Family Strengthening – July 23 2021 Siblings separate for support to cultivate a better future Text by Anne Kahura; Photos and video by Jakob Fuhr Sharon’s world fell apart after her mother died and her father abandoned them. It left her alone to raise her sisters, who were eight and two weeks old at the time. Sharon was in her last year of high school and had been working hard to make her mother proud when her mother died. She planned to join university to study law. Sharon says taking on her new role as a parent was heartbreaking and difficult. “I felt it was the end of me. I had to let go all my dreams and fun in the world to become a family girl,” says Sharon, who is now 20 years old. “I was not prepared but by the strength of God, I told myself that I would work hard like my mother and take care of my siblings. I would stand in for the family and be the parent, the sister, everything." Through the support of SOS Children’s Villages in Kenya, Sharon has found a way to continue her education while her siblings, now 10 and two-years-old, are well cared for. But Sharon and her sisters endured hard and painful times before help finally arrived. Barely two weeks after their mother’s death, the landlord evicted the girls from their home in KCC, an informal settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi. In the midst of her own grief and now facing homelessness, Sharon cried out to her mother’s friend when a relative refused to help her. The compassionate neighbor allowed them to sleep on her sofa and agreed to watch the infant during the day when Sharon went to school. The sisters later moved to live on their own in a single room supported by the church once Sharon completed high school. “The baby was so small; I had to carry her in my arms always. I had to sooth her to eat, to drink milk and to sleep. Other times she would cry the whole night, and we would have sleepless nights,” recalls Sharon as tears fall freely down her face. “I tried to commit suicide a couple of times to drown my pain—then I realized no one would take care of my sisters if I died. I made up my mind and decided to take heart. I stopped entertaining thoughts of suicide and started focusing on my life and that of my siblings.” Sharon says she fed the children with help from her neighbors. “Those who know my story gave food, clothing and milk, or encouraged me with their words of wisdom,” she says. At times food would run out when they took long to bring supplies. Sharon needed a job to supplement her neighbor’s support. Finding work The church Sharon attends sponsored her in January 2020 to enroll for a three-month certificate course in hairdressing and beauty. The skills would help her find work and earn money to better care for her siblings. Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit Kenya in March, two months into the training, and Sharon had to stop when the government ordered a lockdown to curb its spread. Her generous neighbors, who largely depend on a daily wage to feed their own families, greatly felt the impact of the pandemic and reduced their assistance. “They came and told me, ‘Sharon, there are things we will not be able to provide you with anymore, but do not worry we are still together’. I felt all alone in the world. I needed to keep myself busy to avoid negative thoughts.” The skills Sharon gained at the hairdressing and beauty training helped her secure a job at a small salon near her house, where she washed and blow dried hair. She earns a commission of 20 shillings (18 cents) for every client she serves. “I cook the little rice or flour that I am able to buy just for us to survive. I cannot afford a balanced diet even for the baby, who needs it the most. She loves to drink milk so much but if I buy milk with the 20 shillings (18 cents) I make at the salon, then she will have no diapers or we might have no food for dinner. It is a struggle in every way. I have to think of ways to get food otherwise people will hate me if I keep begging.” The doctor has said Sharon is developing ulcers and high blood pressure because of the stress. She found this out one day when she fainted in the house and her friends from the salon took her to the hospital. Need for alternative care The SOS Children’s Village family strengthening program learned about Sharon’s situation through a community volunteer who knows the family well. The family strengthening service boosts the capacity of families to care for their children and builds resilience so that children and their families can stay together. Sharon enrolled in the program for support. In the best interest of Nimu and Mona, however, they will be separated from their elder sister to allow her get a college education: a qualification that will help her secure a decent job to provide better for her sisters. The girls will in the meantime find a new home in an SOS family. “SOS will support me but after we first settle my siblings,” says Sharon. “I would like to pursue ECD (Early Child Development) because I have a passion for children.” Sharon recently toured the SOS Village to see her sisters’ new home when she is away at school. SOS mother Brigitte showed her around and answered her questions. Children who have lost parental care find a safe home here and grow up with care and protection. “SOS will take care of the young girls so they do not remain unattended when Sharon is at school,” says SOS mother Brigitte. “Nimu and Mona will live in the same SOS family to keep the bond between them alive and strong. We want that love and connection between them to remain even when they exit SOS. The sisters will reunite when Sharon is financially settled." Sharon will see her siblings during school breaks or visit them at the SOS Village so that they can maintain their close relationship. “This is a good arrangement and I feel that our family bond will not fade away,” says Sharon. “We will remain one family with one love. It is so good for SOS to help me with the children, and I can care for myself for a change. I will have time to think about my future and the direction to take that will help my siblings when they leave the SOS family.” *Names changed to protect the privacy of the children.