JoJo, Christine (my wife), myself, and our good friend Beldina had an opportunity in mid-July to tour the New Life Home Trust Orphanage facility just down the road from our apartment in Kisumu. We were so moved by what we saw, so moved by the wonderful care and support each and every child is provided, and we were moved by the endless energy Prisca Ondeche puts into her assurance that each child that enters its gate will have a home and someone to love and care for him or her, regardless of how disadvantaged they may be. Afterward, at dinner that evening, Christine mentioned that “she is one of the most fascinating and inspirational woman that she has ever met”, which was all the inspiration I needed, and has since led to creation of this 5-part series.
There are an estimated 2 million orphans within Kenya, and the prominence of the abandonment of newborn babies has become a problem at the urban and rural hospitals around the country, and this number is steadily increasing. Most facilities are not equipped to care for infants who are sick, especially those who are HIV(+) and have AIDS. These babies are destined to remain in hospitals longer than desirable, and thus New Life Home Trust (NLHT) believes that a hospital is not the appropriate home for any child, healthy or otherwise. The higher numbers are certainly complicated by the fact that babies who remain in the hospitals longer are not being accepted back into their respective homes; this is because the homes are not equipped to care for babies who are sick, especially for those who are HIV(+).
Prisca Ondeche is the managing director of the New Life Home Trust Orphanage in Kisumu Kenya. She was born and raised in Taita, Kenya, a coastal town north of Mombasa, Prisca being the oldest of 6 children. In Taita, she attended primary and secondary school, and obtained her nursing diploma from a nursing school in Nairobi. She chose nursing as a profession because of an injury her mother sustained when she a young girl. Her mom’s injury required surgery and she claimed that the medical care provided by the doctors and nursing staff saved her so she could provide for Prisca and her other five siblings. This provided the spark that influenced Prisca, to develop her career path of wanting to help others.
After 17 years as a nurse, and being emotionally drained from dealing with “too many sick patients”, and “watching too many sick people die from the increased prevalence of HIV”, Prisca opted to leave nursing, as the personal and emotional satisfaction along with her passion for helping people was waning. She wanted to open her own day care facility, and continue to do work within her community—but she did not know where to look to begin. At the same time, New Life Home Trust was looking for a nurse to start a facility in Kisumu, and shortly after applying and being interviewed, she was appointed the new nurse and tasked with getting this facility off the ground where it currently stands today.
As a trained registered nurse, Prisca was finding her calling to provide a caring and nurturing environment for many of these disadvantaged and often abandoned infants. The stories told of new born infants being abandoned at the Home’s front gate in the middle of the night, or rescued from a pit toilet when left for dead leave you speechless and numb. Her passion and will to provide for all of these disadvantaged children is a testament to her strength, her values, and her beliefs that there can be a better life, a new life, and a home for each and every child.
In the year 2000, Prisca welcomed New Life Home Trust’s (NLHT) first satellite children’s home into Kisumu. The home is capable of housing nearly 50 babies and young children who have been rescued from a life of abandonment and the effects of HIV/AIDS. The staff are the caregivers for these neglected babies alleviating the burden of the hospitals. The Kisumu based Home meets the emotional needs and the curative costs of the babies while they are sick, providing nurturing care to them allowing them to turn into healthy children, with the goal of integrating them into society. Babies between the ages of 0-3 months are admitted, with priority given to those who are HIV positive or seriously ill. They are admitted from government and private hospitals and through direct contact with government children’s officers. With appropriate time, the infants are discharged to families for adoption. Children who are not adopted become members of the onsite family home (Simon Newbery Cottage) or are transferred to one of the Trust’s other facilities in Kenya (i.e., Nakuru, Nairobi). More recently a special needs unit, The Amani Cottage, was opened as the first stage of a center for NLHT’s children impaired by physical or mental disabilities. This facility is registered with the Kenya governments as a Children’s Home and a Private Medial Institution, and thus able to provide holistic care through its team of caregivers and volunteer doctors.
NLHT was born in 1994 by the founding directors Clive and Mary Beckenham, and registered as a charitable non-profit organization in 1998. All the homes within the NLHT infrastructure rely entirely on voluntary contributions of well wishers within Kenya and abroad. Donations cover the costs of hospitalization, daily feeding of infants, other business expenses. In January 2011, 1267 babies had been rescued, 302 were HIV(+), and the majority of all the babies have now been adopted locally or internationally. New Life Home Trust Orphanage is unique, in that ¾ of the children are abandoned, and ¼ of the children are given up for adoption, often not kept by families because they were born out of incest, and thought to bring bad luck to the family and community. Thus children’s’ officers and police respond to calls of children which are referred into NHLT. Often brought in at a very early age, Prisca hopes to be able to place as many babies as possible into adoption before the child reaches their 2nd birthday. When I met recently with Prisca at New Life Homes, a newborn, only days old and being cared for in the infant nursery, had been left at the front gate just the other morning, abandoned by her HIV(+) mother. This is the norm, and not the exception for Prisca and staff at New Life Homes. The Kisumu facility is the only unit in the New Life infrastructure capable of caring for children with special needs. We met many of them when we toured the facility and were touched by the care, attention, and capabilities that NLHT provides to ensure each child’s physical and emotional needs are met and provided for.
Since the beginning, the Homes have placed a great emphasis on placing the babies into adoptive families. As much as the Trust seeks to give the children a full-life through its care program, they believe their ultimate desire is the placing of the desolate, abandoned, or orphaned child into its own family. This ethos has been fulfilled whereby over 70% of its babies and infants have been placed with adoptive families. The majority of the remaining children have either returned to their biological families, who have later claimed them, or have, for medical reasons, remained in one of the Trust’s long-term family homes.
The adoption process is rigorous. The adoption agencies identify suitable parents and matches them with suitable babies—those who have been declared free for international and local adopters. Local adopters are allowed to identify themselves from among those that are also free for adoption. NLHT often tries to match the prospective parents’ request for sex and age. New Life also facilitates the bonding period. Currently, 75% of the children are being adopted within Kenya and 25% are international adoptions, which was the opposite trend as little as 3 years ago. It truly inspires Prisca to see a child placed into a family, but sadly, not every child is adopted; NLHT also operates a facility in Nakuru where the older children not placed into homes are sent for school and life skills development.
When asked about her biggest setbacks and disappointments, she simply said “losing a child, any child”. It saddens her to see a child abandoned, mistreated, malnourished, and not being adopted. And yet, what excites her the most and motivates her every day is being able to touch a child and make him or her better.
When asked if there is a story, above all the others, which truly touches her heart, Prisca told me about a young child whose mother died from HIV complications and where the father was denied paternity. The child was placed with an Aunt who was widowed and in very poor health. The Aunt was struggling to care for this child who had become very sick, possibly from TB. The Aunt pleaded with children’s officers to place this child into a care facility so it could be prepared for death. This particular story ended up going to the local media, and the Director of NLHT contacted Prisca who never hesitated to bring this child into the care of her facility. The child was extremely dehydrated, anemic, coughing severely, and could barely walk. Initially administered anti-TB’s with little response, the child was then placed on ARVs and within 1 week had begun to respond favorably, the child has since relearned to walk, and now, years later, at age 12, is still thriving and attending school at the Nakuru facility. Unfortunately, this child has not been adopted. Through her tireless and endless efforts at New Life Home Trust Orphanage, Prisca is continuously helping to ‘change’ the many lives she touches
At GSK, we often talk about the passion we bring to our programs and the hard work we bring to make each and every effort a success. In this series, I had so far identified four individuals who I have met during my 6 months in Kisumu, and I wanted to share with you their individual stories, and how impactful and influential they are in their respective community efforts and how they are creating a sustainable path for others to follow. Each is inspirational and each has a message to share, and that message is the passion and the love they bring to their efforts to make for others a better world. I have written each entry with the impact I have felt spending time with each person, and the thoughts and feelings that I am left with afterwards. It is so challenging to not want to reach out and help everyone we meet, and after reading these entries and the ones to follow, I hope you too find reason to want to reach out and help others as well.
Quick peeks ahead:
The most impactful people I have met in Kisumu Part V: Beldina and her Alice Visionary Foundation Project
A 4-part series beginning 07 Dec: “Part I: What I will not miss about my time in Kisumu”