Thursday, July 21, 2005

This Girl and her Baby Sister

I have a compassion for children. Just imagine what this girl goes through.

Eleven-year-old Fatuma is so desperate to finish her education that she would rather take her ten-month-old sister to school with her than remain at home looking after her while their mother goes to work. She describes what is, for her, a typical school day.

I will be 12 this year and I know there is something not right about the way I go to school. As my classmates carry their books, I have to carry my baby sister Joyce. Holding my other hand is Chacha, my six-year-old brother.

My mother goes to Komarock Estate to wash people’s clothes for money to feed us, leaving me with no choice but to go to school with the baby. Sometimes I find myself praying silently to God that the day will go smoothly so I can concentrate on my lessons.

Our school is in Maili Saba in Kariobangi. People say that only children of single parents, or Aids orphans go there but I love it and have been coming here since I was in nursery; now I’m in Standard Three.

We have five classrooms, each accommodating two classes. My class shares the same space with a Standard Two class. We are taught in turns and only a small space divides our benches. While our teacher, Mr Mwangi, is teaching the other half of the class, I am able to catch up on my assignments. I also grab the chance to take the baby out for a stroll because she gets cranky when we have to sit for too long on the hard benches.

Most of us do not have notebooks and have to write on shared pieces of paper. My friend who sits next to me helps as much as she can by jotting down most of the notes while I cradle the baby and try to keep her as quiet as possible.

During class time it is hard for me to pay attention with her crying and wanting me to carry her, but what do I do? I can only give her the porridge my mother has prepared before she leaves for work. Sometimes she continues to cry even after drinking the porridge. At such times I feel like crying, too.

It is difficult to write and carry Joyce at the same time, so a couple of weeks ago I changed my position and went to the back of the class. It is more comfortable as I can rest my back and the baby against the wall, leaving my hands free to write. But I have to be extra careful so that she doesn’t slip off the bench and fall down.

Joyce has become accustomed to sitting on the hard bench but when she gets tired I have to use my left hand to support her. When she gets tired of sitting upright, she places her head on my lap and tries to sleep but only for a few minutes before the noise of the other students wakes her up again.

When she has had her porridge she becomes jovial and loves to clap her hands. The other children love her and play with her when the teacher steps out. I think when she starts school she will be very bright because she will have already learnt her Standard Three work!

I change Joyce’s nappy during break-time, at around 10:30 am, when everyone else has gone out to play. I put the soiled nappy in a polythene bag that I keep in the corner of the classroom. This is also the time that I feed her porridge. She holds the plastic bottle to her mouth and quickly gulps the contents. I’m sometimes forced to pull it away so she will have some left for lunch. When I told my mother this, she started packing some boiled rice as well, but only when she can afford it.

My brother Chacha is in Standard One and he gets hungry too, so once in a while I have to share what little there between him and the baby. Once I was really hungry and felt tempted to sip the porridge. Finally, unable to contain myself, I took a gulp from the bottle and there was not enough left for Joyce afterwards. When it was time to feed her she drank what was left but wasn’t satisfied. She cried all through the rest of the day and the teacher eventually had to send me home early.

Another time there was no porridge so my mother cooked some ugali and sukuma wiki and left it in a hotpot for us at home. I had to leave school at lunch time and take the baby and Chacha home to eat. I have a plan for the day there will be no food. I’ll give the baby some water to drink and walk with her outside to distract her.

Even though I am in school, I miss a lot of class time because of the baby. When she cries too loudly and interrupts the class, I have to take her outside and soothe her to sleep. It is worse when she has a cold and her nose gets blocked, like now. She cries because she is unable to breathe properly. But I have come to accept that Joyce is a part of my life both at home and in school.

I am also thankful that my teacher agreed for me to come with the baby to class because he understands that I do not want to miss any lessons. He even met with my mother when she came to the school to explain the situation.

I know there are cases worse than mine in our school and this gives me the courage to carry on learning with my baby sister beside me. In nursery class there is a child called Mercy Akinyi who is only two years old. She is taken care of by her three-year-old sister in the same class. But the teacher is always ready to step in when the baby’s crying becomes too much.

I understand that my mother has to work to be able to provide for us, but how I wish she would take Joyce with her sometimes. It feels like I have this big bag on my shoulders and it is weighing me down.

When Joyce finally falls asleep in the afternoon, I place her on the floor by my feet and cover her with a shawl. I cherish these moments and try to get as much of my class work done as possible, occasionally checking to see that no one steps on her.

Sometimes she wakes up hungry and there is no porridge left to give her. To drown out her crying at such times, I drift into my make-believe world in which I am rich and able to afford to buy my mother a big house and my siblings all the food they can eat.

But as it is, I do not see any hope of being able to sit the final exams in Standard Eight because our school only goes up to Standard Five. Teacher Mwangi looks for schools to take in the brighter students so that they can continue learning. I hope he does that for me too, so I can have a chance to finish school and find a way of providing for my mother so she won’t have to work long hours and can stay at home with the baby.

Another day comes to an end and I strap Joyce to my back and pick up the polythene bag containing her things. By this time she has cried herself hoarse and is asleep. With Chacha beside me playfully kicking a stone, we set off for home, hoping against hope to find some food, even if it is last night’s ugali.

Article courtesy of the Daily Nation, Wednesday Living Magazine 20th July 2005.


  1. Having had the priviledge of touching the life the lives of many children through community service via rotary international it brings tears to my eyes.I mourn for two reasons that the littel girl suffers so through no fault of her own and for me for not being thankful enough for the things that am blessed with. If she is a real person or you know of any kindly contact me and will help her anyway that i possibly.
    great post.

  2. How i missed this article I have no idea. It actually put tears in my eyes at the courage that this girl has and her craving for education. That in itself is amazing. We really do forget that people out there are suffering and lack the things that we call basic. Great post Shiroh and thanks for putting us on the spot. Hopefully we will appreciate and strive to help those who are less fortunate than us.

  3. Oh, no! Life is sooo sad. Reality is even sadder. What is ineveitable, we just have to come across. Poor girl, not even girl, coz she herself is a baby just as her siblings.

    It brought tears to my eyes and got me thinking of the things we take for granted like papers(can u believe they donn have nothing to write on) while I/we keep filling the recycable(thank God its a recycable),why, how many times we trash good food?? God help us to always think of those without despite whatever.

    The young girl has soo much passion for life, it moves me. She got dreams for her mum & siblings. How I pray those dreams not get shattered/crushed. She is so sweet, woiyeee she says by the time her baby-sis gets to class 3 she'll be all covered on that..sweet, kids are so innocent.

    I pray in future I can reach such needy cases, stretch my helping hand and help give them hope for a better tomorrow.

    But, for now I'm saying a prayer...

  4. Very nice post. Thanks for giving us a clue of what the real world is all about.

    May be, we can't do nothing about it but it can help us learn to complain less/appreciate more when we think of those in far much worse situations and poor baby says there's a worse case than hers' Lord have mercy...

    Very touching Shiro..thanks!

  5. woiye she has such zeal for studies and at a young age she seems resilient and peservering...can you imagine the other many others like her out there

  6. This is sad but also quite hopeful - Fatuma is so determined she is bound to succeed. Thanks for posting this Shiroh.

  7. this is very sad, although i feel sorry for the girl I think the mother should take her baby to her job coz she can do washing and mind the baby at the same time. I think its unfair for the girl to take her sibling to class. the lady can do her washing with her baby on her back placed on a high stool, and when she sleeps she can put the baby somewhere to sleep.

    I am so sorry for this family though!

  8. This article made me so sad. I wish i could help but will all the corruption nyumbani i wonder how.

    My work mate is from Cameroon and her and her pals have started a children's shelter to help unprevilleged children in Cameroon.

    It has been very successful and all the money is accounted for. It an organization run by Cameroonians residing in stato. They have representatives who run the facilities...all professionals are involved ie doctors, teachers, social workers, nutritionists etc.

    Why cant we Kenyans start something like this?

  9. Happy to have found your blog. I was in the mood for a baby nursery theme related site, but not a bad find.