“Two Orphan Girls” by Rinda Hayes
It is one of our interview days. The sponsored students are lined up and waiting to be interviewed by our team. Judging by the look on their faces, you would think they are being lead to slaughter. I know the look by now. They are nervous as can be, so afraid they might say something wrong, or have grades that might deny them from getting their sponsorship renewed – a fate worse than death, in this world where having a sponsor is the ticket to
a whole different life. Why? Because they are able to go to school. They, very proudly, are able to be among “the learners”, the ones creating a new life for themselves and their families through education. “Education is the key of life,” they say. “And my pride. Yes- my pride,” Watch as a young student expresses this sentiment in a special poem presented to Kenya Keys: VIDEO.
I saw that on interview day, as I was, by coincidence given two students to interview together, both of whom had the same sponsor, both of whom were orphans. To be an orphan girl in Kenya is about as tough as it gets. I’d heard their stories for years. I knew it would be grim. It’s easy after hearing so many gut-wrenching stories, to become somewhat immune to what you are hearing. You have to become that way, or it will tear you apart. But somehow watching these two girls before me, whose shyness belied their steel, I was deeply touched. They didn’t know each other. They went to different schools. Both of them had lost their parents when they were young. In such cases, where both parents are lost a few short years apart, the assumption is that they were taken by AIDS. We don’t ask. It’s all too common of a story. Both parents dying, the children being left to fend for themselves, hopefully a grandmother or an “auntie” stepping in.
In the case of both of these girls it was the grandmother. The grandmothers, uneducated themselves and aging, were hugely grateful to Kenya Keys for providing the only possible lifeline for their granddaughters. Elizabeth and Mwanaidi were the girls. They both were looking at the photo of Erica, their sponsor, and her young family – everyone dressed in their Sunday best, in a world that these girls could hardly imagine. Somehow this family in the fancy clothes and well-combed hair had come to care about them; not just pay their fees, but send them letters from their children once a year. The smiles crept across their faces, as they read. They could tell by Erica’s words, that they had a “mum” in her.
They had told me about their lives, how their days at school begin at the 4:30 wake up bell, and end at the 10:00PM bell for sleep. How alone must they have felt, leaving their villages after 8th grade to go off to secondary school? Knowing not a soul. No parents to wish them well. No one to welcome them, or miss them, surely the grandmothers relieved at not having the extra mouth to feed. That’s how orphans are so often viewed – as an extra mouth to feed. I can’t imagine it. I watch them. I’m struck by the wonder of them – the sheer steel they are made of – never to cry, which is culturally forbidden, never to be coddled or cherished or indulged, as my daughters have been. What kind of women will they become?
How do they have the stamina to keep studying, studying? And how, how have I been so lucky as to be placed in a position where I can recruit families like Erica’s, families that will change the lives of these students forever? Change their lives forever. Change their children’s lives forever. Forever.
And perhaps even offer them a mum.
Rinda Hayes is the co-founder and Director of Kenya Keys. She has dedicated the last 13 years of her life to developing and growing this amazing organization, changing the lives of hundreds of young Kenyan students, their families, and their communities.