In a place like Kenya it’s hard to draw the line – will you be just an observer or an active participant? Is it a choice really? During my first 6 week here I was more of an observer: of numerous tales and stories, most of them with happy endings, because of the impressive interventions Save the Children have. But Esther’s story shook me up, it got me personally involved.
In Bungoma, in West Kenya, where I’ll spend most of my Pulse assignment, every morning I walk the 300 m from where I stay, to Save office in a hasty, energetic manner. Every evening I walk back relaxed, lazy, almost wondering around. Somewhere in the middle of this short distance there is a ditch
that separates the road from the houses, and along the ditch women are selling vegetables on improvized stands. Every evening, long before I reach the ditch I hear children screaming: “Hellooooo, how are you?” A few cheerful girls run and scream, visibly exhaulted by my arrival. Their mum smiles, sitting by the stand with the smallest baby. No wonder I make it a habit to drop by and buy vegetables exactly from this stand.
So I crossed the 100 meters from the hotel, thinking of the dinner I would make myself, proud of my small surprise gifts for the kids. The woman greeted me with a smile, we agreed with gestures what I needed (she only speaks Swahili). And then, together with the bunch of tomatoes I asked for, she handed me a photo, and a note, written in broken English. It was a photo of a baby boy, her son, looking tensely at the camera, in an upright position, a photo taken with a purpose. The boy had a lot of burn scars on the face and all over his body, his left hand severely damaged by the burns. She showed me the boy, sleeping in the shadow, below the stand.
You can imagine, I wasn’t expecting that. I handed the toys, gave her more money the tomatoes were worth, and left quickly. I felt like an idiot. I did not touch those tomatoes for two days. I felt really bad during the rest of the weekend. Did not go out. I was ashamed to see her, what should I do? It was not about giving the money she asked for, it was about how to make sure this would indeed help. But then I had Save the Children team to consult, I realized, I would get good advice from them on how to help her. On Monday I spoke with my colleague, Teresa, and after work, in the heavy tropical rain, she came with me to meet the lady, to ask her about boy’s history, in Swahili. On Tuesday we consulted another colleague, Lawrence,and again, with Lawrence in the evening we went to take an interview, understand what options the mum had, and how we, as Save the Children, could help.
Her name is Esther. She is 25. Her son’s name is Elijah, only 2 years old, got his burns when their home burnt down in an accident, when he was 5 months old. He was the only “thing” Esther managed to save from the burning house. Now she, her husband and the kids live in a rented place, both of them working during the day, barely getting enough money to support the whole family. No money for health insurance that could pay for Elijah’s operation.
While Lawrence was taking the interview, I was entertainment for the kids in the neighbourhood. “Hello, how are you? I’m fine thank you”. It was difficult to take photos of Esther and Elijah, as the kids wanted more attention. They were posing in front of the camera, laughing at the photos I showed them, mimicking my postures, holding my hands, jumping around, they were so happy by the unexpected visit.
Of course Esther and her family have a lot of needs. To help Elijah, we decided that the best way forward would be to include the mother in the health insurance system, so that the cost for operation and treatment for her son could be covered by MOH. 60 dollars, which we already gathered by individual contributions, to gain a health insurance. Her insurance card will be issued in a month, so within a month Esther will be able to initiate the process to get referrals for consultation for operation. We’ll allso put Esther in contact with other NGOs, specialized to support the disabled, we’ll share her story.
Reflecting back on this story, that weekend I was just out for a bunch of tomatoes, walking dreamily in my bubble world. Esther’s story shook me up. As an individual I felt helpless in front of her misery, in this foreign country. What could I do? But immediately I could see the power of Save team, not just as organization, but also as individuals – the moment I approached them for help and advice, they were on it, joining me for interviews and offering feasible solutions, despite heavy tropical rain, despite busy schedule, on their own time, in their own vehicle… Thank you, Teresa and Lawrence, with your personal involvement Elijah and Esther hopefully have a chance for a better future.