What you need to know:
- When I quit teaching, I found that things were indeed very different on the ground.
- While I had hoped that I would be able to attract well-wishers, I swiftly found out that this was not easy to do.
My name is David Munyiri Thagana. I am a 57-year-old former secondary school teacher and father of four: three biological children and one adopted son.
I have been married to Joyce Njeri, a former teacher for 28 years. Our marriage has flourished on love and a friendship that started when we first met at Siriba Teachers’ College.
On February 21, 1993, we were blessed with our first born son Timothy. On September 10, 1994 and September 26, 2001, we were blessed with our two daughters, Grace and Mary.
Two years later, Joyce and I took in our fourth son, Dennis. We adopted him at fourteen months after his parents succumbed to HIV/Aids. Today, he is a Form Two student in Thika.
I grew up in Raichiri village in Ndaragwa, Nyandarua County. Life was not easy at all. There were five of us in our family. My father worked in Nairobi as a hawker while my mother was a stay-at-home wife and farmer.
Farming, though, was almost an activity in vain in the plains of Ndaragwa. I remember how in my primary school days at Raichiri Primary School, my siblings and I would walk for 10 to 20 kilometres looking for farms to till or harvest so that we could earn a few coins to buy shoes and clothes.
I came to Nairobi to look for a job after my A levels and got a position as a casual labourer at the then East Africa Fine Spinners in the Industrial Area. My work was to offload bales of cotton from trucks and push them by trolley to the store and, or the processing machines.
After a month, I was promoted to the position of an assistant storekeeper where I earned Sh 230 per week. Despite this promotion, I kept my ear on the ground in search of new opportunities.
In December 1985, an opportunity to attend interviews for a teaching course popped up. The interviews were being held at the current Technical University of Kenya offices in Nairobi. I passed and joined Siriba Teachers College in January 1986.
Back then, joining a teaching college was a sure bet that you’d graduate with a job. I saw this as my golden opportunity to escape the poverty that had followed me like a shadow and help my siblings.
However, after getting a job as a teacher at Karima Girls, I only practised teaching for 10 years.
During my teaching career at Karima, I interacted with numerous grandparents who were taking care of HIV/Aids orphans. Their struggle to raise their grandchildren stirred my conscience. I would often find myself crying whenever I interacted with them.
In the early months of 1997, I began to wonder how many other HIV/Aids positive orphans were struggling out there without even a relative to take care of them.
Back then, the stigma that was attached to HIV/Aids was immeasurable. Contracting HIV was like a death sentence. People avoided you like a plague. Relatives hardly wanted anything to do with you. This drove me to lend a hand.
I formed a group of grandparents and relatives who were taking care of HIV/Aids positive orphans and started a merry-go-round. Everyone contributed whatever they could. I would then solicit for top-ups from my colleagues and friends.
We would then use the money to buy chickens, goats, and dairy cows which would be given to each member in the group on a merry-go-round basis.
Willing to pay the price
During that year, while attending a teaching seminar at Pangani Girls, the speaker said something that nudged me. He said that the greatness of a man is determined by the cause he lives for and the price he is willing to pay for its achievement.
These words kept reverberating in my heart. I felt like I had found my purpose in life. I had found the cause for which I wanted to live.
On September 1, 1997, I wrote my resignation letter to the Teachers Service Commission with a three-month notice. Not everyone applauded my decision to quit and start helping HIV-positive orphans.
My colleagues thought that I had a socio-physiological problem. They recommended that I see a psychiatrist or a counsellor. Within the three months that I served my notice, they constantly tried to talk me out of the resignation. They even sent delegations of friends and colleagues from other schools to talk me out of it.
When their efforts failed, some resorted to threats. They told me that I should never seek their help once I went broke and needed money and food to cater for my family.
But I stuck to my guns. Perhaps I could have doubted my resolution had my wife not been understanding. She knew that I had a passion to help the people. And even though she had her doubts, she ultimately decided to support me.
When I quit teaching, I found that things were indeed very different on the ground. I had to cope with the reality of unemployment. I would no longer have a salary coming in at the end of the month.
While I had hoped that I would be able to attract well-wishers, I swiftly found out that this was not easy to do. Not too many people were willing to lend a hand, especially to a cause that most people associated with promiscuity.
You see, at the time, HIV/Aids was generalised as a product of promiscuity. But I did not give up.
In 2001, I relocated from Tumaini, North Kinangop to Nairobi and converted my Tumaini house into a children’s home.
Today, I run eight homes which host 309 children. I have also started a foster care program where some of the children I am unable to accommodate are taken in by foster parents.
Out of the eight children’s homes, we have those that cater exclusively for HIV-positive boys, some that cater exclusively for HIV-positive girls, and some that cater for orphans who lost their parents to Aids but who aren’t HIV-positive. This helps identify and meet each child’s specific needs with ease.
These homes are located in Naivasha, Mai Mahiu, Nyahururu, Karima Ndunyu Njeru, Machakos, Tharaka Nithi, and Joska.
In addition to running my children’s homes, I am also a certified Christian leader. I am the Bishop of Glory Outreach Assembly (GOA). I also serve as the General Secretary for the Federation of Evangelical and Indigenous Christian Churches of Kenya (FEICCK).
These roles are not farfetched. Between 1998 and 2009, I studied theology at the East African School of Theology and the Beulah Heights Bible College in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. I graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Bible and Theology.
In August 2012, I graduated with a Master of Arts in Leadership from the Pan African Christian University.
While I do not regret the choice I made, I cannot say it has been a walk in the park. I have had some low moments in this journey.
The most depressing moments have involved children succumbing to HIV complications. When I take in a child, give them care and raise their hope in life, then end up losing them to HIV/Aids at a young age is devastating.
It is also very heart-breaking when I am sometimes forced to turn away a needy child because I have limited resources.
In the same vein, leaving behind a career I worked so hard to attain, and transitioning to a Good Samaritan has not been easy.
It is never easy to work without knowing where your livelihood will come from or being fully aware that there will be no pension or allowance at the end of it all when there could have been.
But God’s grace has been sufficient. My family’s support and the warm and beautiful smiles I get from tens of my children have been a blessing. What more can a father ask for?
Remember when a child belonged to the village? When everyone considered every child their own? I keep praying that we’d go back to that spirit of responsibility and parenthood.
Our children are our future, regardless of what afflicts them.