“I Am My Mother’s Voice” – The Story of Muthania and Her Family
“What is your last name?“
Muthania, a young mother living in a very remote community in Kenya, smiled nervously at our team, but did not answer.
“Our last name is Kanuu,” said a little voice from behind us. Mutambuki, Muthania’s eight-year-old son, answered for his mother.
Once again, we tried to ask Muthania a question about her family.
“How many children do you have?”
Muthiana was unable to answer. All she could offer was a soft smile and an uncomfortable pause.
“There are six of us,” chimed the little voice of Mutambuki.
What we didn’t know was that Muthania lives with a cognitive disability. She can barely speak and relies on her oldest son, Mutambuki to be her voice.
A Home Without Hope
We met Muthania and her family in the spring of 2017. A community health worker suggested we visit her family to assess their needs and enroll the children in our Angel Investor program. After a few home visits, our community health worker recognized Muthania’s family as one of the most vulnerable in the community.
When we arrived, we found Muthania home with three of her six children. That day, Mutambuki had been sent home from school; he had not paid his school fees. Muthania’s husband was not home. He is much older and spends most days working odd jobs, trying to bring food home to his family. Their home is far from any town. They have no close neighbors. Eight family members live in a single-room house, made of mud with a thatched roof. There were no beds. When we asked where everyone slept, Mutambuki pointed to the dirt floor.
The family also lacked access to safe water. Muthania collected water from a contaminated river nearby. She did not understand that this water was making her children sick. The cost of water purification materials was something this family could never afford. A single bag of grain sat in the corner of the small home. When it ran out, they would go hungry.
Muthania and her children were clearly sick, especially her youngest, two-year-old Kabuku. Kabuku had symptoms of a serious respiratory infection. Her cough was deep and painful.
Our hearts broke as we got to know Muthania. She was unable to care for herself or her children. Mutambuki, the eight-year-old “man of the house” was more able to take on the role of a parent than she was.
Mothers with Disabilities
Women living in developing countries with disabilities are some of the most vulnerable people in the entire world. They are one of the most at risk groups for physical, sexual, and verbal abuse and are often unable to voice their experiences. Adults with disabilities are 150% more likely to be a victim of abuse than an adult without disabilities.
In communities like Muthania’s, care for people with disabilities is almost non-existent. People with disabilities often go their entire lives without a medical evaluation or any form of treatment. When disabilities are both undiagnosed and untreated over a lifetime, the effects often become much more significant.
Mothers with disabilities, like Muthania, are stigmatized and targeted within their communities. They are completely excluded from school and work opportunities. They are not given the chance to reach their fullest potential. Their children are forced to grow up quickly, taking on the burdens and responsibilities of adulthood far too soon.
One of the most poignant parts of our visit with Muthania was witnessing her devotion to her children. It reminded us that women with disabilities adore their children as much as any other parent. Even with her limitations, Muthania expressed her wish to provide her children with better care.
A Series of Small Interventions
Soon after our first visit with Muthania’s family, we reached out to our global family and shared the details of this needy family in Kenya. Two extraordinary people stepped forward, put their faith into action, and made the commitment to become Angel Investors to Mutambuki and Kabuku. With the support of the Angel Investor program, this family’s story has completely changed.
First, our team collected the paperwork from the children’s father, and paid for health insurance for the entire family. Health insurance coverage guarantees everyone in the family free access to local health clinics and the mission hospital. Our social worker, Joseph, explained to the family the importance of going to the doctor and taking medicine as instructed. Joseph also explained about the importance of vaccinations and annual check-ups for the children.
The second, major intervention centered around creating a healthy home by addressing safe water and sanitation issues. Joseph spent many afternoons sitting with everyone in the family, teaching them how to use water purification tablets, to clean their home, and prepare food in a safer way. Over time, Joseph has seen Muthania, her husband, and her children take this information to heart and use it to improve their health and daily lives.
Before, this family was not open to learning. Now they are, and their lives are healthier. – Joseph, CMMB social worker
Next, with funds from the Angel Investors, the family received their first bed. For many of us, this seems like a basic necessity, but for this family, a new bed has been life-changing. For young children, like Kabuku and Mutambuki, sleep is essential to good health. Having a comfortable, clean place to sleep makes a world of a difference.
Thanks to his Angel Investor, Mutambuki is back in school. With the guarantee that his school fees will always be paid, Mutambuki never misses a day. This support also provides him with a new school uniform, shoes, and books. Most importantly, it gives Mutambuki the opportunity to receive an education so he can realize his potential and work to make life better for his family. He told us he is not sure what he wants to be yet, but Mutambuki’s father says he has an amazing talent for fixing little things, like their radio.
Mutambuki would never have been able to attend school regularly without his Angel Investor. The cost was always out of reach for his family. Mutambuki has always been, and may always be, his mother’s voice, but now he will be a better advocate and ally for her. Thanks to his education, he will be better prepared to represent himself and his family.
For Muthania and Her Family, A Brighter Tomorrow
Because of the commitment of good people and needed interventions, this family’s future is much brighter. When we first encountered them, Muthania’s family spent their days focused on survival without the ability to think about tomorrow. Today, they live healthier lives and find joy in the success of their children.
Muthania may never be able to speak, but the gratitude and joy she expresses as she watches her children grow up free from the pain of hunger, thirst, illness, and lack of opportunity is clear. Small interventions, one by one, over time, make way for a better life for an entire family.
Sadly, Muthania’s family is just one of many living in extreme poverty. Your love could make a difference today.
Alex Hladick is the Strategy & Innovation Coordinator at CMMB’s headquarters in NYC. She coordinates the day-to-day operation of the Angel Investor program. Prior to taking on this position, she volunteered with the Strategy & Innovation team while she was a student at Fordham University.