On Monday, August 1st, Lodrick Osere, a kindergarten student of Malezi School, fainted on school premises due to starvation and hit his head hard against the rough, stony ground. Though hospitalized for several days, thankfully, he did not sustain any major injuries. His story highlights the reality of poverty in the slum and that of our students.
Lodrick's single mother, Catherine Gayalwa, like many other women in Kitui Ndogo relies on irregular casual labor (e.g., washing clothes and home cleaning) to feed her two children, as well as her late sister's now orphan child. She says, "Any work that comes to my hand, I do, to have something to eat. Some days you get, some days you don't." Before, she used to rely on her husband but he, one day, decided to leave home and hasn't been seen since.
Around the time Lodrick fainted, Catherine was going through a particularly dry spell with work. As money wasn't coming in, she and her children were not eating. This phenomenon, too, is quite common in the slum where you find many people — including young children — eating only once in a day. Average take home pay there is less than a dollar a day, which meets the commonly held definition of "extreme poverty."
As it turns out, for three days, Lodrick, age 7, went without any solid food. He was literally being sustained by the one cup of millet porridge that Malezi School offers to its students. He grew weak, lost consciousness and fell, and was swiftly taken away to Kenyatta National Hospital for treatment.
When I first heard the story, I was in the midst of writing a newsletter sharing the good news that our Malezi Meals program had been extended through to the end of the year thanks to some new donations. In it, I also mentioned how important the meals program has been to the school's functioning and that it even, as in Lodrick's case, can be the only source of food on some days for our neediest students. Miraculously, without asking, I received $300 worth of donations to be put towards Lodrick's care in response to the newsletter.
After discussing the most empowering way to apply the amount with my project partner in Nairobi, it was decided that we would use it to cover his medical bill, which was almost exactly the same amount. Obviously, there was no way Catherine (Lodrick's mom) could pay it. Though hard to believe, in Kenya, as in other African countries, patients are detained against their will if they are unable to pay. In order to be released, you must pay and — adding insult to injury — you will be charged for each day you don't, making it more difficult and unlikely to meet the expense. It goes without saying, the financially poor are the hardest hit by this policy.
Lodrick was released from the hospital on the 24th of August and is now back at home and attending school classes. His mom is being actively engaged by Malezi staff to see about ways she can become more self-reliant to prevent something like this from happening again in the future. If there is to be any silver lining to this story, it would be how this crisis led the family down a more secure path.
Time will tell.