Rosemary Wangui takes care of 13 children. Four are her own, four are from a sister who one day simply disappeared and five are from her second sister who died of AIDS. It is unthinkable how this woman sustains a family dependent on her through no fault of her own.
Well, we just live as we live. For example, when I find temporary work, I can buy flour for the children. The ones who are in school go to school. But in hard times they must look for work too. This is how we survive.
There is not one steady breadwinner in this household. Rosemary’s eldest son, John Njenga, sometimes works in a nearby quarry, earning one dollar (80 shillings) a day. He left school in grade 9 after his grandparents and aunt died. As the eldest he was called upon to bring income into the family. He was 12.
His cousin George dropped out of school to begin working full time when his mother fell ill with HIV/AIDS. Up until that point he used to join his mother for harvesting coffee during holidays and weekends only.
The family’s hope lies in Lucy Njoki’s education. When her mother was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, Lucy dropped out of school to support her. But after her mother’s death, an NGO funded Lucy’s return to school. She still works in the evening and on week-ends, or like today, during holidays.
But Lucy is up against a ticking clock. At the end of the year, the NGO will no longer fund her schooling. Her temporary job is about to become her full-time job again.
When I work on other people’s farms I don’t enjoy it. I’m still a child and I shouldn’t be working as a labourer at my age. Sometimes I get very tired. But I can’t stop working until I find someone to help me.
The International Labour Organisation says 41 percent of Kenya’s children aged between 10 and 14 are child labourers. The Kenyan government is trying to get children back to school as part of its strategy to end child labour. But HIV/AIDS is seriously challenging any attempts to do just that.
It is ironical that Kenya just passed a bill that made primary education for children compulsory, free and compulsory, and at the same time the HIV/AIDS problem is saying NO, that is not going to happen.
While her government decides how to fund its intention to offer free and compulsory education, Lucy will have no choice but to become a child labourer again.