What would you do when your family falls apart?
When Gladys’s mother died, the 17-year-old girl never expected the loss would unravel her family as she knew it.
Gladys is the second-eldest child of six siblings. In November 2020, the children’s mother died from HIV. Shortly after she passed away, their father felt he couldn’t properly take care of his family. He left town to look for work one day.
He never returned.
The orphaned children lived in a one-room house and slept on the floor at night. Their mud-walled home was on the same land as their aunt and uncle’s house. But bitter from a family land inheritance dispute with the children’s father, their relatives wanted nothing to do with Gladys and her siblings.
Their uncle built a dam on the family land that caused water to flood right up to the children’s home. Their aunt would take what little handouts neighbours would give the children and keep it for her own family.
Left to fend for themselves in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire situation started taking a toll on the siblings.
Gladys’s older sister got married at the age of 18. She left home to get away from the overwhelming responsibilities of being the head of the household. Their third-eldest sibling was suffering from mental health issues. Without the guidance and support of parents to help him, he left home as well.
With her family falling apart, Gladys was forced as a teenager to look after herself, her brother Januaries, age 11, and sisters Elizabeth, age 8, and Virginia, age 4.
“While at home, I faced a lot of challenges like providing for my siblings, attending to all of them, cooking and doing all the chores at home,” Gladys says.
Gladys’s struggles were amplified since Virginia had serious health issues since birth. The lack of proper food and medication made the situation dire for the youngest sibling.
Gladys thought about following her older sister’s footsteps by finding a husband and escaping the responsibilities that fell to her. She felt defeated and thought she couldn’t finish her schooling even if she tried hard.
Education was a luxury the children couldn’t afford after their mother died. A local politician arranged for financial aid to cover some of Gladys’s school fees, but when her father couldn’t pay for the balance, she had to drop out. The younger siblings in primary school were also sent home when they failed to pay for school fees.
Girls in situations like the one Gladys was in are more likely to be abused. When teenaged girls are left in the head-of-household position at an early age, there’s a higher chance of them being sexually or physically exploited. They are in such a vulnerable or desperate position that people can easily take advantage of them.
They could end up being a child bride to make some money for the family or a child labourer looking for a better life. Boys, like Januaries, would often end up on the streets looking for work to help support their family.
Fortunately, community health workers and social workers from Mully’s Children Family learned about Gladys and her siblings before it was too late. They visited the family several times to assess their situation and determine how to best help them.
The children then moved to a MCF home last November.
“The siblings now have people who care for them,” says Ndondo Mulli, Director Operations Mully Children's Family-Kenya. “They have access to basic needs such as food, proper shelter, clothing, education, medical care and spiritual nourishment. They are also protected from abuse and exploitation. They now have the privilege of having many brothers and sisters in a safe environment.”
The children also have many adults who care for them. An old African adage says, “The child belongs to the community.”
In an MCF home, every staff member— whether they are a medical officer or teacher, social worker or cook— all have the added duty of being a caregiver. This helps the children foster multiple healthy relationships with adults, while also improving their levels of trust and self-worth.
The transition into the new family wasn’t an easy one for Gladys and her brother Januaries. They were reluctant to welcome their MCF family in the same way MCF welcomed them. The constant abandonment and lack of security made it harder for them to trust that their family would be safe.
It was especially challenging for Gladys, who instead of experiencing life as a teenager, had to make decisions that would keep her siblings safe, fed and healthy. She struggled to give up that control and let her guard down in their new home. This is something all too common with children who have had to play the role of parent too soon in life.
At first, Gladys showed behavioural issues. She wasn’t used to the structure and support that MCF gave them. She was defensive, rude to the other children and had little regard for her teachers and other MCF workers.
With the support of MCF’s counsellors, Gladys started to learn how to constructively deal with her negative emotions and better cope with confrontations.
“Gladys has been able to slowly surrender the role of caregiver to the co-workers at MCF and is gradually beginning to allow herself to be a child and be guided again,” says Ndondo Mulli.
Today, Gladys, Januaries, Elizabeth and Virginia are all returning to the kind of life children deserve to live.
“At MCF, they can rest easy knowing that they are loved and that their best interests are being safeguarded,” says Ndondo Mulli. “They are also getting to know the love of Jesus Christ.”
Gladys still takes time to look after her younger siblings, helping them to clean up and organize their belongings.
School is also a regular part of their daily activities, with Gladys in Grade 9, Januaries in Grade 4, Elizabeth in Grade 3 and Virginia attending kindergarten. Gladys says she sees a better future now that she’s back in school. After dinner, she and other students watch the evening news to stay informed of national and world affairs.
Januaries, who is mature for his age, has softened his tough demeanor. He’s now more playful and loves taking part in MCF’s activities. His favourite activity is playing soccer with friends.
Elizabeth is keen to make new friends and is happy to be part of the MCF family. “Since I came to MCF, I got free education, I got shoes and free clothing,” she says. “I have a place to sleep. I have friends.”
Meanwhile, little Virginia’s health significantly improved now that she regularly eats a balanced diet and takes the medications she needs to stay healthy.
Gladys’ relief and gratitude for MCF and for you was evident when she spoke with us. “I am so grateful for Daddy [Mulli] and Mommy [Esther] for the great work they are doing. We are provided for all the basic needs. All I can say is that God will repay you for your good deeds.”
Hear from Gladys and her sister Elizabeth.
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