Kenyan woman giving a second chance to street children
By Lilian Kaivilu
During the Mashujaa Day celebrations held last week, the government recognised several heroes and heroines from different sectors. But in the outskirts of Nairobi city, orphaned children have found a heroIne in Pascalia Nduku, a woman that many here have known as their father, mother and a teacher.
At the Inua Mimi Rescue Center and school in Olympic estate in Kibera, Nduku easily interacts with young children, some as young as two years. They call her ‘cucu’ (grandmother) and many know her as their mother and father.
It is lunchtime and the children queue to wash their hands ahead of a meal that Nduku says has been provided by well-wishers. “From time to time, people visit here and donate food and cloths while others pledge to support a teacher here,” she says.
Her 63-year-old self does not struggle to fit into the small and jumpy world of the young ones. “This is the life I lived in the mid 1980’s with my own children. So there is nothing new for me here,” she says.
After losing her husband, just like any other widow, Nduku had to quickly learn to play father and mother roles to her then seven children.
From cases of defilement to neglect, Nduku has learnt to step into the shoes of a mother, government as well as a caregiver at the rescue centre that houses orphaned children as well as those from disadvantaged backgrounds from Kibera and other informal settlements in Nairobi. Her past experience in the streets with her own children, she says, prepared her for her work today.
When her husband died and she could no longer take the harsh reality of the life upcountry, Nduku decided to take a bus to Nairobi in search for food. “I remember lying to the bus crew that my husband was waiting for me in Nairobi, and that he would pay the bus fare once we arrive. Since the bus belonged to a family friend, they agreed to take me. Deep in my heart, I knew I was lying since my husband had died.”
And with her seven children, Nduku soon found herself in the ugly side of Nairobi’s street life. “I was carrying all my seven children to look for a job. Amidst all the hustle, I have never left behind any of my children,” she says.
She adds: “I was to be a street woman but God delivered me from that mess. And that is why I am helping children who would otherwise have ended up in the street.” Nduku is the founder of Inua Mimi Rescue Centre that she founded in 2000. After attending several training sessions on child protection, various people started refereeing children to her.
For two years, Nduku stayed in the streets with her children, eating from dustbins and dumpsites. But all this time, she says, her heart went out to other street children, something that made her want to offer a solution “When I recollected myself in the late 1990’s, I started questioning how I ended up in the streets. I slowly started to engage the chief and local administration in Kibera on children rights.” That is how Nduku got an opportunity to attend several seminars on children rights.
The mother of seven remembers that in 1985, 86 and 87, there were so many street children eating from slum dumpsites as well as infants dumped there. “I got so mad at the situation and wanted to bring a change. I wanted to take these cases to court. Having passed through the same situation, I did not want another woman’s children to go through the same situation,” she says.
And in 2000, Nduku started the rescue centre with 15 children. With help from well-wishers, Nduku has seen the rescue centre rise to a population of 89 children. Most of them board at the facility.
The Nairobi County Government rescued 2000 street children between December 2016 and January 2017.