Interviewed by Mwaura Muigana
Reverend Danshire Njoroge and his wife Tabby Dorcas are selflessly helping teenage mothers in the slums of Nairobi. The couple runs Wings of Compassion Rehabilitation Home located behind Thome Shepherd Junior Primary School in Marurui, Thome Estate, Nairobi. The home is striking with a high perimeter wall and a huge metal gate, which is always under lock and key. Inside is a beehive of activities with joyful sounds of young girls inundated by sweet cries of small babies.
Reverend Danshire Njoroge and his wife Tabby Dorcas are the only known parents to most of the teenage girls at Wings of Compassion Rehabilitation Home. When I visited the school for this interview one early morning, I learnt first hand what goes on in this busy, yet very happy looking place – a haven for teenage mothers, most of whom had lost hope before finding love in the arms of this caring couple.
A young girl leads in sharing the Word of God. After the devotion, these teenage mothers and their children (some have up to three children) happily munch their breakfast in the small sitting area. Those who can’t find a seat settle on the floor. As they take their breakfast, the only thing you hear is ‘dad this’, ‘mum that’ coupled with hearty laughter.
A group of girls in school uniform walk out of the huge gate heading to Kipawa, a special high school in Kasarani area near ICIPE, offering opportunities to adults who, for whatever reason, missed the school boat and can’t now fit within the normal school programme. These teenage girls from the rehabilitation home have no misgivings about attending an adults’ school. The long trek from Marurui to Kasarani is a little price to pay to catch up with lost time and dreams.
Their babies are left in the safe hands of the matron and her assistant at the place they call home, while the Danshires keep a close watch round the clock. Some off the teenage mothers, who don’t venture out so early, tend to their babies and clean up the home. By eight in the morning another group of 35 girls with their babies, numbering more than 50, strapped on their backs or walking side by side arrive in the home, where they are served breakfast. These are non-resident. The compound becomes alive, a beehive of activities with young girls and children running all over.
A makeshift shelter inside the compound is converted into a salon and a beauty training school. The blow driers, braids and dummies are well positioned and within no time the beauty class begins with a volunteer trainer coaching the girls. Sometimes she misses coming to teach and goes to work for pay elsewhere to sustain herself. On such days the girls are left on their own and are not shy to venture into neighbourhood salons to practice what they have learnt. Training as hairdressers and beauty therapists is a way of helping these girls get a skill that will put them on the road to self-sustainability.
Another group of girls is in a counseling session with a volunteer professional. Most of the girls come from Jua Kali and Ngomongo slums where they have led very difficult lives. Counseling is important if they are to be helped to gain self-esteem and self-respect and set goals for their lives. They have come from an environment where there is little respect for the girl-child and this has made them loose self-esteem.
A heart for vulnerable girls…
The resident and non-resident girls at the rehabilitation home have a sad experience to tell. They were a desperate lot before Tabby and Njoroge came to their rescue. But for this admirable couple this wasn’t a new thing. While working as an evangelist in Kehancha in Kuria District in 2009, Tabby was irked by the prevalent practice of female genital mutilation in the area. She offered refuge in her house to girls who refused to undergo the practice. This nearly cost Tabby her life when the community hit back at her for interfering with their culture. It was then that Tabby and her husband re-located to Marurui, which is close to Jua Kali and Ngomongo slums.
The couple had ran away from Kehancha, the place they had come to call home, but they could not hide from the plight of the teenage mothers from Jua Kali and Ngomongo slums. Aged between 13 and 17 years, these girls faced rejection after pregnancy. Teachers expelled them from schools labeling them bad influence to other girls; parents and guardians isolated and often kicked them out of home for embarrassing the family, while peers mocked them for stupidly getting themselves pregnant.
The couple purposed to restore hope in these teenage mothers at a time when they didn’t have much to offer. Njoroge was at the time a part-time pastor and hospital supervisor while Tabby was a volunteer at a children’s home. Finances notwithstanding, they decided to give it a try only for Njoroge to get a mild stroke, which put him out of work for one year. By the end of 2010 they had exhausted all their savings. Just when they thought the worst was over Njoroge lost his job in February 2011. Determined to soldier on with the project, the couple ventured into the nearby Jua Kali slum to understand the plight of the young mothers and their children.
Njoroge explains: “The first landmark was a garbage dump where a lone one-and-a-half-year-old baby was rummaging. Surprisingly, passers-by didn’t appear bothered. We picked the baby and walked into the slums looking for its mother. We found her among a group of equally young girls outside a slum dwelling. They watched us with disinterest. And on enquiring why the girl had abandoned her child she asked, ‘what do you want with my baby? You can have him for Ksh 2000 incase you’re looking for a baby to adopt…’ Moved to tears, we beckoned her aside and asked why she was so willing to get rid of the baby. Amid tears, she confessed her inability to feed and maintain the baby and how she had now turned to prostitution to fend for herself. She was also homeless after her mother’s recently-found live-in partner forced the children out of their one-roomed shack.”
Her curious peers gathered around the couple and gave painful individual accounts of being teenage mothers. They were either orphaned or children of single mothers, school dropouts, illiterate, jobless and starving with their babies. What they did to survive was abhorring. In the absence of someone to babysit for them, some administered sleeping pills or chang’aa to their babies to silence their cries for food and seized the opportunity to sleep with men for pay, run errands such as trafficking drugs and guns, or directly engage in stealing and other crimes to survive.
Birth of a day-care centre…
The couple resolved to start a day-care feeding centre for the girls and their children, while offering counseling and sharing the Word of God with them. Their wish was to help the girls reform and move away from prostitution, illicit alcohol, drugs and crime. They identified a house strategically located near the slum at a monthly rent of Ksh 6000. Tabby shared with her friend who agreed to be part of this noble idea and paid rent for several months. They appealed for donations from homes in Thome area and it worked. They got food items, mattresses, beddings, clothes, kitchenware and so on.
The feeding centre was opened on May 1, 2011, and 15 teenage mothers with their children walked in the first day. A makeshift shelter was put at a space behind the house to accommodate them. The next day 30 mothers and their children turned up. The figure rose to over 50 and more than double the number of children by the third day.
What was common with all the mothers coming to the home was that they were loaded with bitterness about their lives. The couple decided the first priority was to offer them counseling. They were lucky to find a volunteer professional to help the girls.
The couple explains: “We got into partnership with professionals in different fields who provided, and continue to provide, diverse services to the girls and their children. For instance, a lecturer at Kenyatta University’s nutrition department regularly sends a team of nutritionists to spend the day at the centre to do check-ups on the children and give expert advice on nutrition and parenting. Different preachers see to the spiritual needs of the girls and majority of them have become born-again Christians. This initiative has helped the girls gain self-confidence and their hopes of achieving their goals and aspirations have been revived.”
The couple have taught the girls a daily mantra, which they recite each morning: ‘I’m somewhere in the future and I’m going to look much better than I look right now…’ This has helped the girls focus more on their future and not their past.
Within six months of opening the house, there was noticeable positive change in majority of the girls and a great improvement in their children’s health. By the eighth month, 30 teenage mothers had transformed and were ready for the second level of rehabilitation. Some were eager to go back to school, while others preferred vocational training especially beauty, hairdressing and secretarial services. The couple secured a loan from a bank and enrolled the girls who wanted to be in school at Kipawa. Others were enrolled at St. Kizito College for secretarial services training and business administration, and others in computer training colleges.
A rehabilitation centre is born…
After seeing the positive results of their work, the couple was aware of the possibility of the rehabilitated girls sliding back into their old anti-social habits if they continued living in the slums. Some were already under pressure of threats from their previous bosses in crime, while other’s parents were not ready to take care of the children when the girls went to school or college.
The need for a permanent home for the girls and their children became urgent. With help from a friend in the US, the couple was able to acquire the current premises, which houses the Wings of Compassion Rehabilitation Home. The Home was opened in February 2011 with Tabby as the programme director. Those girls who wished to be residents moved in, while those with secure shelter at the slums come in everyday to participate in the programmes. The couple lives in the home with the girls. They have since closed the feeding centre to concentrate their efforts in the home.
Because the couple didn’t have money to take those girls who wished to acquire skills in hairdressing and beauty to commercial colleges, they opened up a makeshift training centre, where these skills are offered. Some of these girls have learnt skills that have enabled them to open their own salons, while others are gainfully employed. The future looks bright for the girls; whose numbers increase each day. The couple is always in dire need of donations to keep these girls at the home and ensure they live their renewed dreams and hopes. They are grateful to all those who continue to help the girls, and in particular the University of Nairobi Enterprise Services (UNES), who have positively touched the lives of these girls and their children.
Faces of the beneficiaries
The first person I met when the couple ushered me inside the home was 13-year-old Jane Wambui. With child-like innocence and holding in her arms a three-month-old baby, Jane answered all my questions eloquently. Her somewhat detached attitude gave me the impression that she was a baby sitter but I was to later learn that she was mother to the child she was holding.
Late last year, Jane was a standard six pupil at Njathaini Primary School and lived with her mother at Ngomongo slums near Marurui. She, however, got into bad company and started drinking illicit brews and taking drugs, and before long she conceived and dropped out of school. Her mother, a single parent, couldn’t take the embarrassment and sent Jane on an errand one early morning only for Jane to return home and find her mother had packed everything and disappeared without a trace. Another tenant had already occupied their room.
Jane became a destitute, sunk deeper into bad company, drunk illicit brews and sniffed tobacco. Her mother’s friends approached the local chief to help rescue her and through the District Children’s Office she ended up at Wings of Compassion. The government’s search for her mother remains elusive. Jane is now eager to resume school after breastfeeding for six months. Meanwhile she undergoes coaching by a trained teacher in readiness to enroll at the primary wing of Kipawa. She has been fully rehabilitated and has forgiven her mother for abandoning her. She hopes to study up to university level, settle down, look for her mother and reconnect, and hopefully give her a comfortable life.
Doreen is a young mentally challenged girl whose parents discontinued her from school while in class three in Kisii and sent her to work as a house girl for a relative in Nairobi. This relative mistreated her and one night threw her out into the streets. A piteous neighbour rescued her and sent her to work for a friend in Kasarani area. Sadly, a man took advantage of her and she conceived. On realising she was expectant, her employer also threw her into the streets. In spite of her mental state, she works very well under supervision.
A man rescued her when he found her crying by the roadside and offered her to live with his family but he turned out to be a drug addict who sexually abused her. Neighbours informed the authorities and she was rescued to the centre in April 2012. The now proud mother of a four-month-old son, who she named Danshire Junior, has started regaining some composure and is learning to make jewelry and other handicrafts.
“We are glad to be of help to these girls. We appeal to well wishers to lend us a hand and help make a difference in somebody else’s life,” concludes the couple.
Published in November 2012