SAV­ING UN­WANTED CHIL­DREN OF F UN­MAR­RIED, UN­CUT OR TWIN-BEAR­ING MOTHERS FROM MUR­DER

Abor­tion and aban­dom­nent of ba­bies for cul­tural rea­sons plagues Sam­buru, Rendille com­mu­ni­ties

The Star (Kenya) - - Big Read / Deadly Taboos - KIRIMI MURITHI @mu­rithik

Among the Sam­buru and Rendille com­mu­ni­ties in north­ern Kenya, twins are con­sid­ered a bad omen that de­serve to be killed, chil­dren born of un­cir­cum­cised women are fed with a mix­ture of snuff, tobacco and cow dung and left to die in the wild, whereas those born out of wed­lock are aban­doned in the bushes to be eaten by hye­nas.

This ret­ro­gres­sive cul­ture, cou­pled with il­lit­er­acy and un­civil­i­sa­tion, has made mur­der of un­born and new­born ba­bies a way of life.

The re­gion oc­cu­pied by the Isi­olo, Sam­buru and Marsabit com­mu­ni­ties is char­ac­terised by harsh cli­mate, poor in­fra­struc­ture, lack of clean and safe water, poor health fa­cil­i­ties and poor ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards.

The Sam­buru peo­ple are no­mads who herd cat­tle, whereas the Rendille trea­sure the camel.

The two tribes have long lived to­gether and in­ter­mar­ried, form­ing a hy­brid cul­ture, where each com­mu­nity has adopted some cul­tural be­hav­iours from the other.

At­tempts to carry out health and civic ed­u­ca­tion on fam­i­lies of these two com­mu­ni­ties may be an up­hill task, con­sid­er­ing the pop­u­la­tion den­sity of 11 peo­ple per square kilo­me­tre.

RES­CUE MIS­SION How­ever, their story can­not be told bet­ter than through the ex­pe­ri­ence of Pamela Dobban, who left North­ern Ire­land more than 10 years ago to come and res­cue chil­dren from the ar­chaic tra­di­tions.

Pamela left her home coun­try in 1997 and moved to Kenya, where she worked as a mis­sion­ary in Tharaka Nithi county.

“I stayed in Tharaka for four years, went back to North­ern Ire­land but re­turned to Kenya in 2004. I was ac­com­pa­nied by my hus­band Ken Dobban, who had re­tired from his bank­ing job in North­ern Ire­land,” she said.

They re­turned to Kenya to start the Kind Fund Chil­dren’s Home, whose aim was to res­cue or­phaned, aban­doned chil­dren and new­born ba­bies vul­ner­a­ble to death due to the cul­ture of the two com­mu­ni­ties.

Pamela came into con­tact with the re­al­ity of the acts when she was a mis­sion­ary. In her role, she fre­quently vis­ited north­ern Kenya and saw the chal­lenges fac­ing or­phaned chil­dren and new­born ba­bies.

“Ac­cord­ing to Sam­buru and Rendille cul­ture, any baby born out of wed­lock or born by a mother who has not un­der­gone fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion is deemed an out­cast. It is not recog­nised by the com­mu­nity and is not sup­posed to live,” she says.

MO­RAN IM­PUNITY Out of ig­no­rance and lack of sex ed­u­ca­tion, mid­dle-aged men, com­monly known as morans, are al­lowed to have sex with young girls ir­re­spec­tive of the par­ents’ knowl­edge, and no ques­tions are raised.

The worst hap­pens if such girls get im­preg­nated by the morans. When the el­ders know about it, the girl is forced to have an abor­tion, where the foe­tus is squeezed out of the womb us­ing crude things like stones and sticks.

This is done in an in­hu­man man­ner and en­dan­gers the life of the mother and the un­born child.

“Many girls [at the res­cue cen­tre] are those who es­cape from their fam­i­lies once they know they are preg­nant and dread be­ing sub­jected to such treat­ment. Once we iden­tify them, we take care of them un­til they de­liver their ba­bies and then take away the new­borns to our res­cue cen­tre,” Pamela says.

She tells of tales where some few girls who are lucky to con­ceal their preg­nancy run away from their homes and de­liver in the bushes, then aban­don their chil­dren there.

Kind Fund has es­tab­lished three res­cue cen­tres: in Ngare­mara, Isi­olo county; Laisamis, Marsabit county; and Wamba, Sam­buru county. The cen­tres have about 120 chil­dren of var­i­ous ages res­cued over the years.

The res­cued chil­dren are fed, clothed and ed­u­cated through the sup­port of donors and well-wish­ers.

For the un­lucky girls who give birth at their homes, the elder women take the new­born away from the mother and feed the new­born with cow dung and the pow­dery tobacco sniffed by the elder gen­er­a­tion, and the poor tod­dler is left to be eaten by wild an­i­mals, such as the scav­eng­ing hye­nas that loi­ter in north­ern Kenya con­ser­van­cies.

TWINS AS ‘BAD OMEN’ If a married wo­man de­liv­ers twins, the hus­band dis­owns her be­cause they con­sider the birth of twins a bad omen.

Such a wo­man is re­garded as an out­cast and can only be read­mit­ted to the so­ci­ety af­ter un­der­go­ing a cleans­ing ex­er­cise, nor­mally done as a tra­di­tional rit­ual.

Ac­cord­ing to Pamela, the mother of the twins is re­quired to kill them so she can be read­mit­ted to the so­ci­ety. Luck­ily, on a few oc­ca­sions, they have res­cued such twins, some aban­doned by the river­side to be car­ried away by the tor­ren­tial wa­ters.

“In 2004, my dream of hav­ing a res­cue cen­tre came true and I es­tab­lished the first home in Wamba. Many of the chil­dren we are hous­ing could ei­ther have been killed or

‘IT’S HARD FOR ME TO CHANGE THESE COM­MU­NI­TIES’ CUL­TURE, BUT I AM HAPPY WE HAVE BEEN ABLE TO SAVE LIVES.’ — PAMELA DOBBAN, FOUNDER

eaten by wild an­i­mals, be­cause of so­ci­etal rules on mothers who have not un­der­gone cir­cum­ci­sion or were born out of wed­lock,” she said.

“It’s hard for me to change the cul­ture of these com­mu­ni­ties, but I am happy that we have been able to save lives. Cur­rently we have 20 new­born ba­bies. In Wamba, three, Isi­olo home is cater­ing for seven ba­bies, and 10 in Laisamis,” Pamela said.

AN OR­PHAN’S AP­PEAL

Damaris Achuka, an or­phan res­cued in Isi­olo, ap­peals to the gov­ern­ment and other NGOs to ed­u­cate the pas­toral­ist com­mu­ni­ties so they can stop such ret­ro­gres­sive cul­tural prac­tices.

“A baby is a gift from God. It is only through rig­or­ous pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion of the com­mu­ni­ties that we can make them stop these be­hav­iours, be­cause they have been over­taken by time. I am happy to have been res­cued and alive,” she said.

Achuka is happy and con­tin­u­ing with her ed­u­ca­tion and says once she is through, she will pur­sue a course in dis­ci­ple­ship.

Moses Ekale, another ben­e­fi­ciary of the cen­tre, says he was aban­doned by his par­ents at the ten­der age of five, hav­ing lived with his par­ents in se­cret.

“Af­ter be­ing aban­doned, a vil­lager noted that I was an or­phan and in­formed Kind Fund, who came and took me to their cen­tre,” Ekale said.

“I’m happy I am get­ting ed­u­ca­tion which will help me come back to my com­mu­nity and try to be­seech them to stop such prac­tices be­cause they are bad.”

He fur­ther ap­peals to the par­ents not to aban­don their chil­dren re­gard­less of the tra­di­tion and the dif­fi­cul­ties they face be­cause “ev­ery child is a bless­ing from God”.

Pamela says ir­re­spec­tive of their work in the com­mu­nity, they face var­i­ous chal­lenges, such as hos­til­ity when they go to res­cue the ba­bies, as res­i­dents in­sist such chil­dren de­serve to die.

“Kind Fund can­not reach all parts of north­ern Kenya. Re­li­gious peo­ple, NGOs and the gov­ern­ment should team up and work hard to pen­e­trate the in­te­rior parts of this re­gion to ed­u­cate the com­mu­ni­ties so they can do away with this cul­ture,” she says.

Ngare­mara Kind Fund em­ployee Rose Muya, a mother of six who lives in Isi­olo, ap­peals to young mothers to take care of their chil­dren, be­cause if well nur­tured, they can be pro­duc­tive peo­ple in the so­ci­ety.

Ngare­mara Kind Fund man­ager Akoe Ashue says at first, the homes started as or­phan res­cue cen­tres.

How­ever, with time, they found the need to ven­ture into res­cu­ing new­born ba­bies born out of wed­lock and mothers who have not un­der­gone FGM.

‘A BABY IS A GIFT FROM GOD. IT IS ONLY THROUGH RIG­OR­OUS PUB­LIC ED­U­CA­TION THAT WE CAN MAKE THESE COM­MU­NI­TIES STOP THESE OUT­DATED PRAC­TICES. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE BEEN RES­CUED AND ALIVE.’ — DAMARIS ACHUKA, OR­PHAN

/KIRIMI MUREITHI

Ken Dobban, Nicholas Akoe and a care­taker with three chil­dren res­cued re­cently

/KIRIMI MUREITHI

Kind Fund Chil­dren’s Home founder Pamela Dobban plays with the chil­dren at the cen­tre.

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