The angel who inspired me to start a home for HIV positive babies

By: ASUNTA WAGURA

“Inspiration is a stimulating feeling that we seek to motivate us, to continue pressing forward through hardships and to find meaning amidst chaos.

What inspires us is sometimes found in the rarest of forms. It is sometimes in plain sight. It is often stumbled upon without intention, and it is sometimes graciously handed to us in the form of wise words, spoken by experienced and influential minds.”

I wish I got the above quote, from an unknown author, to give Images and Voices of Hope (IVOH) when they nominated me to appear on their website as a humane case study. IVOH wanted to know what inspired me to start Murang’a Children’s Home.

LIGHT BULB MOMENT

It was in 2004. Babies, including day-old infants, were dying at alarming rates. These were mostly babies born of mothers who had sero-converted, or died of HIV-related complications. In most instances, relatives wanted nothing to do with these babies. It was assumed they too were goners.

Except for Imani Children’s Home, other orphanages refused to take in children who needed shelter, as long as they were associated with KENWA.

Imani were overwhelmed. I would often get a call from the foster mother: “Asunta, your baby went to heaven. Do you have something so we can give the baby a decent burial?” With time, such calls took their toll on me. Those deaths haunted me for days on end. I had no peace.

Then I had a light bulb moment. As usual I didn’t discuss it with anybody. “I’ll keep the babies in my house and take care of them myself,” I thought. “Then I will really know they didn’t die of needs that could’ve have been addressed.”

With no time, my house was full of babies: from day olds to pre-terms. Help came in the form of KENWA members. And that’s because I didn’t want misunderstanding of health issues and misinterpretation of HIV transmission.

RETURN OF RELATIVES

As soon as these babies’ relatives learnt the babies were now hale and hearty, they stormed my gate, without notice, to demand – in their own words – “our children”. I handed back the demanded babies to their relatives. They were surprised that I didn’t demand any kind of monetary compensation.

There were stand out cases. Baby Gacheri’s case quickly comes to mind. Gacheri was in ill health at the time I took her from her caregiver, who I believed was her mother.

Every day Gacheri’s caregiver, a high school student, would drop by our office at dawn, leaving behind the sick baby and going to school. At the end of the day, she would pass by and pick Gacheri and food.

FATE’S CHILD

It was only much later that, by a twist of fate, I learnt that the baby was not this young girl’s, but her elder sister’s. Gacheri’s mother was admitted in a provincial hospital. I was touched. We agreed that I could stay with Gacheri until she completed her secondary school exams.

Fate happened. Gacheri was at advanced stage of full blown AIDS. Many hospitals had rejected her, giving her a few days to die. But Gacheri refused to die before her mission was accomplished.

One morning, after a night of hell – we had not slept because of Gacheri’s dry coughs – I drove and stormed the nearest hospital. I demanded to know why Gacheri could not be admitted, even for IV. She was badly dehydrated from bouts of diarrhea.

When I presented Gacheri, she died on the examination table. She was worn out. Somehow I was relieved she didn’t have to bear any more pain. “Why? I cross-examined God. “Why a baby?” God replied. With deafening silence.

TURNING POINT

On reaching home without my Gacheri, the whole house eyed me sorrowfully. They knew what had happened. We were grief-stricken. My son, Peter was inconsolable. He kept asking why I took Gacheri to heaven. Those are the words I used when I returned home.

That night, as I cried my heart out, I made a resolution: “I’ll start a children’s home.” The next day I went to Mjini, an informal settlement in Murang’a. The landlord I spoke with was amazed that I could rent his entire abandoned floor. That’s how the children’s home was born without registration or planning. It’s only later that we did the paperwork.

When asked by the IVOH coordinator my inspiration for starting a home, I would’ve capped that opening quote with this reply: “It’s Gacheri. She died in my hands. She told me open a children’s home rather than my house”.