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Granny’s calling answers cries of orphans and widows



The 75-year-old mother of 10, currently takes care of 36 widows and 38 orphans at her home (Photo: Collins Oduor/Standard)

Florence Atieno walks with a measured gait across her compound at Orongo village in the outskirts of Kisumu County. She stops at intervals to explain a point, before moving on.

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“My neighbours often inquire why I spend my meagre resources on strangers instead of my family,” she says.

She adds: “Some want to know why at my age, I am still involved in philanthropy, yet I am also a widow. I tell them it is a calling.”

The 75-year-old mother of 10, currently takes care of 36 widows and 38 orphans at her home.

Unlike other philanthropists who shout about their activities, Florence does it in complete contrast. Her organisation is hardly known, despite having been actively rescuing widows and orphans for close to 30 years. It started as a prayer group led by a few widows and women suffering marital violence.

Not long after, Florence started taking care of widows and orphans after realising many of them had nowhere to go.

“I started it as a prayer group in 1996 when we formed a group of women and named it Orongo Prayer Group,” she says.

To fund their activities, Florence asked the widows to start income generating projects such as basket weaving and farming.

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The retired primary school teacher says she started the group out of gratitude to God after she miraculously recovered from an ailment that had paralysed her limbs for six years while teaching nursery school pupils at Magadi Primary School in Kisumu.

Carolyne Achieng is one of the widows who was trained by Florence (Photo: Collins Oduor/Standard)

Gratitude to God

“I was paralysed but I kept praying until God healed me because of my faith,” she says.

Florence retired from her teaching career 20 years ago and now depends on farming.

The elderly woman wondered how she would thank God for the healing; then resorted to helping widows and orphans.

Through sharing their experiences, Florence was able to spot widows in dire need. “I started bringing them closer through the prayer group,” she says.

Before she could take in needy widows, Florence who still looks strong and able, says she first focused on helping orphaned children.

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She embarked on looking for orphaned children in 1999 when she went round the village and got a number of them.

“With the help of some women in my group, I found a number of orphaned children but some were very sick. I took them to hospital but the problem was getting money to buy them medicine,” Florence says. This prompted her to get someone to teach her how to making herbal medicine. “The herbal medicine has helped me in treating these children and keeping them healthy,” she says.

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Florence says she later took in 56 widows, whom she has helped develop skills that enable them be self-reliant, by making various items for sale. She admits that although she had the widows in her care, she could not sustain them all with her farming as the area was hit by floods on several occasions.

“Among the widows are those who could make mats, pots and woven baskets among other things, and together we trained the rest, “she says.

Florence says the training transformed lives of those stuck in brewing chang’aa.

The transition fuelled her to go to other villages and look for more widows who needed help.

She talks of one widow in Uyoma, Siaya County named Emma Achieng who lived in a polythene structure after her home was demolished by her in-laws after the death of her husband. She rescued Achieng and brought her to her homestead.

Pointing to an old structure in her compound, Florence says she also extended a hand to disabled widows. 

“We rescued a widow who told us she has been living in distress after her family abandoned her when her husband died,” she says.

Florence says they found the widow living in a deserted house where no one paid her a visit.

She says she was touched by the widow’s situation and decided to bring her home. The widow had narrated to her of how she was raped more than three times by strangers at her deserted home.

The retired teacher says that after sometime she was able to locate the woman’s sister, who later came and took her home and remained with one more disabled widow under her care.

Aside from this, she also reunited other women with their families as others went their own way as they could now fully fend for themselves.

Mary Adhiambo (above), like others, has learnt skills that she can use to generate a small income (Photo: Collins Oduor/Standard)

Human rights

The philanthropist later paid a visit to the Human Rights offices, wanting to garner support for her initiative.

“I went to the human rights office and reported what was happening and later to the Luo council of elders who held a meeting,” she says.

She says that the meeting yielded fruit as they were given 20 iron sheets each for 12 widows, which were used to build new homes for the widows who had no place to go.

From her efforts, five orphans have completed school and three have been able to secure employment, with each having two younger orphans placed under their care.

Fourteen orphans have been enrolled in the university, with 15 others admitted to nearby secondary schools while the rest are in primary school.

Florence says she has been able to raise school fees for these children by the small income made from farming, selling herbal medicines, mats, pots, woven baskets and sweets.

She says that well-wishers have also extended a helping hand that has enabled her pay school fees for some of the orphans. From her savings, she has managed to buy books for the needy children and cater to their other needs.

Currently, Florence has 12 orphans living with her, while 36 others live with some of the widows she helped reunite with their families.

She advises women to focus on building their homes by working hard. She also talks of self-identification. “A woman should know who she is and focus on building her home and supporting her husband. A woman should also work harder,” Florence says.

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