a motherly neighbour came in to help and soon, the little boy settled down.
“Afterwards we got three more children: Martin, Nathan and David (baby katiba) and for a long time we were just the five of us. Those days we would get into my car and visit my parents or go on random trips, but now that we are many, we have to schedule such trips.”
As the home grew, so did the challenges. Wamaitha’s savings were depleted. There were days when they had absolutely nothing. Most of the nannies that looked after the children were volunteers, since she couldn’t afford to pay them.
They relied on donations from friends and family, and sometimes the nannies had to chip in too. To add to her woes was the high turnover of nannies: some just couldn’t get along, some of those on pay would mistreat the children if they went for a few months without pay, and others got fed up and quit. Today, she has a team of 13 nannies, who she says are doing a good job.
“I am not here all the time, and I cannot do this alone, I need a team to help withthe cooking, cleaning, playing with the children and to helping them develop motor skills,” she says of the crucial role the nannies play.
Two years ago, Wamaitha faced what must be the biggest test of her life – the death of one of the children. Seven-month-old Harrison died two weeks before he was due for surgery, two years ago. He had spina bifida and hydrocephalous.
“I had been warned that I would lose some, but it happened too soon. I was very angry…I felt like a failure and took it out on the nannies, but I realised that they were also mourning and I apologised,” she says.
Despite the challenges, the children never lack food, and even though the bills remain unpaid for months, none of the suppliers cut them off. This has strengthened Wamaitha’s faith.
“God protects these children… sometimes we are very desperate, and then someone deposits money into our account. These are the days I just sit down somewhere and weep out of sheer relief…”
But while the home relies on donations from well-wishers Wamaitha is wary of companies that want to exploit her children. She narrates an incident from the initial days when some people offered to hold a fundraising for the home. They even took photos of the children, but of all the money they raised, they only sent Sh10, 000.
“We were young and naïve then, but now we don’t allow people to hold fundraisings in our name unless one of our directors is involved.”
This motherly instinct follows her to her relationships, and any man who wants to date her must accept that the children are part of the package.
That said, Wamaitha understands that the children are better off in families, and her ultimate vision is to get them all adopted.
So far seven children have been adopted (two by Canadians, two by Germans and three by Kenyans).
“Seeing them go feels like losing a child, but I find comfort in the fact that they will get a better life than we can give them here.”
But she knows she might have to take care of some children to adulthood, together with the three of her own she hopes to have, and the one she plans to adopt when she settles down in future.
This keeps me going…
The highs of raising the children keep her going: “When a child calls me mum, the hugs and kisses…being with these children is like watching a miracle happen over and over. This is it,” she says as a nanny hands her five-month-old Gabu for feeding.
Gabu burps, spilling milk on her but she seems unbothered. She says, “There have been moments when I ask myself if I really want to do this…My friends drive good cars, have good salaries, but I don’t envy them. What I have chosen to do is challenging, but there’s no challenge that’s too big to overcome.”
Wamaitha is currently studying business administration, to equip her with skills to run the home better, and more importantly, understand how to better manage the money donated by well-wishers. Other than time spent studying, she’s a full-time mother to the children who she credits for making her a better person.
“It takes 100 per cent to take care of these children. This is not a job, these are my kids, and I am their stay-at-home mum.”
You can reach Angel Centre forAbandoned Children on:Tel: 0712 218 121Email: [email protected] you like to adopt? Log onto www.nation.co.ke/adoption for a step-by-step guide to the adoption process in Kenya.
– Daily Nation