The infant in the green plastic chair coos and babbles softly as she tries to draw her mother’s attention.
Hope Achieng’s baby talk brings out the perfect picture of health in her frilly white dress that is slightly ruffled by a gentle breeze.
Perhaps used to having her mother’s attention all to herself, she now has to compete for her mother’s gaze with a team from The Standard that has visited the family of two in their Ongata Rongai home.
Hope puts out a plump fist, grabs Rebecca Atieno’s blouse and tugs. She will not be ignored. Her mother lifts her from the chair, takes a seat and prepares to breastfeed.
Atieno is at ease as she speaks and it is soon clear that the events of March 12 are still fresh in her mind.
That is the day the penniless and jobless 20-year-old woman found that the baby she had carried for eight months was eager to make an early entry to the world.
Atieno recalls losing her job as a waitress in a city restaurant and aimlessly wandering through the streets while trying to collect her thoughts.
She found herself in Uhuru Park, where her troubles took on a more pressing nature when her waters broke.
Unable to pay Sh10 for the privacy afforded by a county council toilet, she resigned herself to fate.
Her birthing instincts kicked in and she picked a secluded spot where she pushed out her baby. With no scissors or razors available, she used a plastic SIM cardholder to cut the umbilical cord.
A Good Samaritan saw her plight and gave her food, water and a khanga to cover the baby. The stranger also called a St John’s ambulance that transported Atieno to Kenyatta National Hospital.
When The Standard published her story, there was an enormous outpouring of sympathy and pledges to offer assistance.
One of those well-wishers, Christine Riungu, offered to take in Atieno and Hope and let them stay in her servant’s quarters until the new mother could get back on her feet.
Ms Riungu, a mother of three, said she was touched when she read Atieno’s story and decided to reach out and assist.
Riungu spoke little during the interview, saying she preferred to stay away from the limelight. Atieno and Hope, she said, would continue to live with her until the newer mother finds a job.
The offers of employment made by several companies seven months ago have, however, never materialised. “I am yet to hear anything from them,” said Atieno, resignedly, as if it was too much to expect assistance from strangers when not even her extended family in Nyakach, Kisumu County, had reached out to help.
She told The Standard she was an orphan and had come to Nairobi a few months before her child’s birth to look for work.
Atieno also refused to talk about the child’s father, saying she had not heard a word from him since she gave birth. She instead said she was focusing on being grateful that they were both healthy and with a roof over their heads.
After she gave birth, about Sh70, 000 was donated through Still A Mum, a non-profit organisation that supports families dealing with child loss through miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death.
The money will be used to pay rent for Atieno when she eventually gets a house. Part of it will also go towards paying for medical cover for mother and child from the National Hospital Insurance Fund for at least one year.
Still A Mum Director Wanjiru Kihusa declined to reveal the names of companies that had offered to help Atieno, saying they were not doing so in bad faith.
“There was goodwill and it was just unfortunate that they could not offer anything within the time-frame they had,” Ms Kihusa said.
She continued: “In one of them, it’s actually just because there has been so much bureaucracy. They tell you so and so is out of the country, you write an email and it takes three weeks before they get back to you.”
For now, Atieno still nurses ambitions of going back to school and is eager to find work to make ends meet. She only has her Class Eight leaving certificate and is waiting to collect her national identity card that she applied for in August.
Hope is weaning and is no longer solely dependent on her mother. “Hope can eat ugali and she loves meat, too. I am ready to work now,” Atieno said.
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