Kenya (Buckner) — Images of forlorn, starving children, lined up along a dirt road, dressed in tattered clothing, without shoes, covered in mud: this is what we think when we think of Africa. We think of crowded orphanages, families of 10 living in tiny mud huts, and trash dotting the hopeless brown horizon.
Those pictures are not completely inaccurate. Africa is still a lot of these things. But in the midst of extreme poverty, disease, and malnourishment, Buckner Kenya is working tirelessly to change the state of child welfare in the country.
The Buckner Kenya adoption caseworkers have worked tirelessly to make adoption legal and to make adoption accepted in Kenyan culture. They’re making progress but still have a long road to travel.
“The perception is changing, especially when we have parents who already have birth children making the decision to adopt,” said Dickson Masindano, Buckner Kenya country director. “They strengthen the adoption process. And even now those who don’t have their own children don’t find it so stigmatizing to adopt, because it looks like a normal process.”
Read about the first families to adopt in Kenya through Buckner below.
PATRICK AND JACQUILINE MUTUKU
Patrick and Jacquiline Mutuku had been married for about 10 years when they realized they were missing something in their lives: a child. They tried to conceive on their own, without success. Highly educated and successful business people, they knew there had to be another way.
Enter: a neighbor who told them about Buckner. The neighbor knew one of the Buckner adoption staff, Winnie. It took a little while for Patrick and Jacquiline to wrap their heads around the idea of adoption, but when they did, they knew it was the right decision, and the timing was perfect.
*Emily’s adoption was finalized when she was about 6 months old. Her birth mother abandoned her when she was just two months old. A local police chief found her and brought her to an orphanage. Emily is now 3, and her parents describe her as curious and smart.
“She’s a very jolly kid, very talkative, and friendly,” Patrick said. “If she is sick, you notice because she will be down, and normally she’s very active. She cannot sit in one place. She’s a little bit of a tomboy, running up and down, jumping, and all of that.”
Jacquiline was nervous at first to become an instant mother. She worried about bonding and whether her maternal instincts would kick in.
“Parenthood has been the most fantastic thing,” Jacquiline said. “It’s been challenging because right from go, you have to learn how to be a mother. You are not sure if you’re bonding; you’re not sure whether she knows you.”
The Mutukus cite their faith and their own upbringing in good families as another reason for adoption. They want to give Emily the best education, the shelter and the best clothing they possibly can, but most of all, the way to give her the best love they know how.
“You can see the difference in the growth of a child who grew up in a family compared to one who grew up in an orphanage,” Jacquiline said. “It is totally different because the child experiences security, love, and protection in a family.”
Patrick said having a child has strengthened their marriage. Instead of ignoring issues or taking a long time to work things out, they deal with things more quickly and quietly. They know it’s important for Emily to grow up with healthy parents.
Adding a new family member has come with many adjustments, like getting up earlier and being more active, but it’s worth it. “I used to love sleeping a lot,” Jacquiline said, laughing. “But nowadays, I don’t sleep a lot. She’s a very early riser, and she’s learned to wake me up first–when it’s time to go to school–and she’s telling me, ‘Mommy, take a shower.’”
It’s usually Patrick who wakes up with Emily, who they both agree is a “daddy’s girl.”
“She is the joy of my life,” he said. “And the other thing is: every time you come home, there’s always something different. She opened the door last week and asked, ‘Daddy, what have you brought for me?’ ‘What is this?’ ‘What is that?’ You always get someone to welcome you.”
Rita Machria had three sons but lost all of them before they turned 25. She had a desire for more children but knew at her age, it would not be physically possible. She used to work at an orphanage and saw firsthand the effects living in an institution can have on the development and well-being of a child. She knew she could make a difference, at least for one or two. And so she did.
“I felt I had a calling,” she said. “I wanted to touch a life. I regret that I didn’t do this earlier. I could’ve adopted 6 or 7 children…or 14.”
She has already adopted one child, *Jenna, 3, and is in the process of adopting a second child. Jenna was found on the side of a busy road in Nairobi, wrapped in plastic. She looked sickly due to exposure to the cold all night. She had an enlarged belly from malnourishment and coughed frequently from an infection.
Rita nursed her back to health, and now, Jenna is thriving. She’s shy at first but once she warms up to people, she talks all the time.
“She’s very humble,” Rita said. “I would like for my children to prosper. I would like for them to go far, with or without me. I pray for them, and I want them to have a better education. I am praying God would give me another good 20 years with them.”
Though Rita doesn’t have much, she gives her full heart to her children. She’s passionate about adoption, to the point where she breaks down in tears when she talks about the desperate need for children to have families in Kenya.
“I want to go around preaching,” she said. “I want to start going around telling people, “Go and get these children. They won’t bring anything bad into your home. They will bring happiness.'”
She has seen many children leave orphanages at 18, and unfortunately, she has seen them struggle in life. Without personal attention and maternal love, in addition to undeveloped life skills, they don’t have a chance on the streets.
Rita also acknowledges the issue of stigma surrounding adoption is a big roadblock for a lot of people in Kenya. A lot of them think adoption is simply purchasing a child, she said.
“We need to reach our people maybe in a more positive way. You don’t buy children. We are only assisting these children. We are helping them like they are our own.”
PHYNIS AND JULIUS MUTWIWA
Five-year-old *Jackson is a happy, joyful child. He smiles a lot and talks to everyone. He loves soccer, going to school, and going to church.
He lives a good life with his parents, Phynis and Julius, but his life started out with a very small chance of survival.
Jackson was found abandoned in a sewage drain in Nairobi when he was just a few days old. He was wrapped in a plastic bag and covered in filth.
Police attempted to locate his birth mother or other family members, but to no avail. There was no other option but to commit him to a children’s home.
After several miscarriages, Phynis and Julius decided adoption would be the best option for their family. They were both lonely, and Phynis was depressed because she couldn’t bear children. So they found Buckner, who helped them more than they could’ve imagined.
“I’m very thankful for Buckner’s help,” Phynis said. “They helped me emotionally and spiritually through the process.”
When Jackson was first adopted about a year ago, he was very weak and sickly. He was afraid of people, and it took him some time to integrate into his family.
It’s a much different picture than the Jackson of today. He and Phynis spend a lot of time together, shopping and going to church.
“My faith in God is what helps me to be a good mother to Jackson,” Phynis said. “It helps me love him because I believe God planned for me to be a mother. It hasn’t been an easy road, but I thank God he gave us Jackson.”
Like a lot of children in Kenya, *Ava was abandoned, wrapped in a shawl and left on the side of the road. Some nearby college students found her and brought her to the police station. She was later transported to an orphanage.
Ava’s adoptive mother, Esther, experienced her own hardships and trials before the two were united as a family. Unable to conceive, her husband left her for another woman. Esther wanted to be a mother more than anything and was heartbroken for herself and for her failed marriage.
“I wanted to be a mother,” she said. “I wanted to share life with someone. I needed a companion, and I needed someone who could inherit the family line. But I’m so happy now. We laugh together, we talk, we share. We love going to church together.”
Esther’s faith remained strong throughout the adoption process. She knows she is not alone in her journey and that “God is always with me. I know if something arises, God will be there. I am honored to be following Him.”