11 October 2018

Kenya: Joshua Muthengi is a Father of 55 Plus One

It's on a Monday afternoon and a group of about 15 children-aged five and below are chasing each other around their home in the outskirts of Kitengela, Kajiado County.

"They are just from school, Joshua Muthengi, their foster father says.

At a glance, it is hard to guess Joshua Muthengi's age. His small frame and the furrows on his forehead make it difficult to place him. He is 28 years old but he is not your typical millennial. He wears the hat of a father to not one but 56 children.

"Taking care of these children gives me fulfillment. Their smiles and such giggles gives me strength," he explains. Muthengi was just 17 years old when his heart started warming up to children.

"It was a deep passion - a calling to take care of the destitute children in our village in Makueni County. I used to buy them basic items like food with my meagre earnings from working in the construction sites. Many thought it was absurd that I was helping other children yet my family was not financially stable-my parents couldn't even afford to take me to secondary school after I sat for my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (K.C.P.E) in 2004," he offers.

"In 2009, aged 19 years, I got an opportunity to manage a hostel close to Machakos University and it was there that the passion deepened. I found myself opening doors to orphans and students who came from poor backgrounds. Sometimes, I couldn't understand why I was doing it but seeing the joy on the students' faces made me continue," he says.

FULLY DEVOTED

Sprouting Again Children's Home is located at Nonkopir, Kitengela. At the home, he has 45 children and offers support to 10 others who live with their guardians.

Together with his wife, whom he married in 2016 they have a one-year old son. This couple has fully devoted themselves to take care of the children, the youngest being three years and the oldest 15 years, a form one student.

"I founded the children's home in 2015 aged 25 years after I empathised with the living conditions of most kids in the slums or in the hands of their guardians- most were not even attending school. Prior to establishing it, together with some women from the church I was fellowshipping in, we would go to different slums every fortnight and prepare meals for the kids. Occasionally, I used to volunteer my services to already established children's homes but over time, I realised that it wasn't enough going there now and then. I wanted to offer more than that," he says.

At the time, he had left Machakos and settled in Kitengela where he had started a charcoal business- he always desired to be a business manWith the returns from the business, he would provide basic needs to needy children.

TOUGH START

However, after a few months, the business went under and he had to think fast how to continue supporting them.

"I decided to become a laundry boy. I printed business cards and ensured that I carried my identification card everywhere I went because some people mistook me for a thief. That way, I managed to bring home some food," he offers.

Muthengi is thoughtful and takes deep short breathes in between sentences. "Persistence wears out resistance," he says and reminisces of how tough it was when he founded it.

"I started the home with just three boys from a nearby slum. When I picked them from their guardians- with a signed written agreement witnessed by the area chief and other locals, we barely had enough- we only had one Sufuria that we used to prepare all our meals but I persisted. Gradually, we started having well-wishers who bring us different types of supplies," he says.

As the number of children grew, Muthengi and his wife resolved to stay at home and help each other take care of them.

WELL-WISHERS

"I figured that what I used to earn doing menial jobs would never be enough to take care of them, anyway. Furthermore, we don't have many volunteers coming in to help. The school going kids carry lunch to school, the little ones need to be fed and cleaned when they come home from school. Someone had to take charge of that," he says.

Thankfully, he has managed to get some well-wishers along the way. For instance, the building that serve as the main house was donated to him and the other one which serves as a dormitory for young boys was offered at an affordable rent- however, he mentions that raising the monthly rent of Sh 5,000 for rent plus meeting other expenses hasn't been an easy walk.

"We have had our own share of challenges but a larger share of highlights. For instance, all our 45 children have been enrolled by different private schools around the area. Through the help of well-wishers, we only meet the uniform costs and stationeries. Every day, I wake up at dawn to prepare the meals so they all take packed lunch to school. The schools understand our plight," he explains.

His long term goal is to buy a parcel of land and build an institution of learning for his children.

He also hopes that one day, they will be able to own a gas cooker as they currently make do with firewood.

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