Looking after vulnerable children is usually voluntary. In most cases, however, such a decision could entangle an individual into a spot almost impossible to escape from.
Are you already burdened with looking after other children besides your own? ALEX TAREMWA examines how one could navigate such wavy waters and make the most of the situation.
On the night of March 8, 2000, 44-year-old Matthew Keibo, a local businessman in Sembabule district, was robbed and murdered while returning from selling his agricultural produce in the market.
His eight orphans’ survival was left To Whom It May Concern because he was the family’s sole breadwinner. After the burial, the widow, Peace Bafokworora, tried to call on her in-laws for support to raise the children, but to no avail. And for a fingernail-biting peasant, raising eight children singlehandedly was not just an uphill task; it was outright impossible.
Upon hearing about the struggling widow’s plea, compassion engulfed Dr Christopher Kawooya, a distant in-law married to the deceased’s sister, who later came to her rescue.
Although Kawooya was well-off, he already had four children of his own to take care of, and could only afford to take care of four more. This luck picked Annamaria Nkuru, Theodore Timuzigu, Joseph Byaruhanga and Immaculate Aine.
“These were the youngest and in my analysis, they were the most vulnerable. I discussed with my wife, and we brought them home to live with us,” Kawooya told The Observer.
The older ones stayed with their mother for about two years. However, when Bafokworora got married to another man who didn’t want anything to do with the children, their only alternative was to join Kawooya’s family. Consequently, he had 12 children to take care of.
Kawooya, a veterinary doctor, had to work thrice as much to meet the needs of the family. He took two more jobs, and his wife started a shop from where she could get an extra income.
“The children were innocent. They deserved a chance at a better life; a life their father would have given them,” Kawooya says. “Now that he wasn’t going to be around anymore, I took on the task.”
For a while, everything went on well. He forged a bond with the fatherless children, and provided for their needs including education. To those who exhibited much honesty and virtue, he started a farm where he put them to manage “for a handsome pay”.
However, the older they became, the more cognisant they grew – cognisant to know that Kawooya was not their biological father and; therefore, had no rights on them.
“They developed this feeling of resentment towards me; the feeling of rejection and a loss of discipline and respect. It was heart-breaking,” he says.
With Kawooya and wife losing the grip on the eight orphaned children, the results became increasingly unpleasant. The boys started drinking alcohol and smoking. The girls, however, remained submissive until recently when they separately left Kawooya’s home in the middle of the night. News later came that they had got ‘married’.
Byaruhanga, the eldest boy, went to Mbarara and hasn’t been heard from since. But Timuzigu remained, studied and is now on course to getting married. He is the only one of the eight that stuck around.
WHAT WENT WRONG, WHERE?
The best place to start was talking to Timuzigu, who chose to live with the Kawooyas even after all his siblings had fled. When The Observer reached out to him, he was repairing motorcycles at the Double T garage in Sembabule town, on Kisozi road.
Timuzigu, who started living with the Kawooyas when he was only four years old, is very grateful. At 21, he has a driving permit, a senior four certificate and his own garage all thanks to Kawooya and family.
“I didn’t run because I had nowhere to go. He [Kawooya] was good to us. He fed, clothed and educated us,” said Timuzigu. “His children were my friends, and I couldn’t leave them.”
WHAT EXPERTS SAY
Rev Fr Tom Nkeijanabo, an early childhood specialist at Divine babies’ home in Mbarara, told The Observer that parents need to recognise that such families as Kawooya’s have a whole different dynamic from other families altogether.
“For a child to feel comfortable whether at Divine or any other home, they have to feel welcome, wanted and loved. Making time for 12 children where four are biological is hard,” he said.
Fr Nkeija, as he is commonly known, also faults Kawooya for not being upfront with the eight children whenever they discerned issues because he wasn’t their biological father.
According to Nkeijanabo, Kawooya needed to tell them he wasn’t their biological father, but was committed to helping them get a better life. Instead, Nkeijanabo adds, Kawooya chose to play the role of a father – an approach that always hits a snag in such a setting.
He advises such parents to always avoid outmoded notions of compensating for the absent biological father or paternal dominance in the lives of the orphaned children.
“Instead, they should play a role that expresses the best aspects of being a man and a father figure. If done consciously and deliberately, this can be tremendously fulfilling for all, and a source of lifelong joy,” Nkeijanabo said.
RESTRICT WHAT THE CHILDREN HEAR
Although such children are usually disorganised by death’s claws, there are those victimised by failed marriages, early pregnancies and unfair circumstances such as rape. The victimised should not be exposed to information about the circumstances that brought about their current status until a certain age.
If their colleagues at school or home use their mother’s divorce or father’s reported domestic violence history to bully them, such children risk being permanently low on self-esteem – a critical requirement for steady emotional growth and recovery.
“If relatives visit such children at your home, be mindful of what they tell them as these may affect their respect and interaction with you. The results will be resentment to your authority and indiscipline,” Nkeijanabo further said.
He added that such fathers should play a supportive role in the home by simply maintaining a healthier marriage and being positive role models. Back in Sembabule, Kawooya advises men like him to restrain from judging such vulnerable children under their care, but rather attempt whenever they can to support their endeavours.
Although he was saddened that the children left his care mostly prematurely, he takes pride in the fact that he struggled to meet their every need on top of his own children’s. He urges all the men reading this article to step up to the challenge whenever such responsibility calls.
“I have no regrets. I took up a responsibility and gave it my all. That is what a real man does,” he says. “In the end, what people became – even our own children – is a product of their own fate. You can help make it better but ultimately, you can’t change it.”