Pascalia Nduku, a widow and mother of seven, had to move to Kibera when her husband died. She lived in the streets for two years. Thus, empathy pushed her to take in children who had nowhere to go
In the outskirts of Nairobi City, orphaned children have found safe haven in Pascalia Nduku, a woman that many here have known as their father, mother and teacher. At the Inua Mimi Rescue Centre and school at Olympic estate in Kibera, Nduku easily interacts with children, some as young as two years.
They call her ‘shosho’ (grandmother) and for many of them, she is all they have. It is lunch time and the children queue to wash their hands ahead of a meal provided by well-wishers. “From time to time, people visit here and donate food and clothes while others pledge to support a teacher here,” she says. Her 63-year-old self does not struggle to fit into the small and jumpy world of the young ones.
“This is the life I lived in the mid-1980s with my own children. So there is nothing new for me here,” she says. After losing her husband, just like any other widow, Nduku had to quickly learn to play father and mother roles to her children.
From cases of defilement to neglect, Nduku has learnt to step into the shoes of a mother, government as well as a caregiver at the rescue centre that houses orphaned children as well as those from disadvantaged backgrounds from Kibera and other informal settlements in Nairobi. Her past experience in the streets with her own children, she says, prepared her for her work today.
When her husband died and she could no longer take the harsh reality of life upcountry, Nduku decided to take a bus to Nairobi in search of livelihood. “I remember lying to the bus crew that my husband was waiting for me in Nairobi, and that he would pay the bus fare once we arrive.
Since the bus belonged to a family friend, they agreed to take me. Deep in my heart, I knew I was lying since my husband had died,”she says. With her seven children, Nduku soon found herself facing the ugly side of Nairobi’s street life. “I was carrying all my seven children to look for a job.
Amidst all the hustle, I have never left behind any of my children,” she says. She adds: “I was to be a street woman but God delivered me from that mess. And that is why I am helping children who would otherwise have ended up in the street.”
Nduku is the founder of Inua Mimi Rescue Centre that she founded in 2000. After attending several training sessions on child protection, various people started referring children to her.
For two years, Nduku stayed in the streets with her children, eating from dustbins and dumpsites. But all this time, she says, her heart went out to other street children, something that made her want to offer a solution.
“When I recollected myself in the late 1990s, I started questioning how I ended up in the streets. I slowly started to engage the chief and local administration in Kibera on children rights.” That is how Nduku got an opportunity to attend several seminars on children rights. She remembers that in 1985, 86 and 87, there were so many street children eating from slum dumpsites as well as infants dumped there.
“I got so mad at the situation and wanted to bring change. I wanted to take these cases to court. Having passed through the same situation, I did not want another woman’s children to go through the same situation,” she says.
And in 2000, Nduku started the rescue centre with 15 children. With help from well-wishers, she has seen the centre rise to a population of 89 children. Most of them board at the facility.