|© UNICEF Kenya/2008|
|Grace Mumbi, 14, lives alone in a single room in Molo, Kenya. She is one of the hundreds of displaced children living without parents in the region.|
By Juliett Otieno
NAIROBI, Kenya, 16 September 2008 – Grace Mumbi, 14, is the youngest of five children. Her parents are farmers living on Rironi farm in Kenya’s Rift Valley province. Unlike her Standard Eight classmates at St. Mary’s Primary School, Grace does not go home to her family at the end of the school day. For the last three months, she has been living on her own in a single room in Molo town.
Grace is one of the hundreds of children in Rift Valley province who have been living without parents, and in harsh conditions, ever since the Kenyan Government began resettling people displaced during the violence that followed the December 2007 elections here. The last time she saw her parents was three months ago, when they instructed her to stay behind as they went back to till their farms in Rironi, 10 km from Molo town.
Grace’s family was one of thousands that were displaced in Molo. In response, the government initiated Operation Rudi Nyumbani, or Operation Return Home, with the aim of resettling the displaced people back to their farms.
In towns such as Molo, many parents returned to their farms but opted to leave their children behind.
“Back there in the farms, there is no life, no food, no school,” said Grace’s father, Macharia. ”She is better off in the town, and safer there, and she can continue going to school.”
Burden on schools
UNICEF and the National Council of Churches in Kenya (NCCK) conducted a survey, which revealed that approximately 800 children like Mumbi had been left behind by their families in Molo town.
|© UNICEF Kenya/2008|
|Grace’s parents work on their farm and believe their daughter is better off living on her own in Molo.|
“Parents said that lack of security in the resettlement areas and at home was their main concern, and then the lack of schools, as they had been burnt down and destroyed,” said Raphael Magambo of NCCK in Nakuru District.
“We had 1,450 students before the crisis, but right now the enrolment is at of 2,500,” said Head Teacher Rose Njoora at St. Mary’s School in Molo. Many of these children live without parents and without enough money to pay for food and rent.
“I always keep an extra flask of tea and some bread with me in my office for those children who come to school after not eating for days, some almost passing out,” said Ms. Njoora.
Keeping a close watch
UNICEF's Education Officer in Nakuru, Palle Kristiansen, has been working with his team to ease the school’s burden. “We provide the school with extra learning materials such as books and pens and even desks. This is so that learning can go on smoothly,” he said.
NCCK and UNICEF also have set up a volunteer integration and mentoring programme to enable both organizations to keep a close watch over these child-headed households.
“Our volunteers spend a total of two hours with these children daily – one for activities like sports, and the other for home visits to see how they are faring,” said UNICEF's Child Protection Officer in Nakuru, Diya Njihowne.
Such efforts are intended to support these children until they are able to return home to their families.