Reuben Mwambingu @reubenmwambingu
Ritah Kakai Wandera, 20, walks with a confident gait, sashaying from one end of the room to the other with a smile on her face.
A few years ago, Rita’s future was hanging in the balance. She was an orphan as her father, a Ugandan and her mother, a Kenya had passed away when she was young.
Growing up in the popular “sin city” of Mtwapa, Ritah faced the eminent danger of getting entangled in child prostitution. She did not.
She is now a catering student at Mombasa Community Centre. Besides, Ritah is also an upcoming model, thanks to Jambo Jipya, The Future Child Orphanage and Destine modelling and fashioning agency in Mtwapa.
“Ten years ago, it would be difficult to imagine me in this position. I am today pursuing my dreams. My future really looks good,” Rita says as she gazes at Christine Mwende, who she recognises as her mother. Mwende took her into an orphanage and raised her as her own.
The 20-year-old woman was among the first orphans who Mwende rescued from jaws of neglect.
A long-serving locum nurse, surviving on a paltry income, Mwende witnessed women living with HIV/Aids die, leaving behind vulnerable orphans. This prompted her to seek long term solutions.
“I used to work as a nurse at a facility in Bakarani in 1999 where single women living with HIV/Aids would come to seek treatment. A majority of them were poor and I would assist them at no cost. My boss would deduct Sh3,000 from my salary to cater for the cost of medication,” she explains.
By then, the single mother of three, recalls that antiretroviral (ARV) medication were a dream to many in the country and, so she would mostly use painkillers and antibiotics, which were the only available medication to suppress the spread of infections and alleviate pain.
The nurse says she would later roll out a door-to-door initiative to reach out to patients who were unable to visit hospitals. In early 2000 she was kicked out of the hospital she was working. Losing her job as a locum nurse was tough and it knocked her community service off balance, as she was now unable to access medication for her patients. This led to the death of many of the patients and at one time 40 out of the 80 people she was serving died.
“Whenever these patients died, they left behind orphans. It is this situation that pushed me into action,” she says. She had secured another job at Mombasa Hospital when she registered a community-based organisation she named Jambo Jipya medical project in 2001. She started the home with five children who she housed in a makeshift mud-walled structure.
“I bought mattresses, food and clothing and started taking care of the children before I got acquainted to a Catholic nun who connected me to a Catholic church programme where I began receiving relief maize flour,” she says. In 2002 she quit her job to get time to closely monitor her project and later secured another job at a private hospital in Mtwapa, which was closer home. In 2006 the organisation got a boost after a British volunteer working with a local NGO pumped in Sh300,000 into the project. Two years later another volunteer from the US gave Sh2 million to support the orphanage, enabling her to expand the project and take in more children.
Today, she has partnered with her daughter, Destine Pamba, a model-cum-designer, who is teaching children at the orphanage how to design and model. Pamba, the founder and CEO of Destine Modelling Agency, trains the children to design African attire, which they market and sell online.
“I get materials locally and sometimes from Malawi and Tanzania, but we do the designing and modelling at my fashion house here in Mtwapa where I have employed one designer and several casuals. I have trained the children in modelling and designing and whenever we want to display the designs they model them,” says Pamba. So far, the project has been successful.
“We have models who have competed in several events locally. This is a great success in ensuring local girls acquire life skills to enable them escape prostitution,” says Pamba, who studied Human Resource Management at Kenya Institute of Management.