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Life in an Orphanage: Peter’s Story

“At the children’s home, we rarely got called by our names. We were so many, a lot of times it was wewe (“you” in Swahili.). Even Scripture tells us that God knows our names. And here is a place you are supposed to call home, and you’re not even called by your name.” -Peter Kamau

Life in an Orphanage: Peter’s Story

“At the children’s home, we rarely got called by our names. We were so many, a lot of times it was wewe (“you” in Swahili.). Even Scripture tells us that God knows our names. And here is a place you are supposed to call home, and you’re not even called by your name.” -Peter Kamau

Peter’s parents died while he was an infant, and he and his siblings were sent to different orphanages before being reunited in Nairobi. All told, Peter would spend nineteen years in care before entering the world with few skills, little money, and scant personal connections.

Peter’s parents died while he was an infant, and he and his siblings were sent to different orphanages before being reunited in Nairobi. All told, Peter would spend nineteen years in care before entering the world with few skills, little money, and scant personal connections.

Life in the orphanage, which was home to between 160 to 180 children, including abandoned babies, held many challenges.

The children rose at 5:00 am, tidied the facility, ate breakfast, and left for school. On returning, they had chores—working in the kitchen, on the grounds, or tending to the infants in the nursery—followed by study and bedtime at 9:00.

The children rose at 5:00 am, tidied the facility, ate breakfast, and left for school. On returning, they had chores—working in the kitchen, on the grounds, or tending to the infants in the nursery—followed by study and bedtime at 9:00.

At school, the children were dismissed as “orphans,” and one child’s infractions would result in punishment for the group. “We were very easy to recognize,” says Peter. “And the teacher would easily tell you are from this children’s home by the ringworm infections on your head.

At school, the children were dismissed as “orphans,” and one child’s infractions would result in punishment for the group. “We were very easy to recognize,” says Peter. “And the teacher would easily tell you are from this children’s home by the ringworm infections on your head.

Although Peter and his five siblings lived in the same facility, they rarely had the opportunity to interact. “There were many times when I was bullied and I wanted to talk to my big sister or big brother,” says Peter. “They weren’t near. I couldn’t access them.”

Although Peter and his five siblings lived in the same facility, they rarely had the opportunity to interact. “There were many times when I was bullied and I wanted to talk to my big sister or big brother,” says Peter. “They weren’t near. I couldn’t access them.”

The separation caused estrangement. “You know you have siblings, but you rarely get to see each other. So it meant that nothing is bringing you together,” says Peter. “And so even after leaving care there has been a huge challenge just of getting these relationships working.”

“There was no preparation at all for leaving care,” says Peter. “You were ambushed and told: ‘You are now 18 and you no longer have a bed here. And then baby who is getting abandoned tomorrow will need that bed.’ You are told you no longer have room in this home.”

“One thing about orphanage care is that it disconnects children from the very family that they know, and because of the very many years of separation, it is very difficult for those relationships to be remedied.”

As a young adult, Peter worked for the same orphanage where he had once lived. He was motivated, he says, by his own grief of not having a close-knit family, and he was determined to create better circumstances for other children.

As a young adult, Peter worked for the same orphanage where he had once lived. He was motivated, he says, by his own grief of not having a close-knit family, and he was determined to create better circumstances for other children.

Today, Peter runs Child in Family Focus, which champions family-based care for children and government reform on policies relating to the care of children. He says that it’s critical that children don’t enter the system in the first place, and that families get the support they need.

“We need to address poverty through livelihood programs and economic empowerment of families,” Peter says. “Some of the families will just need counseling services and linkage to health facilities and education. But at the same time they need support services, like linking them up to churches where they can belong and be encouraged when they’re going through difficult situations in life.”

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