Family Strengthening – July 8 2021

A single father’s bold determination to raise his young children

Antony is trying his best to be a good father to his children, not just providing their basic needs, but spending time with them as they grow.

Antony is a single parent raising two children, Wangari*,3, and Njuguna*, 2.Their mother left when the youngest was four months old. At first, Antony was scared and nervous because he knew nothing about raising young children, but now he bathes, washes their clothes, cooks, feeds them and does the household chores without a fuss.

“I have lived alone with my children for one year and six months,” explains the 45-year-old shoemaker from Nairobi. “It has been hard work, very hard work but things are getting easier because the children have grown a little. I’ve already survived the children’s most fragile age.”

Antony lives in KCC, a low-income neighbourhood in Kenya’s capital. It is named after a milk processing plant in the vicinity that triggered the mushrooming of this community. Houses in KCC consist of apartment buildings and shacks built of iron-sheets.

Makeshift businesses like Antony’s shoemaking service line the streets next to where he lives. His children mill around him when he is mending shoes or play with other children. Wangari helps his father arrange old shoes on the display sack laid on the ground.

The shoe business has been Antony’s lifeline for the last four years, but these days it is not earning him enough; his neighbours who are his main customers hardly ask for his services. They rely on a daily wage and the COVID-19 situation has forced them to reprioritize their needs. “I can stay for up to three days or a week without earning a single cent.” Sometimes he looks for casual jobs, leaving the neighbours to watch his children.

Due to lost income, Antony worries how he will feed his family and he is barely making it. He goes to a nearby shop to carry food items on credit when he has no money. “Today I went to the shop and got this bread on credit. I get milk for tea from that shop every day and I pay later.” During the interview Wangari walks into the room calling “baba, baba,” trying to get his attention. Her father gently motions her to go back outside.

Effects of COVID-19

Antony says in February last year, a month before the pandemic came to Kenya his business was doing well. “I could replace shoe soles and sell ready-made school shoes. I bought leather and soles and displayed them on the wall like this,” recalls Antony demonstrating how he stacked his stock. “If the need was for a sole and laces, I had them in stock.”

Without any other source of income, Antony sold his shoe repair supplies to feed his children, and the business collapsed. All that remains is the repair work and shoes his customers will not collect. Antony says the pandemic has reduced him to nothing.

“I lived in a big house around here,” he says pointing in the direction of his old house. “I moved here into this small house after Covid came. My former house had a full set of sofas, a gas cooker and cylinder, but I had to sell them to buy food.”

Looking at Antony today, it is hard to imagine that he was once doing well. A narrow alleyway leads to his one-roomed shack built with iron-sheets. The room is dark and there is no window. Light comes from the only bulb hanging from the ceiling. Hardly any meaningful furniture can fit into the tiny space. Until recently, he shared the only bed he has with both of his children. A neighbour gave him a sofa with multiple colours that his daughter has now commandeered. She loves to sleep on it.

“I have not been able to pay rent for this house from April last year (2020) to this day,” says Antony evidently disturbed. “I owe my landlord a lot of money. The children are the reason he has not evicted me.”

Registered for Support

The situation is dire but the father of two is determined to raise his children. His neighbours are impressed by his decision, but they advise him to place his daughter and son in a children’s home, because with his hands full he cannot work.

 “I tell them that I cannot do that,” Antony says defiantly. “I want to raise my own children until they grow up. I enjoy being with them very much. We have food problems but my children are content with what is available and that makes me happy.” Antony’s family is somewhat of a spectacle at KCC, because most families are female headed. The men in this community have a tendency of abandoning their families. 

Antony does not want his children separated from him, what he needs is support to actualize his desire of a good future and a healthier environment for them.  The SOS family strengthening programme works with vulnerable families like Antony’s to restore their livelihoods, build caregivers’ capacity, and equip them to provide the stability children need to flourish.

He recently enlisted to receive this support with the help of a community volunteer. Strengthening Antony’s family will eliminate the need for alternative care.

“I want my children to make it in life and to be successful in their education. I will be happy if I am able to educate them well,” he says as he smiles at his children when they walk into the room. “Antony hopes to enrol them in school next year (2022). He will have more time to work when they are in school.

“In this neighbourhood, children who do not go to school become street children. They join groups of street children and they go off to fend for themselves. I have seen children suffering and I do not want my children to suffer. I love my children and I choose to care for them myself so they can grow up confidently knowing that I am always there for them.”

* Names changed to protect the children’s privacy.

* Text by Anne Kahura. Photos by Jakob Fuhr.