Written by Cabral Opiyo

“I wanted to do accounts, the line of work I am in was not what I envisioned. But my sister told my parents that that was a field reserved for men and that I should instead do the more traditional and conservative secretarial course and so to please my parents, off I went to secretarial college.”

Strangely enough, this unfortunate turn of events brought Christine closer to the field that she would eventually end up loving and sees herself retiring in caregiving. Her sister was a nurse and after seeing and interacting with that side of her sister’s work, she was encouraged to go to Community Development College and her life as a caregiver started unfolding. When asked, she emphatically says that she wouldn’t do anything differently even with hindsight, she’s doing what she was meant to be doing and she loves it. She’s led a life of unintended consequences.

Since the early days, Christine has worked in various capacities as a caregiver in three very different circumstances but all dealing with taking care of the more vulnerable members of society.

After training as a social worker, she worked in a rescue center with girls who had been sexually abused, neglected, impregnated, and those with court cases to follow up against perpetrators that had brought them harm in some form or the other.

Her natural abilities to comfort and sympathize with the vulnerable girls shone through as she helped in their counseling and integration into the centers. She states that most times, the rescued girls would take a while to trust anyone or even speak up on the traumas they had faced and that’s where her patience kicked in. She would speak to the girls, find common ground, and draw them out slowly until they felt comfortable enough to engage her or an appointed counselor.

In addition to this, she dealt with the day to day running of the place and ensured that the girls had activities to keep them busy. She designed safe games and training for the older girls in fields like tailoring and education to make sure their lives continued as normal. She states that she tried to make them feel as normal as possible and ensured that they did not embrace the victimhood of their circumstances.

Next, she moved to a children’s home where her leadership qualities again shone through and she was in charge of the running of the whole institution. Here, there were orphans, neglected, and abused children all under her care. In addition to ensuring the welfare of the children, she also oversaw all the employees and their duties.

She ensured that things ran smoothly on a day to day basis including the minutiae like ensuring cleanliness was top notch and hygiene was observed all over. Her whole experience was so far removed from her early years attending secretarial school as since then, her life seemed to have taken on a trajectory of its own.

She currently works in a rehabilitation center for children living with disabilities in Malindi. The center takes in children with disabilities and trains them to live an independent life that isn’t hampered by their disabilities and that includes training the parents and families of such children on how to best live their lives and take care of the children with disabilities. They take in children ranging in age from five to eighteen years old living with disabilities like cerebral palsy around the area.

They ensure the welfare of the children and also deal with the various therapies the children undergo, working around daily activities like feeding and schooling. After a period, the improved children go back home where their parents are better informed and new charges are taken in. The project has both boarders and day scholars who live close by and go back to their families at the end of the day.

They have a special unit within the center that caters exclusively to these children and the government provides teachers for the whole institution. The rehabilitation center though is under the Catholic Church and is funded by various donors via Catholic nuns.

She has been at the project for the last five years and typically, her job entails the running of the whole institution. A typical day for her includes: checking in with the various caregivers on the welfare of the kids through the night, working with the physiotherapists who work with the kids, and writing daily progress reports on her charges.

She also works directly with the teachers on more effective means to educate the children while taking into account their various conditions.

They also have an outreach program that deals with children from all over the area who do not have the means or equipment to take care of their children living with disabilities. They go around speaking to the parents on general hygiene of their environments and how it affects their children, nutrition that is recommended, child safeguarding, and other home-based tips to better take care of their children and make them more comfortable.

Soon, she was so connected to the kids, she barely had time for anything else in her life, her work was front and center on her mind every single day. She marvels at the lessons the children taught her and states that she hasn’t encountered a love as pure as the one the children show each other every day in the home.

As with any career, caregiving has its dark side and Christine has seen her fair share of misfortune in her line of work. She says sadly, “unfortunately, kids can be very fragile and a seemingly healthy child one minute can so suddenly develop complications and just pass on.”

Christine recalls sadly that so far, two kids have passed on while under her care. She stopped blaming herself for their deaths as they were almost unavoidable according to the doctors. But according to her, she always asks herself whether there was anything she and the other workers could have done differently and it gnaws at her whenever she thinks about them.

She mourns alongside her colleagues but she learned that she had to pick herself up and continue for the sake of the other children. For a long time, she soldiered on without having anyone to speak to about the tragedies that had befallen the home that was supposed to be a sanctuary for those vulnerable kids. It’s only recently she started to speak to a counselor and attended caregiving workshops that addressed the issues that caregivers go through.

Christine is very firm on the qualities that make for a good caregiver. The first and her most important trait is patience, she learned that vulnerable children needed time and cannot be rushed into divulging what ails them. She adds; compassionate, loving, kind and a team player as otherwise one can make so many mistakes when they rely solely on their ability instead of the team.

She pre-empts my next question and answers it herself, the most important lessons she has learned in her long career as a caregiver.

“Confidentiality is key, the kids trust you with their problems and secrets and it is up to you to keep that trust. I also learned a lot from the kids, especially the ones who live with disabilities, even the ones who can’t speak will create such a commotion just to make sure that their friends in distress are taken care of and that taught me the purity of love.

I used to despair whenever a child was undergoing therapy and treatment and there was no discernible change immediately. I’ve learned the value of letting things run their course; hope for the best and not to give up. In the same vein, I have learned how to uplift the parents of the children undergoing rehabilitation.

Over the years I know how to spot children with problems even in settings that are not within the home and I try to engage the parents of such children. On my first day as a caregiver, I did not know how I would cope and I did not have the strength to go through with it but after observing the kids from a distance and how happy and loving they were, I found the will and strength and I enjoy it all very much now. I used to cry a lot at seeing the difficulty these kids encountered but now all I see is the joy.

The job has changed how I conduct inter-personal relationships due to the purity of purpose I encounter every day from the kids.

In the beginning, I couldn’t stand before a group of people and address them while these days I do it effortlessly during training and workshops.

I also learned to take care of myself, self-care is very important, and taking time off is key to rejuvenating myself. And when I am wrong, I admit it more readily these days. I used to overwork myself, wanting to micro-manage everything, I have learned to sit back and delegate the work to others and it will still get done. I balance work and home life much better to avoid burn out too.”

Christine proclaims that she will definitely retire at the home. For a career that was never meant to be, it has brought her a long way with a lot of unintended consequences opening up her one true path, caregiving.

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