Wendy Muckle
Jan 20

What It Means To Be An Orphan In Kenya

Like most (possibly all) of our sponsors and donors, our volunteers and I have never travelled to Kenya. As Program Executive for TCP, my value to the organization is my ability to manage the program and funds, provide leadership to the team, and optimize our resources, as scarce as they may be. For that reason, I count on our board member, Wendy Muckle (pictured above, left), for her deep knowledge and understanding of the socio-economic and cultural contexts of Kenya.

Part of that knowledge sharing is explaining what it means to be an orphan in Kenya, and in the case of some of our TCP kids, a partial orphan.

A good number of the children have at least one parent, but were left in an orphanage due to a shortage of food at home. Recognized orphanages are in part funded by foreign donations; their operators market themselves to impoverished parents. While some may offer love and care to the children, the reality remains that an orphanage is not a natural way for children to be raised.

The majority of TCP kids have a first degree relative who should be caring for them but are not. Should a parent or relative re-enter the child’s life, the need for sponsorship is not removed. A partial orphan may be struggling with a mother or father who is sick from HIV, unemployed and without the means to feed or educate the child. The child becomes the caregiver for the sick parent and has to work to try to find food for the parent to eat. These situations place the child at an increase risk of abuse.

Any exposure, however little to their parents and relatives, is critical for them to become successful adults. They need to know where they belong and where they come from. This is a human need and a very important element in Kenyan culture. One of our major difficulties in working with orphans is that many of them lacked a consistent and loving caregiver when they were young. As a result, they have severe attachment disorders. They can survive anywhere, are charming and can make anyone like them. But, they fundamentally lack any sense of who they are, the difference between right and wrong, and cannot really trust anyone. As adults, they will face challenges for being good citizens, employees and parents.

Recognizing the fundamental need for family, TCP encourages parents and guardians to be part of their child’s life. We also work to have children feel strongly attached to the Tumaini group of children. Vision is a private school and the children who go there come from fairly well-to-do families. The parents of these children have expressed how wonderful it is to see orphans who are being treated like any other child and not like orphans. This is a psychological advantage for our kids since they are being exposed to children who are expected to do very well in life. This is why it is so important to make sure they have the same (not more) as other children.

If our job was just to pay for education, it would be quite simple. But, in fact, our job is much bigger as we try to set these kids up to be successful, contributing members of society. In doing so we will not only transform their lives, but their community as well.

Christine Pothier*
TCP Program Executive

*With notes from Wendy Muckle, TCP Field Manager