Daniel and his wife, Jackline, sell boiled githeri (a mixture of maize and beans) on their roadside kitchen opposite their one-roomed shack in Nairobi. This is the family’s only source of income. Jackline started the business in 2019 when Daniel could no longer provide for the family due to illness—he is sick with cancer and epilepsy.
Jackline relies on daily sales to feed her children and pay her debtors. She sources the maize and beans from the market—usually on credit, which she pays back in the evening from the day’s income. She sells 30 teacups of githeri at 10 shillings (less than $1 USD) each.
“I open the business in the morning and I wait until around 11 am to sell githeri worth 20 shillings (less than $2 USD),” says Jackline, speaking of selling two teacups. “Yet the children are waiting for the money to have breakfast and lunch. I buy a small quantity of rice. If not, we fry githeri and eat it for lunch. If we make more money as the day progresses, I buy some maize flour to cook ugali (maize flour dough) for them. If we do not get anything, we fry more githeri and eat it for supper."
From the income of the day, Jackline first pays for the stock she borrowed to qualify for more credit. This is the way she keeps her business running. What remains is barely enough to buy any other variety of food for their children aged between two and 15 years old.
On a school day when the children leave home early, Jackline has no choice but to let them go without eating anything.
The family's background
The family led a better life before Daniel fell sick. He hawked shoes for a living and could afford to pay for the family’s basic needs. “Life was not bad when I was selling shoes because we could manage with the profit I made; it was not as little as with the current business,” explains Daniel. “I made 600 or 700 shillings (around $6 USD) each day hawking shoes. On a bad day, I made 500 shillings (almost $5 USD). I would buy good food and the family ate well."
Daniel tried to push on with shoe selling but he incurred losses, as people stole his shoes and money when he had seizures. He took a break from hawking but then resumed when his condition improved. In 2011, Daniel’s leg was diagnosed with cancer. The treatment cleared the disease but it reappeared again in 2019, which is when he stopped working completely. He now goes for chemotherapy twice a month, sponsored by the church.
The father of five says cancer and epilepsy have impoverished his family. He would be very far in life and had dreams of owning a very big shoe store had it not been for his illness. “My condition has affected my children a lot—you can tell from how they pray,” Daniel says. “My second born, Donna*, loves school very much. She often asks me 'Dad, what will happen to my education, how far will I go? How will our lives be now that you are sick?”’
The sixth grader does not hide her frustration. “When I leave the house in the morning and Dad has a headache or his leg hurts, I get so stressed at school, and I do not concentrate,” says 13-year-old Donna. “Sometimes my mind is just not in school. I try to persevere, but it hurts a lot and I am just not able to hold it. I feel so unhappy."
Donna suffers from sickle cell anemia. Each month she sees a doctor for a check-up and collects her medication. She pays a minimal fee, covered by the National Health Insurance Fund her father got for her. Donna says she has headaches and stomach aches occasionally but she is a fighter. She worries, though, that she will have to drop out of school for lack of school fees.
“We are on holiday and I have not cleared the school’s tuition for the last term,” she says. “I am saving in my secret piggy bank the little money my mother sometimes gives me for snacks. I will give it to the teacher when we go back to school. I help Mom because if the teacher sends me home and she has no money, my hope for education is gone.” Donna says she wants to be a teacher someday.
Family strengthening support
Jackline says a community volunteer in Kiambiu identified her house for SOS Children’s Villages Kenya's family strengthening program support when the volunteer witnessed her Daniel's seizures.
The SOS Children's Villages team, in their family assessment, will begin to outline areas of support to empower David and Jackline and enable them to care for their children. This will prevent a scenario where their children could be placed in alternative care. Poverty places children at a higher risk of family separation despite the resilience and courage parents show.
Late last year, after enlisting the family into the program, Jackline received vouchers to meet her family’s most pressing needs. “We were very happy. I bought maize flour, salad oil, soap, rice and sugar,” she remembers. “Those are the most essential items in the house and they really helped me feed my children. But when they ran out, I found life hard again.”
Donna says her mother is strong and she handles all the family problems courageously, but sometimes she gets overwhelmed. “I look at her and she looks so sad. At times, she is so absent-minded and deep in thought. She cannot even hear you when you talk to her. She is just quiet. I feel bad when I see her like that.”
Daniel encourages his children to take life as it is. He does not want any of them to feel pressured to contribute to the family income, because it will interfere with their education.
“I just pray that my situation does not push my children to the streets to collect garbage so that we get food,” says Daniel. “There was a time my eldest son (15) wanted to hang around his friends to look for money secretly. I refused and told him that regardless of what we are going through, he should not get involved. His argument was that we were suffering and he decided to get a job selling scrap metal. My dream is for everyone to go to college so that in the future, no one will say things did not work out because my dad was sick.”
Daniel and Jackline want a bright future for their children and hope that SOS Children's Villages will help educate them. “Education is the best gift for children. My wish and desire is for SOS Children's Villages to assist me in educating my children so they can get somewhere in life,” says Jackline. “It will also be very helpful if SOS Children's Villages supports me with capital to boost the githeri business so we stop incurring debts and trade with our own money.”
* Names changed to protect the privacy of the children.