When Philegona Odera’s best friend passed on shortly after giving birth to her second child, she stepped in to raise her children for her. As we celebrate World Humanitarian Day this weekend, we take a glimpse at a parenting sacrifice that only the fully committed can go through unscathed
Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi
When you enter Philegona Odera’s home in Utawala, Nairobi, it is no doubt that part of the home’s occupants are toddlers. Toys and sippy cups are strewn on the floor, a scream here and a loud yell for mummy’s attention there. It is a typical home of toddlers. Yet Philegona’s last born twins are 17 and has no grandchild.
Philegona, 48, has taken up a rare responsibility of raising her best couple’s children. It all began in 2002, when Philegona and her husband accepted to be the maid of honour and best man in Jacob Mulanda and Caroline Jewa’s wedding. They had no idea that this special calling would bind the two couples for the rest of their lives.
“I knew Jacob through my husband when he was still a bachelor. He used to be my husband’s colleague, and slowly he became a bosom family friend,” narrates Philegona.
Philegona remembers with teary eyes how her friendship with Caro rapidly grew from the dowry ceremony all the way to the wedding, and then to family life. The two became inseparable, so much that when Caro and Jacob could not conceive several years into their marriage, Philegona and her husband were heartbroken, and they walked with them through emotional support and in kind. “She would call me when she was at her lowest and I would encourage her the best way I could,” she reminisces.
So, you can imagine Philegona’s relief when in the 13th year of Caro and Jacob’s marriage, they finally conceived and gave birth to a bouncing baby girl, “I would not describe in words the joy that engulfed us. It felt like I just got another baby,” remembers the mother of six.
And as if a cloud of blessings had just began raining on them, Jacob and Caro learnt that they were expecting another baby in 2016. The baby came in January 17 2017, when Caro was barely seven months pregnant in what the doctors called an emergency. The baby had stopped making movements in the womb calling for an emergency C-section. “We thanked God nevertheless for helping Caro deliver a baby boy safely and healthy,” says Philegona.
But Caro’s situation deteriorated and two weeks after the CS, she lost her life in what the doctors called a heart attack. “Caro’s death was a blow. We had more questions than answers. How could she wait to be a mother for all those years and then lose her life as soon as she got them?” Philegona asks in a sombre tone, “But we let His will be done.”
Before delivering the baby, Caro had been preparing to sit for her Master’s degree exams in Tanzania. She had made prior request to Philegona to stay with her daughter, who in her opinion was too young to stay with her dad as she took care of the younger baby.
“So when Caro passed on, and after we had buried her, Jacob revisited the request to have us help raise the babies as he found his balance again after the tragic events that has befallen him. Again I was more than glad to take in Zemmira and Myles as my own,” she says. “What are friends for?” she smiles.
One year down the line, the chemistry between Philegona and the babies is unmatched. “Philegona’s family have become so attached to my children that you wouldn’t tell they are not their biological children. They know Philegona as their mother and theirs is no less than a mother-son, mother-daughter kind of relationship,” beams Jacob.
Jacob is right, three-year-old Zemira and one-year-old Myles are all warm and sparky, and the loving bond Philegona has with them is obvious.
“For the past one year, when Myles was just a few weeks old, we have gone through sleepless nights together, colic, the painful and less painful jabs, sickness, the tantrums, and then the happy moments such as watching their every milestone and celebrating birthdays have made everything all worth it,” smiles Philegona.