By Kathy McKay
I’ve attempted to write Monica’s story several times and have struggled to find the words to express how much Monica’s story touched my heart. Back home in New Zealand I am unable to forget the sadness in Monica’s eyes or the love and hope she has for her children.
Monica and her childrenMonica and her children live in Mathare slum. We follow Monica down muddy narrow paths, jumping over rubbish and puddles. I am careful to avoid cutting myself on the rough edges of the corrugated iron roofs. Monica’s home is the last in a row of shacks, it backs on to a dirty river, littered with rubbish and sewage. When it rains the river overflows, flooding their home and spreading disease. There is no door to keep out the cold and the rain, a single sheet of pink material flaps in the breeze.
Inside, we sit on the cold hard floor. Black plastic sheeting covers the ground and keeps out some of the damp. The family sleeps on the floor without a mattress or blankets to keep them warm.
Monica’s lips tremble with emotion as she tells us about her three children, Dennis, Akinyi and baby Pressy. Most days, there is no breakfast or lunch for the children. Today they are fortunate, at least there will be supper. At least three times a week there is nothing to eat at all.
Dennis and his cheeky grin Eight-year-old Dennis is very small for his age but he is alert and interested in our visit. Over the next few days Dennis and his cheeky grin pop up around Mathare. Carrying his sister on his back he stops to say hi. Sadly Dennis is missing out on an education because the family cannot afford to buy him a school uniform or the books he needs to learn.
When 6-month-old Pressy was born, Monica was in labour for four days. She suffered alone at home. On the fourth night she started bleeding heavily. It’s dangerous to go out at night but she decided she couldn’t wait until morning and started to walk to the health clinic. On the way to the clinic she delivered Pressy in a stranger’s doorway. Pressy was two months premature and a tiny 2kg when she was born.
But what really breaks my heart is 19 month old Akinyi. During our entire visit she lies on the floor limp and crying. Akinyi is very sick. The lack of food means Akinyi can no longer take the ARV medicine to keep her healthy. Without these drugs it is doubtful that Akinyi will survive. I look at this little girl and I feel so angry and so dreadfully upset that her short life could soon be over. How can this be right? How can we stand by and let this little girl die?
Inside Monica's home
I can see the love Monica has for her children, she feels so sad that they are sick. She says, “Please help to support us.”
These children are some of the most vulnerable I have met in Kenya. Their situation is desperate but I know with a little bit of help the children could receive the food, medicine and education they need to break free from poverty.
Coming back to New Zealand, people have asked me how did my trip go? It’s difficult to explain the mixture of heartbreak and hope I have seen and how simple solutions can really make a difference and save lives.
Often the conversation will turn to charity beginning at home. And although I do believe there are families in New Zealand that need our support it’s about balance. As I think of Monica and her children and the utter poverty they live in I don’t think we have the balance right, do you?