For 8 years I was not an individual but just part of a group of children in an orphanage. No-one knew my dreams and hopes, and I can’t tell if I had either of the two. Simon, 27
I dreaded the time I left care; it was the most devastating moment of my life. I knew no-one, had no-one to turn to, and left with one option that I knew: to get married [...]I wish I could have been prepared psychologically so as to know what I should expect out there. My life was so uncertain. Today, I am glad, I have found a big family of care leavers. Diana, 30
There are over 2.5 million orphans in Kenya, according to UNICEF, around 40 per cent of whom have lost parents to HIV/AIDS. There are many care homes sheltering these children, but the standard of care received is often low. Samora Asere, citizen journalist for On Our Radar, talks about the young people who have shared their stories with him – children who spent all or part of their childhood in children’s homes or orphanages, and the struggles and successes they have faced in adapting to life after care. Their stories are featured in a web ‘scrollkit’.
First, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am Samora Asere, I live in Nairobi and my family is from Nyanza in the southwest of Kenya. I am Vice Chair of the Kenya Society of Careleavers, an organization that aims to transform the lives of young people who have recently left institutional care, often working with vulnerable and orphaned children.
How did you become interested in the story of care leavers?
I saw a need for care leavers to be heard on an international platform, as their voices were being ignored in Kenya. I wanted to link care leavers in Kenya with care leavers from around the world, in order for them to strengthen and support each other emotionally and spiritually. I recognized that this would enable them to come together with a common goal to advocate for the rights of people in institutional care through raising awareness of the issues they face.
How did you make contact with the people featured in the story?
All the people in the story are care leavers who we work with each month; we organize motivational talks and training on personal development for them. The skills they learn and the talks they listen to are intended to help them cope with the challenges of daily life after leaving institutional care. They say the training sessions have made them stronger and encouraged them to share their stories, which allow them to put their pasts behind them in order to focus on their futures. Some of the accounts are very personal.
Did you have to work hard to gain their trust?
The Kenya Society of Careleavers is like a family; we live as brothers and sisters, giving advice and help to each other. As one of the leaders of the organization, I am regarded as both a mentor and a brother. I encourage the care leavers to be open and speak about their issues.
What do you think is important for the public to know about the care system in Kenya?
Kenya has guidelines and policies in place for various forms of alternative care but few organizations implement them and meet the set standards.
What are your biggest concerns for those currently in the care system today? What steps could be taken to alleviate these concerns?
One big challenge is a lack of investment in sustainable solutions for children in care. Children continue to stay in care for lengthy periods despite this being discouraged. Exit strategies are poor. Children end up abandoned and neglected at what is a crucial stage of their life. More needs to be done to ensure that they receive after-care support, encompassing education, medical care and psychological support. There is already investment in children’s basic needs for food, shelter and clothing but it is vital to pay more attention to their emotional wellbeing.
What are your hopes for the future of the care system in Kenya?
We hope that the children’s agenda will take centre stage, leading to a better and brighter future for care leavers. More resources need to be channelled into the system and capacity-building needs to be enhanced.