by Angela Adhiambo
This is Ann.
I’ve always known her to be cheerful, and playful. She is incredibly sincere, and her mum always jokes that she couldn’t lie to save her life.
That’s how innocent she is.
So it came as a great surprise when she suddenly closed up last year. Ann would no longer play, or even laugh freely.
She became too scared to be seen, and too afraid to speak.
To this day, I’m not really sure what happened behind closed doors at Ann’s home. All I know is that I’m really glad that she, her mum, and her little sister got away, even if it meant having to start life from scratch again.
Ann became too afraid to ask for anything.
Madam Wanjiku, Ann’s former teacher
Ann playing alone
It’s heartbreaking when children have to live in a grown-up world where, instead of being themselves, they are forced to ignore and tolerate abuse.
The truth is, Ann’s mum hadn’t realized how much damage her relationship had done on her daughter’s life until she noticed how much more invisible her daughter wanted to become.
The kind of abuse that Ann went through is not the kind that most would think of.
Before last year, Ann went to school. She ate perfectly good food too – her mum made sure of it. Ann even had warm clothes, and a roof over her head.
But she was just never at ease.
Ann was always anxious about how her stepfather would react if she messed up. Or what he would do to her mum if he came home before she got back from doing people’s laundry to afford food and school fees.
Ann also spent her days taking the blame for her baby sister’s mistakes; the thought of seeing her 1-year-old sister get into any trouble gave her panic attacks.
The worst part is, she was just a 9-year-old who was always walking the thin line between wanting to be a kid, or giving all that up to help keep the peace at home.
Child abuse is still normalized in many parts of the world
This kind of abuse is frighteningly common in Kenya; Child Protective Services isn’t really a thing here.
Children tend to be taken care of physically, but emotionally and mentally, they’re not. Nearly 50% of children and adolescents in Kenya have thoughts of self-harm, are highly anxious, and are not mentally healthy.
Unlike in other countries, there isn’t much put in place here to dictate how to parent.
Twice, the community tried to intervene in Ann’s case, but it mostly usually came down to this:
For the whole of last year, Ann’s situation kept us up at night. So, we got together and found a way to get Ann, her mum, and her little sister back to their grandparents.
Though leaving gave them a great amount of peace, it wasn’t the cure-all that everyone thought it would be.
At her grandparents, Ann had shelter and food, but still couldn’t go to school. Her mum was the sole breadwinner, and could only make enough to feed the whole family.
So, we got together again as a community and reached out to anyone who could help.
One of our supporters offered to pay for her education!
Ann ready to go to her new school
I usually ask our kids about their thoughts when they receive the good news from our supporters.Being a girl of few words, Ann said,
I am happy. We are all so happy now.
Ann is finally free to be a child again.
Ann and her little sister playing
We still have a chance to change the lives of others like Ann.
These kids are affected by so many of the ills of the world, but if we can help them stay in school, then we would at least be giving them a leg up in life.
Access to education = Access to opportunity = End to cycle of poverty
What usually breaks my heart is that we can’t do more for them sometimes. But the shift in their lives caused by our efforts show that giving them support as they learn is a great start in bringing lasting change.
A little support goes a long way with them, which is heartening.
It’s not too late to meet the kids and join this year’s campaign. With your help, we can shape their worlds into a better one.