With 7 billion stories scattered over 7 groaning continents, it seemed likely that Rosemary and Nancy would pass quietly into the ranks of the unnoticed, statistics rather than flowers, two tiny sisters unattached to anyone willing to stand for them. Things had just never gone their way. At every turn, the wrong thing always happened to them. They had grown to accept this in the deep place where dreams used to bud.
Born in the highway town of Narok, Kenya to Ruth Wanjiru, Rosemary came first in 2007, followed 3 years later by Nancy. A marital separation happened early and the girls’ father never played a role in raising them. Close relatives say that by Rosemary’s third birthday, Ruth began to disappear nightly to get drunk, leaving her to care for herself and her baby sister Nancy. The night the terrible thing happened came soon after, leading to a domino effect of tragic choices by mom that would eventually lead her to take flight three years later.
The hot sufuria (pot) of chai came to a boil, the signal for Rosemary to pour herself a cup. Since her mom had left for the night and she did not expect her back till morning, the three year old would have to fend for herself again if she wanted some. Suddenly the pot tipped and the scalding tea splashed out over its edge, finding the tender skin of baby Nancy, age 9 months, lying next to the fire. It all happened in an instant, and there was no taking it back – the horrible shrieks as the whole right side of Nancy’s trunk and right arm burned deeply. The sufuria fell with a clatter and Rosemary began to cry herself, but no one came to rescue the two helpless little ones. By morning the baby had spent an agonizing night in pain with third degree burns over one fourth of her body. Rosemary eventually cried herself to sleep.
Ruth staggered in half-drunk early the next morning to find the two, scarcely able to believe her bloodshot eyes when she saw her second born lying near the overturned sufuria, still whimpering softly and near death. The skin peeled off of Nancy’s side and arm when she picked her up, frightening Ruth into a panic. She shook Rosemary awake, and within a minute they were running for the nearest road to find a ride to the hospital.
Doctors and nurses smelled her alcohol-laced breath, took one look at the dehydrated baby lying on the examination table, and concluded Ruth was to blame somehow. Guilt flooded Ruth’s throbbing head as she worried for her precious Nancy, this little one who had depended on her for protection now lying terribly wounded because of her stupid habit. As the day wore on and treatment began, Nancy perked up and Ruth sobered up. Reality felt like a monster in the room, and so it was that weakened Ruth ran back to her addiction, finding the nearest bar that night to hide from who she really was. After her mother followed this pattern in spite of the chastisement of the hospital staff for several nights, the poor victim Nancy was summarily discharged from the hospital. The staff reasoned that if her own mom didn’t care, they would no longer be responsible for the baby.
Once Nancy returned home, her burn wounds festered as Ruth did not have the understanding, supplies, or maturity to care for them. As she saw her failures multiplying, she intensified her drinking. When infection set in, Nancy might have died were it not for a visiting relative, who returned her to the hospital for treatment. There she was given proper treatment for the infection, but the doctors had seen enough of Ruth’s behavior and the police were called. Ruth found herself quickly arrested, tried in court, then sentenced to 2 years in Lang’ata Prison in Nairobi.
Lang’ata, a maximum security facility, housed women convicted of violent crimes, like murder, assault, and armed robbery from all over Kenya. Rosemary and healing Nancy, by convention, went to prison with their mother to continue to be raised there by her. They would spend over 2 years of their precious childhoods locked inside the walls of Lang’ata, enduring scenes not meant for small children, as they continued to be dragged along by their mother’s choices and the mercilessness of the system.
In April 2013, light flooded the cell and Ruth followed a guard out to an office, where she collected her belongings and signed papers. With her children in tow, she left Lang’ata a “free” woman. But freedom had always been elusive for her, and she found herself again chained to the bottle within days, a prisoner in her own hell. This time she determined to hide her nightly pattern of barhopping better, knowing her relatives would not look kindly on a repeat performance. Having lost all moorings of compassion for Rosemary and Nancy by now, she took to leaving them in half built houses and abandoned buildings all night, ignoring their pleas and cries of fear as she left to drink till sunrise. The two survivors grew thick emotional skin together as they huddled through cold nights in strange places, wondering if the noises they heard would be their end. And through it all, Rosemary did not voice to little Nancy her hidden fear that one day Mami (Kikuyu for Mommy) might not come back for them at all.
This frightful pattern went on for 7 long months before a friend found out about Ruth’s secret and threatened to turn her in to the police. Faced with the choice of keeping her kids or continuing drinking, she abandoned the two at a friend’s house and took flight for good, never to be heard from since. Rosemary and Nancy adjusted to being motherless, finding new tears out of hardened eyes. They were herded next to live with an uncle outside of Maai Mahiu, a dusty truckstop town that did not seem to promise new hope. This uncle was kind, but desperately poor, living in a 7×7 foot shack in total squalor.
Within a short while, he sought help from a nearby Maai Mahiu ministry, who referred him to Naomi’s Village / Cornerstone. Mary Kuria, the Cornerstone Director, visited first, followed, by Julie and Flo. After hearing their stories and seeing Nancy’s burn contracted hand, they contacted the children’s department and within one week the girls came home to Naomi’s Village in mid-January 2014.
The day they arrived, 45 healthy, happy siblings welcomed them in with cheers and singing and cake. They seemed to be like fellow members of a heavenly throng would be, if they saw two tired, beaten, exhausted stragglers coming in the distance and they KNEW their suffering was about to be over. They were rejoicing for Rosemary and Nancy, even if the new ones couldn’t yet understand why, because they were certain good things lay ahead and they remembered themselves what it felt like to be free from the old pain and burdens they used to carry. The fun carried on for hours as staff and kids showed them new beds, teddy bears, and aunts and uncles. They got happier with each day, and seem to now believe that at every turn, the right thing will happen to them.
These two will now grow in the soil of a consistent, nurturing, love born out of a desire to see God magnified above all else. Limits will not be imposed from without, and we are determined to wipe out the ones lying within. Those came from countless hurts caused by circumstances beyond their control, but now by the grace of God, the rest of their story will have a better ending. May it never be forgotten what these two suffered in those three short years, lest we someday take for granted what they have grown up to achieve. Our God is in the details, and he stands out best against the bleakest backdrop of broken humanity.
To learn more about what you can do to help, or how to get involved please visit Naomi’s Village
Read more heartwarming stories of hope from Naomi’s Village, Left Out in the Cold
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