Written by Cabral Opiyo

Angie is a happy go lucky lady, you can hear it in her voice and the way she laughs easily and heartily. Angie is also a caregiver of many years, through many different circumstances and situations and she told me her story of over a decade of caregiving.

When I ask Angie what her role is, she laughs briefly and answers that she is a jack of all trades; a social worker, a manager, a comforter, and a mum amongst other unspecified roles that she occupies when the need arises.

Angie’s mother always had a passion for taking care of vulnerable children; the abandoned, the abused, the lost, rescue cases, children living with disabilities, and the destitute. She had the vision of starting a home where such children would be well taken care of and then adopted by loving, caring families but she did not have the financial muscle to make it happen. Luckily, through various mutual connections, she was connected to a couple in the United kingdom who shared her vision and they invested in the renting of a property, and thus Angie’s time as a caregiver indirectly begun.

She was in high school when her mother started running the home and she would assist in the various duties around the house. They took in children from as young as a day old with no age restrictions on the older children, their mission to help stayed consistent regardless of such trivial matters as age. They would get cases from the Nakuru children’s office, the General Hospital, and various police stations of abandoned and rescued children.

After high school, she joined the running of the home and the day to day activities seamlessly. At some point, there wasn’t enough funding and it was only her and her mother running the home and doing all the duties that needed doing because they couldn’t afford to hire additional staff to help out.

“I remember there was a time my mother needed to run an errand in town and she left me in the house alone. It was a particularly tough time as we had twenty-one very young babies, twenty-one! They all woke up at around the same time and started crying and I was so overwhelmed because the process of fixing even one bottle of milk took a bit of time. I broke down and started crying as well and now I can laugh about it but back then it was very stressful.”

Angie recalls questioning whether she wanted any children of her own in the future due to how traumatizing being left alone with all those children had been. That episode almost shaped her view of certain issues including parenthood and it’s an area she believes caregivers need more support in so that their world view is not shaped by their experiences during their time taking care of vulnerable people.

The two of them ran the home solo for a period of more than one year, a time that Angie reflects was one of the hardest periods of her time as a caregiver. The lives of the children they took care of never stopped, so neither could the caregivers stop, not on weekends or holidays, it was non-stop work and being engaged for Angie and her mother.

For that year, Angie had no social life and she was cracking under the strain but her mother always encouraged her to go out and socialize to let steam out. Angie would go out to clubs and hang out with her friends when she could. Her mother reminded her constantly that she had chosen the life she was living with all its demands but Angie could always choose a different path and live her life with no recriminations. Her mother took into account her feelings and did not neglect them the way most caregivers needs always are, her supportive mother got her through the difficult periods.

After a while, the couple who sponsored the home decided to come back home from the United kingdom and they wanted to run the whole operation, so Angie’s mum decided to start her own home. She sold a piece of land belonging to her and started her own home, just like that. She had a lot of faith that the whole venture was going to work, a faith that Angie bought into.

At the beginning of her mother’s home, finances were tight and the only thing that kept them afloat was a program run by a friend of the family that sent volunteers from around the world to the home. The volunteers would pay a small fee and help out with the general running of the home and also help with the bills for the home while at it. Their contributions helped keep the project running both financially and with manpower.

Angie declares that were it not for the connections made during those three years that the project ran, they would definitely have gone under. Even when the project moved offices and stopped sending volunteers, they had gained friends and forged life-long bonds that were converted into well-wishers who continued to support the project via food donations and paying the bills.

Angie soon found herself filling in roles within the house as she earlier explained, on a day to day basis she describes her duties as; making breakfast for the kids, preparing a bag of snacks for the school-going children, change and wash the ones who needed it, cleaning the house, washing clothes and cooking among many other duties that cannot be quantified.

By then, they had employed additional caregivers. Two who helped out during the day and one who stayed over during the night including Angie and her mum who were ever-present at the house.

There were difficult moments during those years and Angie pinpoints three; the first was when they received a child who had been dumped in a pit latrine and had survived there for a while. When the baby was brought to the house, he had maggots encamped in his skin and he was constantly crying and refused to eat. That was an episode that has always stuck with Angie.

The next was in November 2011, one of the charges of the home who was perfectly healthy passed on in her sleep after taking an afternoon nap in what was diagnosed as sudden infant death syndrome (cot death). The staff and Angie could not believe it and they cried for weeks.

The third and most significant event Angie describes with a nostalgic sadness in her voice. She describes that the home had children with disabilities; three had cerebral palsy and one was autistic. There was a child called Emmanuel who had cerebral palsy; he couldn’t walk, talk, or see.

“The other kids loved Emmanuel. They always played around him and we had a thing where all the kids would be asked to go and hug and kiss Emmanuel and they would all shout that they loved him. Emmanuel would smile when this happened. One day Emmanuel developed breathing complications and he died in my mother’s arms as he was being rushed to the hospital.”

Angie pauses as she finishes her sad tale, it was not an easy story to tell. But there are also a lot of positives from her time as a caregiver. She describes her best moments were when happy, positive parents came to adopt children from the home and the kids would run to the adopters. The love during such moments was palpable and they made it all worthwhile for Angie.

After attending various caregiver related workshops, Angie realizes that there were areas they could have done better. And most importantly, that caregivers need to take care of themselves and even require counseling so as to be able to effectively do their job.

She also stresses that caregiving can change someone’s outlook on life the same way she asked herself whether she wanted to have children in the future due to her overwhelming experience taking care of the twenty-one bawling children all those years ago when she was left alone at the home.

Angie has been a caregiver for over a decade now and she can confidently advise other caregivers on these matters having gone through them herself. She offers a unique perspective on the growth a caregiver goes through and the experiences that shape how she does her work.

When I ask Angie about the lessons learned during her life as a caregiver she stresses on the following; she gained immeasurable empathy over the years, patience, compassion and learned to love unconditionally. The work she did gave her life purpose via seeing all those children looking up to her, depending on her and loving her unconditionally.

“My firstborn daughter was adopted from the home, she was brought in at one week old and I fell in love with her immediately.”

Alongside her daughter, Angie also has a one year old son that I can hear in the background as we conduct this interview. She is now married and still visits the home, regularly calls her mother and lets the children from the home come over to her house for sleepovers. She’s still bound to the home, the children and the beating heart of the home.

One comment on “METAMORPHOSIS

  1. Flora says:

    Exquisite….Its funny how much art and emotions stories hold.

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