- The Child Welfare Society of Kenya is another resource for a vulnerable pregnant woman.
- They offer pregnancy crisis support for distressed mothers in the form of counselling with the aim of stabilising the mothers so that children can be retained in their original families.
- In instances where a pregnant woman can’t keep her child, then she is made aware of other options of alternative family care for the child.
Mercy Mwihaki was only 18 and already six months along by the time her mother found out that she was pregnant. When she did, all hell broke loose. “She was furious. The next morning, the day after the clinic confirmed that I was pregnant, she took me from our home in Kajiado to an aunt’s home in Nanyuki,” Mercy recalls the events that surrounded the lowest moments of her life. As she talks, she kneads a piece of paper in her hands, evidently fighting emotion.
Two days later, her mother called with an ultimatum: If she wanted to go back home, if she wanted to go to college, then she needed to get rid of the pregnancy.
“I was 18 at the time and had just finished high school. Getting an abortion was not a choice for me so I tried calling my boyfriend. He agreed with my mother that I should have an abortion and in fact offered to send me money for the procedure.”
Her mother also warned her against reaching out to other family members as she didn’t want the shame she believed this would bring. Alone, Mercy decided to reach out to a friend who referred her to a pastor. The pastor told her about Kiota, a rescue centre for vulnerable pregnant women and girls in Murang’a.
“When I was admitted to Kiota, I found five other young women. It was here that I found peace and my dignity. There was no more pressure to procure an abortion,” she says.
This was in April 2015. She delivered her son Luke while still there in July of the same year. When her son was three months old, a guest who visited the facility offered to sponsor her through college. She is now in her final year at Thogoto Teachers’ Training College in Kiambu County.
Her parents are yet to accept her son; only one of her family members has seen him but Mercy, now aged 21, is hopeful about the future. “I am going to be a teacher. My son just turned two years old. He lives at Happy Life Children’s Home in Roysambu. I see him on the weekends,” she shares.
A safe haven for vulnerable women
“If I never found Kiota – if I was left to my own devices – I would probably just have gone along with the abortion. I had no one to turn to,” Mercy says.
Kiota means ‘nests’ in Swahili, and indicates that the rescue centre are a place where young women can go to nurture their pregnancies and be cared for, just as birds protect their eggs in nests. The rescue centre has two branches. The first kiota is a bungalow donated by a well-wisher in the Kiambuthia area of Murang’a. The second is in Kwale in Kilifi County. They are, quite literally, temporary homes for vulnerable pregnant women and girls who have been rejected by their families.
“It was after years of seeing first-hand the suffering and the devastation of girls and women who had had abortions that I decided that there had to be a way out of it,” says Dr Jean Kaggia, a Nairobi-based obstetrician and gynaecologist who is the founder of the kiotas.
First, she founded the Protecting Life Movement Trust in the year 2000 together with a group of churches and para-church organisations. Its goal was to talk to communities about abortion and the negative effects it has on a woman.
“There was still a problem, as the society was still rejecting pregnant girls and women. So I decided to set up Kiota as a social solution because crisis pregnancies are a social problem not a medical one,” she says.
The first Kiota rescue centre was set up in April of 2011. Since then, they have had 95 deliveries. It is a community based initiative meaning that most of what they have here is donated by the community around them, including the cow and the chickens. The young women and girls share the house chores and during their free time, they are given life and entrepreneurial skills like bead work and detergent making. Recently, another well-wisher donated an acre of land where they are fund raising to build a permanent rescue home.
According to Nation Newsplex statistics, 119,912 women and girls were treated for complications from unsafe abortions in Kenyan public hospitals in 2012. That year, 464,690 abortions were carried out in the country. While there are no hard statistics on the number of abandoned babies in the country, a quick sift through our newspaper pages will show you that abandonment of newborn babies by their mothers is a significant problem in Kenya today. There seems to be a disconnect between rescue centers such as Kiota and vulnerable pregnant women.
“The problem is the attitude of the communities around these women. Instead of offering support to a woman or a girl in a crisis pregnancy, the community would rather hide the problem. That is why you will see a family supporting a girl to have an abortion,” says Mary Waithera, a social worker with Kiota.
In some communities, like the one she has worked with in Kilifi County, once they fall pregnant, young women and girls are quietly married off, sometimes even to their rapists. This denies rescue centres a chance to even make a rescue.