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
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
Ken Dobban, Nicholas Akoe and a caretaker with three children rescued recently
Kind Fund Children’s Home founder Pamela Dobban plays with the children at the centre.
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