A foster mothers’ tale of parenting a traumatized child

    Written By: Lola Nanjala

    Rose Nafula, Mark's foster mother at her home

    The small frail looking boy seated on the couch at the corner of the house is fully engrossed in what appears to be his favorite daytime activity – watching cartoons.

    His eyes fixated on the Television screen, his palm supporting the left side of his chin as he leans in and totally glued, he occasionally lets out a hearty laughter seemingly entertained by the theatrics displayed by the toon characters on TV.

    At one point he jumps up from his seat and claps happily but quickly and shyly retreats to his position once he realizes he has drawn the attention of the people in the room.

    He paints the picture of an 11-year-old child like any other, enjoying his past time but Mark Wanambuko’s story is that of suffering and pain, from birth. When Rose Nafula decided to adopt him, she had no idea what to expect in future, for him.

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    She took a step of faith and heeded to her dying mothers’ wish of having the boy placed in a good home where he would receive all the basic needs and emotional support, required for a child to develop wholly.

    “When I brought Mark home, I did not even know his age. I did ask his guardians who were unsure too, because his mother ran away immediately after giving birth to him, leaving the boy with his mentally challenged father. He had no birth certificate or even the normal growth chart card indicating a child growth process and whether they have received all the required vaccinations,” says Rose.

    Rose is a mother of four adult children who are all independent. Left with an empty house, she says the memory of her dying mothers’ last wish always stuck with her, as she was worried he may be neglected once she passes on.

    “I would see the boy when visiting my mother. My aged mother had adopted him after witnessing the boys’ plight of being moved from home to home hence she decided to take care of him.

    He always secluded himself from people and was very shy. I once tried talking to him only to realize he had difficulties with his speech. He was also severely malnourished which you could clearly tell by from his protruding stomach and the brown tinted hair,” she says.

    As a mother to four grown children, she already had it figured out when it came to the diet and nutrition issue, but she was not at all prepared for Marks’ erratic personality, which was as a result of  marks past life of neglect and abuse.

    Rose says, among other symptoms, his speech was seriously impaired; he would get scared easily from sudden sounds or noises and would cry uncontrollably when threatened with corporal punishment. He also avoided eye contact with people. This was a totally new territory for her.

    “I knew I had to step up the care. I started looking for a school that dealt with cases like his although I was not really sure what I was dealing with. It was all by faith. As a mother, my first instinct though was to make him comfortable first by giving him love and attention,” she says.

    Rose says she hired a house help whom she gave instructions on how to take care of Mark. She knew the need to hire a trustworthy househelp was important considering she is always away at work for the better part of the day.

    She then embarked on looking for a school that would accommodate him.

    “It is like I had to literally rally the support of the community to raise this child. When I found a school and zeroed in on the class he was to attend, I sat down with the class teacher to-be and in details explained Marks case to her. She seemed to understand and from there on we formed a friendship that has seen us share any information on how he is fairing both socially and education wise.”

    Three years later, one can say Mark has come a long way. Although there are times he seems to retrogress, he is now able to snap back to reality with ease. Rose says because of his traumatic past, he let his bowels loose, a situation he took some time overcome.

    House helps

    Considering the situation, she would wake up early in the morning wash his beddings and leave them to dry before heading to work.

    This she says was her responsibility, as none of the house helps were willing to do it as most could not understand how a child his age, who could clearly take himself to the toilet, ‘chose’ to soil himself. She adds that most house helps left, for they found it challenging to handle mark.

    “He has his days. Days that at times led house helps to conclude that he is mentally challenged, which I had to make clear that he is not. He would at times act erratically towards them, hurl abuses even and could not be disciplined” she reminisced.

    Some voluntarily left, others had their services terminated as they would take extreme measures in trying to have him under control, hence causing him duress.

    It is a story of hope. So far Mark has made remarkable progress which she has been noting. She paints the picture of a scared and disturbed boy which is now fading slowly. While he used to eat fast as if afraid his food will be snatched away, he now takes his time and has significantly added weight.

    He interacts with other children without fear although he prefers playing with those younger than him as those older tend to segregate him for being too slow in thinking and acting.


    He is yet to catch up in school work as Rose tells us. Reiterating that his school grades are nothing to write home about an area that they still struggling.

    “To him school is a place where he meets up with other children, play, eat then come back home. We try to help him with his homework but it is a struggle. So we taking him at his pace, both the teachers and at home”

    Rose hopes that no other child will experience what Mark has been through. She says that just the mere mention of people from his past is enough to upset him and he would throw a fit.

    Apart from that, Mark is a cheerful child. I ask her why she never took him to see a specialist.

    “As a mother my intuition told me all he lacked was love, I knew the process would involve money so it was not an option for me but in case I see no improvement with time, I will definitely put that into consideration”.

    According to the child welfare organization Child Line Kenya at least 300,000 cases of children who have been through trauma are recorded annually and this are just the reported cases. Nearly 800 children were abused in Kenya in the first half of 2016, according to the latest data from the agency.

    According to the statistics, three of four abuse cases could cause irreversible physiological and mental damage to the children. The abuses were sexual, physical and neglect.

    Experts views

    Kevin Gachee a resident psychologist at Chiromo lane Medical Center says that a Child’s formative years impact a lot on the person they will be in future. He says children like Mark have to be monitored keenly as the effect of their traumatic childhood may start manifesting into their adulthood in different ways among them depression or even rebellion.

    Gachee says seeking professional help from a counselor who specializes in child trauma cases is the right move but also advises parents/guardians who cannot afford these services, to engage with them through constant communication.

    “The guardian has to always talk with the child. Let them express their feelings and views and with time they will be comfortable to come to you whenever they have issues. This in turn also reduces anxiety on their end and builds trust,” he says.

    He adds that raising a child with a traumatic past is a lifelong commitment that should not be taken lightly. He stresses that no matter the situation parents should try and engage a specialist in the area as there are instances the child may need medication, to enable them cope, apart from just therapy.

    In the same breath he acknowledged children in general have a strong coping mechanism and that for most, time heals.



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