When I started my studies in Anthropology, I knew I will be excited when it comes to my semester abroad. 2018 – when I accidentally visited the Instagram account of an orphanage, I did not know or even guessed that one year later ill be doing my ethnographic research in that specific orphanage called Nipe Tumaini. Right at the beginning, when I was looking up the website, I was touched by the story. A Kenyan man who dedicated his life to help abandoned children and orphans. So, he managed to buy a plot of land.
Driven by his motivation and the help of many other people, he managed to open the orphanage back in 2009. Since then, children from difficult backgrounds, abandoned children and orphans can call Nipe Tumaini their home…and by the way “Nipe Tumaini” is Swahili and means “Give Me Hope” – and it is actually what this non-profit organization is doing, giving children hope for a better life and access to education. So, that’s just to give you an insight about the beginnings and the work of Nipe Tumaini.
After I learned more about them, I knew I wanted to get to know these people behind Nipe Tumaini, I wanted to learn about the backgrounds of those beautiful children, and I was sure I wanted to visit this place. Fortunately, the founder Benson Mungai, was okay with my plan visiting the organization and doing my research in Kenya. So, after all preparations were done, I knew that this trip would change me in some way – and yes it DID!
My adventure began on 1st August 2019, when I arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. I landed at night, so when I finally arrived at Nipe Tumaini, the children were already asleep. The next day, early in the morning, I woke up from the sounds of children playing outdoors and looked through the window – it was a view that filled my heart with love, and I was excited spending the next weeks with those children and to get to know the Kenyan culture. After Mom (my host mother) introduced me to the children and showed me my new home – I was able to do some field work, which included creating a census with all the names of the children, their age and (if known) their backgrounds. Most of the kids were very shy and it took some days until they got used of me living with them. But, once they were comfortable with me – they were hardly able to get away from me, which made me so happy. I loved cuddling and playing with them. Although, my Swahili was not the best, we still managed to communicate in English or with the help of my host parents.
After few days, I wanted to know more about those beautiful children who could not get enough of my playing with them on the playground. So, it was not only important for my research, but it was also in my interest to get insight about their life before they came to Nipe Tumaini. I asked my host mother about and she told me stories which were heart breaking.
Some of those kids were given to the Rescue Centre because their family were not able to care for them. One reason was poverty, which is (unfortunately way too common in most African countries). Other reasons were that parents just did not want to care for (some) of the kids. Moreover, some parents died, and their grandparents were too old to care and educate those kids. Also, one of the kids was an orphan because both parents died in an accident. These are some reasons why some kids ended up at Nipe Tumaini.
In some cases, the backgrounds are not even known. The youngest kid was only 2 years old. Even though, most of the kids did not know (precisely) why they were abandoned and why they live at the orphanage, it was only more impressive how happy they seemed to be at Nipe Tumaini. My host parents tried to give these children a good childhood as possible. Caring for 13 kids was indeed a hard job to handle! I was impressed by my host Mom who was not only a teacher but also a housewife – handling both jobs at once. Some might now say that being a mother and working the same time is not that special – I think it is regarding the circumstances that my host mother was an African woman, handling 13 kids, going to work, facing poverty the same time and still trying to give her best. I saw what African women are capable of: how strong they are! And what I would like to express at this point: she loved those children like they were her own biological kids – she did not make any differences between her biological kids and the other kids. I learnt what pure motherly love should/ must look like and also that family does NOT necessarily have to do with genes.
I did not only enjoy playing around but I loved cooking with my host mother – Kenyan food. My favourite food was Chapati. If you ever get the chance to go to Kenya, you should definitely try them 😊.
Since I have moved at the age of 4 to Germany, I was only once in Africa – Egypt in 2015, for a holiday. Therefore, those experiences in Kenya, changed me in a way I never believed they would. I learned the way of African parenting and African way of life. Besides all the hardships those people were facing, they still managed to see the positive things in life. That way of living impressed me because I saw that no matter how hard life could sometimes be, there is still a way of making the best of every situation. Most people, including me tend to overlook all the blessings and prefer to see the negatives. Living in Kenya, taught me to be more grateful of everything I got instead of taking things for granted. It may sound trivial but living in another culture makes one realize those things even more. Africans live more light-hearted and that was so fascinating. We, in the Western World, take so many things for granted in so many ways. The time in Kenya, taught me to live more consciously.
It also made me realize how valuable it is to have a healthy family and being loved by them. The presence of those beautiful kids taught me how amazing motherhood could be and how much I would like to become a mother one day. I especially fell in love with Faith (I guess most of you already know that). She was such a sweetie – it felt like I had known her before I flew to Kenya. We were in fact inseparable. I loved cuddling, feeding and playing with her. It was like we had a special bond, and in fact when I was on my way to the airport back to Germany, I cried a lot because I was just used to her presence.
Traveling to Kenya also gave me the opportunity to broaden my horizon in terms of culture. I visited a Kenyan wedding which was beyond amazing. Starting from the colourful dresses, the Kenyan music, the lust of life of the people, the food and so many more.
As being an African I enjoyed the African sun – shining most of the time, which made it really hard to get used to the weather back in Germany, lol.
Besides that, I was overwhelmed of the kindness of all the people I met. I was seen as a member of that great big family, and as my host parents repeatedly used to say, “We want you to know that this is your second home”. In fact, when I left for Germany, I knew I left behind (my second) family. Until this day, I am still in contact with my host mother. I would have stayed longer but due to personal issues, I had to leave earlier than planned. Anyway, I still did enjoy the time in Kenya. I did not only grow on a personal level, but also on my academic level. It was my first Anthropological research, which was in fact a special one because I gained new friends and a (extended) family.
At this point, I would love like to thank Nipe Tumaini, my host family and all the kids who made my time special. You gave me opportunity to grow!
I will keep those memories I have made in Kenya deep in my heart!
And by the way, my research question was : „How do Kenyan orphans/ kids define the concept of family ?“, which later changed to “ Concepts of „good childhood“ and education in a cultural context. An ethnological research in Kenya“, which I then wrote my thesis about.
** all pictures were taken by Aby LeMarchal.