‘Mama Takataka’: Rescuing widows and street children

Monday, August 5th, 2019 00:00 |
Florence Otieno with some orphans and widows who live with her. Photo/DAN OGENDO

Viola Kosome

Our arrival at Florence Otieno’s home deep inside the little known Kolwa in Kisumu East constituency is met by a group of children and women under a shade in the compound. 

One child, aged about five, upon seeing Otieno, rushes to her and gives her a warm passionate hug as another follows with an exercise book in his hand. The two have just finished their classes and are eager to see the only person they have always known to be their mother and father.

This has been daily life of Otieno, a biological mother to 10 children. Fondly called Mama Takataka, she is also a mother to hundreds of children she rescued from the streets and is raising at her home.

Most of these children are orphans, left behind by parents who succumbed to the HIV/Aids scourge that swept the village.

By then, she was a teacher at Magadi Primay School. “I was touched by the plight of these children, who had no one to call a mother or a father. Even though I did not have money, I felt I should assist in a small way by bringing some of them to stay with me,” Otieno says.

Now at 75, she is proud that the initiative she started over two decades ago has transformed the lives of many in the village. “I feel blessed to be able to take care of all these beautiful people around me. It is my joy to transform their lives,” she adds.  

Through her own meagre resources, the granny converted her home into a rescue centre . To date, 72 widows and more than 50 orphans have lived here.

Lone scavenger

She notes that some women and children she rescued were either evicted from their homes because of their HIV status or disinherited by families of their late husbands and thrown into the streets with no means of survival.

“The widows were suffering, and their only source of living was making illicit brews and sending their children to sell it. They were hopeless,” she adds.

When other orphans and widows heard about her initiative, they also thronged her home in their numbers in search of help. Unfortunately, she could not accommodate all of them.

Otieno scavenged for any help she could get. She approached civil society groups that were campaigning against gender based and child rights violations with little success.

In 2003, she approached the Luo Council of Elders about the situation, but they seemingly ignored her. Her efforts paid off when she approached Children Rights Department, where she met activists willing to help her. 

They included Catherine Muma and Angeline Sparrow through the late Asenath Odaga, who was an author and publisher, Phoebe Asiyo, former Member of Parliament (MP) Karachuonyo, Dorothy Nyong’o, and the late Grace Ogot.

The group mobilised resources and requested the government to give her a vehicle to take her around by then Nyanza Province to rescue other widows in the region.

Out of the 84 women she rescued through the initiative, 72 were widows and 12 suffered in their homes and were seeking refuge. 

“It was these outstanding female leaders who gave me the first support that helped me provide for the needs of the many widows and the orphans, some of whom I literally picked from the streets, with others abandoned by their mothers in the hospital,” Otieno says.

Educated grannies

In 2008, she started a school for the elderly where they would be taught basic education. “We wanted the grannies to have basic education, so we started teaching them how to read and count. I am happy that today we have 17 who are very active in class,” she adds.

In 2017, four registered students sat for Kenya Certificate Primary Education (KCPE) at Kibuye. One student, at the age of 70, passed and secured a casual job at the Kisumu county government as a cleaner.

The school did not manage to register any student for the national examinations in 2018 and 2019. They are engaging in farming to boost their income. The proceeds from farming projects help in paying school fees for the orphans.

“Although the challenge was huge and at some point I felt like giving up, I am happy to see some rescued children going back to school, with others completing their university education,” she adds.

Through her efforts, Otieno has achieved global recognition from different non-governmental organisations and has been able to visit Germany, USA and Australia.

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