Antony is a single parent raising his two children, three-year-old Wangari* and two-year-old Njuguna.* Their mother left when Njuguna was only four months old. At first, Antony was scared and nervous because he knew nothing about raising young children.
“I have lived alone with my children for one year and six months,” explains the 45-year-old shoemaker from Nairobi. “It has been very hard work, but things are getting easier because the children have grown a little. I’ve already survived the children’s most fragile age.”
Antony lives in KCC, a low-income neighborhood in Kenya’s capital. It is named after a milk processing plant in the vicinity that triggered the mushrooming of this community. Houses in KCC consist of apartment buildings and shacks made out of iron sheets.
Makeshift businesses like Antony’s shoemaking service line the streets next to where he lives. His children play with the neighborhood children or mill around him when he is mending shoes. Wangari helps his father arrange old shoes on the display sack laid on the ground.
The shoe business has been Antony’s lifeline for the last four years, but these days it is not earning him enough. His neighbors, who are his main customers, hardly ask for his services anymore. Most of them rely on a daily wage and COVID-19 has forced them to reprioritize their needs.
“I can go three days or a week without earning a single cent," Antony says. Sometimes he looks for casual jobs and leaves the neighbors to watch his children.
Due to his lost income, Antony worries how he will feed his family. He goes to a nearby shop to purchase food items on credit when he has no money.
Effects of COVID-19
Antony says in February last year—a month before the pandemic came to Kenya—his business was doing well. “I could replace shoe soles and sell ready-made school shoes. I bought leather and soles and displayed them on the wall,” recalls Antony. “If the need was for a sole and laces, I had them in stock.”
Without any other source of income, Antony sold his shoe repair supplies to feed his children, and the business collapsed. Antony says the pandemic has reduced him to nothing.
“I lived in a big house around here,” he says, pointing in the direction of his old house. “I moved here into this small house after COVID-19 came. My former house had a full set of sofas, a gas cooker and cylinder, but I had to sell them to buy food.”
Looking at Antony today, it is hard to imagine that he once did well. A narrow alley leads to his one-roomed shack built with iron sheets. The room is dark and there are no windows; light comes from a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. Hardly any furniture can fit into the tiny space. Until recently, he shared the only bed he had with both of his children.
“I have not been able to pay rent for this house from April of last,” says Antony. “I owe my landlord a lot of money. The children are the reason he has not evicted me.”
Registered for support
Their situation is dire, but the father of two is determined to raise his children. His neighbors are impressed by his decision, but many advise him to place his daughter and son in a children’s home since he cannot work.
“I tell them that I cannot do that,” Antony says defiantly. “I want to raise my own children until they grow up. I enjoy being with them very much. We have food problems, but my children are content with what is available and that makes me happy.” Antony’s family is somewhat of a spectacle at KCC because most families are headed by women. It is common for men in the community to abandon their families.
Antony does not want his children separated from him—what he needs is support to actualize his desire of a good future and a healthier environment for them. The SOS Children's Villages family strengthening program works with vulnerable families like Antony’s to restore their livelihoods, build caregivers’ capacity and equip them with the resources so that they can provide their children with the stability they need to flourish.
He recently enlisted in the program with the help of a community volunteer. Strengthening Antony’s family will eliminate his children's need for alternative care.
“I want my children to make it in life and to be successful in their education. I will be happy if I am able to educate them well,” he says as he smiles at his children when they walk into the room. He hopes to enroll them in school next year; he will have more time to work when they are in school.
“In this neighborhood, children who do not go to school become street children. They join groups of street children and they go off to fend for themselves. I have seen children suffering and I do not want my children to suffer," Antony says. "I love my children. I choose to care for them myself so they can grow up confidently knowing that I am always there for them.”
* Names changed to protect the children’s privacy.