Long term support of a vulnerable child needs to consider the whole family. In the second of two parts, we take a look at how the Drug Fighters and SIM Kenya Children at Risk teams are partnering to help both children and parents
Photos and words by Tim Coleman
A History of Addiction
"It wasn’t always like this. Life was good”.
Mama K ran a salon. Her husband sold grain on a large scale. They had three children and a comfortable home.
Their family situation took a turn for the worse when the husband had a severe health problem. It was a problem that accrued costly medical bills and drained all of their resources. He used up all of his capital, then she had to sell her salon and all her hairdressing equipment. They lost their house.
A mountain of stress.
Alcohol addiction soon followed. First mama K, then her husband.
Every day she woke and the first thought was for a drink.
Addiction had a terrible effect on the family - neither Mama K or the father were able to look after their three children or provide for them. Soon the children dropped out of school. Her sister came and took one of the children to live with her, hundreds of miles away.
Reaching out to the Abuser
The SIM Kenya Children at Risk team has learnt down the years that simply ‘rescuing' a child from the streets and providing them with their basic needs only goes so far, noble these efforts may be.
With all the will in the world to improve the life of a child, what good is it if they are under continued abuse from their parent? Or if the family is so impoverished that the parent exploits their own child? Under such circumstances, the child will flee the home or remain the victim of abuse.
The lives of many children are being transformed in a wonderful way through projects across slum areas in Kenya, such as Drug Fighter Primary School. But it’s still not enough. The desire of the SIM Kenya Children at Risk team is to see transformation in the whole family.
Wherever possible and appropriate, the desire is for healthy families together. And so, to truly rescue a child in this neighbourhood, Agnes and the SIM team believe that the parents require rehabilitation.
What is profoundly encouraging, then, is how the work is evolving to consider the rehabilitation of abusive parents.
Agnes believes that poverty is not the enemy in this story - it might be a factor, but it’s not the cause of abuse. Agnes learned how to love and provide for her child, in spite of her poverty.
Most abusive parents have lost hope at some point along the way. They have given in to addictions in order to medicate their hardships. They have set a downward spiral in motion that becomes harder to escape, increasingly destructive and severe.
Their own children tend to be the ones that feel the full force of harm.
To change the family situation for the better and break the cycle of abuse, the parent needs help to get out of the deep pit. And the children need daily support during this time.
"Your (drunk) parent can be restored", Agnes tells the children at Drug Fighters Primary School. Each night the children that board have devotions and can understand truth from God in these situations.
As the children heal in the safe space of the school, there is a dialogue with the parents to see if they would like to conquer their addiction. For a number of reasons not all want help, yet some do.
In particularly bad cases of addiction, life saving medical intervention is necessary. Sometimes intervention is, fatally, too late. Otherwise, Agnes has found that removing the parent from their environment is effective.
Agnes owns farmland around three hours drive north of Nairobi. It is here that we speak with the very first mother who has been offered a way out of her situation, Mama K.
With no home for the family, a report came to Drug Fighters Primary School about the family situation and consequently the other two children were taken in at the school.
Mama K reached out to Agnes for help to conquer her addiction. She was offered the chance to move out of Kibera and to the farm - a place that contrasts her home environment in almost every way.
In the early days, Agnes stayed with Mama K while she got clean from her addiction, without hospital intervention.
After Agnes left, Mama K took alcohol again. Old habits die hard. But then, with the very real consequence of being brought back to Kibera, the mother committed to staying completely clean. She really wanted to change.
For her, giving up such unhealthy habits would be next to impossible in her home environment - her husband remains at home and is still an alcoholic. How could she stop those old ways and forge a new life for her children in that toxic environment, surrounded by the people that bring her down?
A Fresh Start
Today, the mother lives and works on the farm each day. Life looks very different - she is outside of the negative environment from where she came.
The farm covers a large area of land for her and a couple of others to manage. The fertile land, which has its own water source, produces many crops that can be sold in the area. It also supplies the school back in Kibera with a number of vegetables.
She can live each day here in peace, also safe in the knowledge that her children are being looked after. This is a great opportunity to turn her life around.
Recently, her children came to stay at the farm with her during the school holidays. They did not want to return to Nairobi without their mother. One day, soon we pray, the father will join her here and they as a couple will be ready for a life with the children again.
Agnes believes that beyond physically breaking an addiction, rehabilitation should consider counselling the parents (and children), spiritual input and providing an alternative to the destructive life that is all they know.
A new environment and friendships. An alternate pattern and purpose of life, such as working on the farm.
The team has found that spiritual healing from God is an essential component in breaking the cycle of harm. Of restoring hope. During our visit, we witness conversations between Mama K, Agnes and Beatrice of SIM.
Conversations about God and how He can help. We see the women pray together and Mama K invite God into her heart. There is a holistic transformation taking place in her life, praise God.
We trust God can give her the strength and resolve needed to restore her family.
Saving Many Lives
Mama K is one of many parents, even from a small area of Kibera, that has faced huge challenges in life, lost hope and made choices that have negatively affected their family.
The approach of rehabilitating parents is a huge undertaking. This work is not easy. Plenty of resources are needed even just to change the situation of one family.
There is space on the farm to house a number of other mothers and fathers in the future and give them a fresh start.
For those that get the opportunity for a fresh start like this, the impact is long lasting. Rehabilitating the parent is the beginning of healing the family wounds and enjoying a better future together.
If you would like to find out more about the work and ways that you can support it, please do reach out directly to the SIM Kenya Children at Risk Ministry team leader, Beatrice Njoroge at firstname.lastname@example.org