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A big heart to educate orphans

SELINA ADUOGO risked it all — her marriage, work and business — to help orphaned children. Today, 14 years later, she still presses on amid myriad challenges. She talks to KIUNDU WAWERU

After the 2010 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) results were announced, one pupil in Kisumu was overjoyed to have performed well.

However, a few days later, the pupil committed suicide after his dream of joining secondary school was shattered because of lack of school fees.

The boy was part of Selina Aduogo’s Young Generation Centre in Manyatta, Kisumu. Despite this fallback, Selina — who doesn’t want to discuss the case as the memories are too painful — continues to feed and educate poor and orphaned children.

The primary school pupils attend class at the centre Selina founded well aware that after KCPE, they may lack fees to pursue their secondary school education. Every year, an average of 20 pupils from the centre sit for KCPE and most of them perform well.

“We have one donor, who most times is just able to support about five of the candidates,” Selina says, adding that the  donor has the burden of educating other students in Form Two to Form Four.

The centre caters for 105 children in school and it has a hostel where orphans stay. Since its establishment in 2000, the centre, situated in the largest slum in Kisumu, has given hundreds of children a lifeline. Selina says some have gone to university and vocational training centres while others are now working.

The charity work begun innocently and Selina did not know how it was to change her life. In the late 1990s, while operating a wholesale shop in Manyatta, hungry children would come to Selina begging for food.

At the same time, Selina noticed that most of the slum children did not attend school. When they came to the shop, she would ask them why they were not in school and where their parents were. And the answer was almost always the same: “My parents are gone.”

Aids scourge

Selina did not understand what ‘gone’ meant, but upon further investigation, she realised it was a euphemism for dead.

“This was the era when Aids was ravaging Nyanza Province, but people were still ignorant, blaming the many deaths on curses or witch hunts,” says Selina.
At the time, most men married two to four wives and if they got infected with HIV, about ten children would be orphaned.

Concerned, Selina shared the plight of the children with some of her church members. The members, too, were sympathetic and they rounded up about 12 children and contributed money for food. Most times, all they managed was githeri and uji, which was good enough.

Word spread fast in the slum about the Good Samaritans and soon Selina and her group were confronted with tens of children who needed to be fed, clothed and even housed.
“I had rental houses in the area and I asked two tenants to vacate. We used the two houses to feed the children,” says she.

They soon realised that feeding the children was not enough because most of them were not going to school, so they converted the other room into a nursery.

In 2000, they had close to 400 children, but some of the people Selina had started with got tired and dropped off. The remaining ones decided they needed an office. Again, Selina asked another tenant to vacate a house.

Selina was soon forced to relinquish all the rental houses, including the shop, as the number continued to increase. There were ten single rooms and eight self-contained houses.

Tough call

“We now have a hostel, kitchen and a store. Donors have also helped build more rooms for the classes. We have an early childhood development centre and a primary school,” says Selina.

Selina says her husband did not take well her new found philanthropic spirit, especially because he was about to retire and still had five children in high school.
“To make matters worse, I was interdicted from my place of work in 2005,” says Selina, an orthopaedist.

“My employers were unhappy and said I was concentrating more on orphans than on my work. Fortunately, I was reinstated last year after appealing for three years,” she says.
Selina says she only survived by the mercy of God and small loans from women groups.
“Despite the problems, there was no way I was going to send the children back to the streets. I had heard a call from God and I had to assist them,” she says.

Selina wishes Kenyans, and the middle class in particular, could try to educate the many children in need of education. For instance, Young Generation Centre has 40 children in different secondary schools, and only a few of them reported to school this year as the money fromdonors was not enough for all of them.

“Sometimes it’s too much for me. I get stressed and I even have high blood pressure, but I press on,” she says.

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