It Takes a Village March 6, 2014  by      

By: Suzanne Thomson, CFK Organizational Consultant

One of the differences I’ve seen between Kenyans and Americans is how comfortable many Kenyans are around children, even newborns.  Maybe it’s the communal upbringing culture or that people are just around more small children growing up than Americans, but I always get a kick out of it when I see it, particularly with men when they are working.

On several occasions, crammed in a matatu, I’ve watched seemingly tough-looking conductors help mothers and their young children in and out of the vehicles, talking to the kids like they are brothers or sisters.  I’ve seen taxi drivers having long conversations with street boys about their homes or schools.  And at Carolina for Kibera’s Nutrition Centre, I’ve watched the security guard, in his military-like uniform play with one-year-olds, hold them, talk to them, and correct them when they are acting up.  There’s a funny disconnect between the actions and this uniform, which looks formal and is supposed to intimidate.

From the security guard and cooks to the nutritionist and data clerk, everyone at the CFK’s Nutrition Center cares for the children who are enrolled there like their own children.  I continued to notice this as the staff held a training session for the parents on strategies and methods for ensuring proper sanitation and hygiene at home.

I realize this must sound like a basic thing regarding cleaning and washing hands, but imagine living in a small room with multiple people without running water, where everyone’s toilet ends up being, pretty much, in the stream next to your house or all over the path you walk everyday.  Now imagine trying to keep everything germ-free, with people in and out of the house all day, your child crawling along the path outside and cooking/cleaning with the questionable drinking water you’ve collected down the way.  It’s trickier than you think and hugely important in keeping children healthy.

While the mothers and the staff talked through ways to make sure their water is safe and their homes are clean, I split my time between listening to the discussion, watching the mothers with their children, and watching the staff with the children.  The mothers ranged from young women, maybe in their early to mid-twenties, to older women who could’ve been any age from 35 to 45.  Their small children crawled or ran around together between the mothers.  At times, I confused which child went with which mother, as all the mothers would interact with all the children.

The staff would occasionally scoop up a baby, kissing them on the cheek before putting them back down to scamper away.  The really bold babies would venture outside where the security guard, whom I’ve described before, would keep an eye on them and steer any escapees back into the building.  And in the midst of all this activity, the mothers were able to learn valuable lessons on how to protect their children against diarrhea and other illnesses that could seriously affect their development and future health.

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A few days later I was out in the community with the nutritionist doing home visits to check in on children who had been released from the Nutrition Centre.  It was like she was an auntie stopping by to see her nieces and nephews.  These were all her kids.  The over-used line, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is definitely true in Kibera.  Not everyone will be a good “parent,” but those that can, will.  It’s not just you and your partner anymore, but it’s your family, your partner’s family, your neighbors, your friends, your church, other parents in your situation, and others whom you meet along the way…like the staff at the Nutrition Center, from the nutritionist and the cooks to the security guards.

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