read the full story
read the full story
My name Sheriff Antony and I am the director of Mama Elizabeth Home Korogocho. The home was started in the 1990s. I came to the home in 1993 when I was 12 years old. When Mama Elizabeth got sick from cancer and died I took over the home.
I lost my mom to HIV in 1993 and I know nothing about my dad. My mom was colleagues with Mama Elizabeth and when she saw that Mama Elizabeth took in six children from her sister who had passed away, my mom told her to take me in case anything happened to her. She did not know at the time that she had HIV.
When my mom died she was only 33. I was left wondering why my mom had left me at such a tender age and now I had to take care of my siblings. My grief caused me depression. As well, the stigma of HIV caused anxiety for me. People knew that my mother had died of HIV and would talk about her and my family. Some assumed that I and my siblings had the virus. Thinking about what others were saying about me made me feel anxious. I saw a counsellor named Madame Magdalene who helped me. She used to give me books to read on confidence building, encourage me to be my own best friend and to open about my feelings instead of suppressing.
Mama Elizabeth also helped me. She always encouraged me and tried to teach me to let go of things I had no control of. She always showed me and my siblings love and kindness.
In university, I never talked about my mother. My classmates would talk about their parents, but I would not because I was afraid that if they knew about her and how she died, that they would make assumptions about me.
For a long time, I would also blame myself for my mother’s death. At the time she had contracted HIV, she had sent me and my brothers up country and during that time. I believed that if I had been around that somehow that would have prevented her from getting the disease. In 2014, I learned to stop blaming myself. What helped me was learning to accept that I had no control over what happened to my mom and reading self-help books. Eventually, I was also able to talk to my siblings about my mother and tell them that it was not her fault that she got HIV, that she could have never known that the man she was with was HIV positive. This was important because for some time my siblings felt shame about my mother.
Since 2019, I have been taking care of the children at Mama Elizabeth Home. A few of the children there have mental health issues like anxiety and depression. They experience this because of the things they have been through before coming to the home. Some of the traumas they have experienced include rejection by parents and relatives, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, drug use and alcoholism in their families. This results in children isolating themselves and engaging in behaviours like fighting. To help our children at the home, we work with organizations that provide guided counsellors. Through counselling, we notice improvements like an increase self-esteem, better interactions with children and improved grades.
In order to help orphans, I believe that society needs to stop being judgmental. Here in Kenya, when people see these children with behavioural issues, they classify them as big-headed and undisciplined without understanding the reasons for this. This attitude prevents these children from getting the emotional support that they need to improve their mental health and turn their lives around.
My hope for the future is that we will have enough resources to get a permanent counsellor for the home. I want all of our children to make it in life and to give back to others the same kindness we have shown them.