- After her marriage ended, Cecilia Njeri was worried that she couldn't fend for her kids anymore , so she had three kids from her just-ended marriage and a newborn baby
- After sharing her struggles with a friend, she advised her to leave them at a children’s home,
- Only to be arrested and jailed for it
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Cecilia Njeri was seated in her mabati house nursing her two-month-old daughter, Muthoni when she heard a knock on the door.
She froze on seeing her eldest daughter accompanied by police officers at the door. Remembering what she had done a week before, the mom of four was terrified. She knew that the truth had finally caught up with her.
Pushed to desperation
Njeri remembered how a week earlier, she had left her three older children at the gate of a children’s home. Her friend Mama Nyambura convinced her to do that after she shared her struggles in providing for them.
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She was acting out of desperation.
“We did not have food or rent. I was frustrated and this to suggestion seemed like a great idea. I was only left with the youngest one,” she told YEN.com.gh in an interview at her house.
With tears in her eyes, she left her children at the gate and walked home, broken with only her little one to offer comfort. That week was the most restless and agonizing time of her life. She constantly wondered how her kids were doing at the children’s home.
At the children's home, one of her friend's kids recognized them and the management got involved.
The kids also spoke up and said Mama Nyambura and their mom brought them to the gate.
Njeri was arrested and charged with child abandonment. She was led to the children’s home where they pulled the remaining children and bundled them to a prison cell. It was a long night seeing her children suffer in squalid cell conditions.
Thankfully, her three children were picked the next morning by a police officer leaving Njeri with her 2-month-old Muthoni. She was not informed where her kids were taken to and did not find out till she was released from prison a year later.
For an entire month, Njeri had to endure staying at remand with her little one with barely any nutrition to sustain her breastfeeding child. Sanitation was a problem but that was the least of their problems. She was sentenced to one year at Langata Women’s prison.
“This broke my heart, I had to stay with my baby in Langata women’s. It was not easy. I remember meeting other inmates who were very heartless to me. They were serving longer terms and were punishing me for the slightest of things. If my baby dared to cry at night, I would be made to clean up the whole dormitory,” she recalled.
Inmates tasked to take care of babies
Njeri said she couldn’t wait to get out of there. She remembers how her little baby would be placed in the care of fellow inmates at the nursery, some who had committed heinous crimes that you wouldn’t trust with your child. There were no qualified caregivers to look after the children.
But days were moving, and she kept her hope alive that all of this suffering would soon end. She missed her kids terribly while behind bars and couldn’t help but wonder what they were up to, or if they were thinking of her.
For one year, little Muthoni grew up knowing that her typical environment was behind bars. Her mom was heartbroken on seeing how her baby’s milestones were constantly delayed.
“She had not yet learnt to walk by the time we were leaving prison. This broke my heart that I had caused this suffering to my baby girl. But I keep saying, kids are innocent and should not suffer for the mistakes of their parents,” she told TUKO.co.ke’s Parenting Editor, Yvonne Kawira.
Finally, after Njeri completed her time and was set free, she went straight to see her older kids. She said her happiest moment was seeing her kids again.
“I was so happy. But I was afraid they would ask me why I had decided to abandon them but they didn’t. We bonded well and I was happy to see that they are growing up well. When I got out, I reached out to Clean Start’s founder Teresa and she has helped me a lot. My kids are in school now and I work hard to also provide for their shopping and pocket money while the organization takes care of the school fees. I am very grateful to Clean Start for this,” she said.
Parenting struggles after serving time
But it was not all fun when it came to parenting her children after being away for so long. She struggled when it came to guiding and disciplining her children. Her imprisonment had seemingly taken away her authority figure powers. Knowing she has been in prison, Njeri has struggled with reprimanding her kids because there is a voice that always makes her second guess herself.
She however puts on a brave face and remains strong as she still has to set a good example to them even after failing them once.
She says being arrested has given her unconditional empathy for suffering moms. She now values the importance of sacrificing for her kids.
She is proud to see her kids pursuing their dreams and knows that they will grow up to be phenomenal people in society. On a daily basis, Njeri sells groceries and makes just enough to go by and save for her kids' upkeep in school.
“The eldest is in college now, while the second born is in form three, third in class eight and little Muthoni is now in class five.”
Njeri said that upon coming out, she and Mama Nyambura, the friend who advised her to give up her children, continued to be friends until she died a few years ago.
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“She was only trying to help. I didn’t hate her for it,” Njeri concludes.
While she is secure that her children’s education is secured by the support from Clean Start, day to day living is still a struggle. She puts her best foot forward to ensure that none of the children sleeps hungry or homeless. Knowing that poverty pushed her to leave her children, she is determined to make up for past mistakes and make up for the lost time.
You can support Muthoni and children through MPESA donations Paybill:543268 Account: YourName/Cecilia. In-kind donations are also appreciated.
For over 6 years Clean Start has been bridging the gap for women in prison and those who are released. The Kenyan organisation has been providing them with psychological support, material support, economic support as well as legal aid. Learn more about their work on www.cleanstartkenya.org