Disabled street family’s journey of hope
It is time to move on. Joseph Wambugu stands on his one leg and takes the baby from his wife, Judy Waithera.
She clambers from the ground onto a wheelchair using her hands for support, and receives the child back into her arms.
As they move from their resting spot under a tree near Nairobi’s Laico Regency Hotel to Uhuru Park, across Uhuru Highway — begging for money from motorists and pedestrians — the unusual symbiotic relationship between them becomes clear.
Since he has only a right leg, Mr Wambugu needs support to move around. The wheelchair offers just that. And Ms Waithera’s legs are too weak to walk. He pushes the wheelchair as he hops on his leg.
“Without her I don’t know what I would do,” he says in Sheng.
But mobility was more difficult three years ago before Ms Waithera got the wheelchair which was a donation. The two — who say they are in their 30s — have been living as man and wife for seven years.
With no fixed abode and relying solely on alms, they have found a place they call home near the General Post Office in the city centre.
They even have a stove and utensils “to cook porridge” for their five-month-old baby girl.
Every morning they start on a day-long journey of hope around Uhuru Highway and Tea Room stage, begging for money.
Mr Wambugu says he was born in Nairobi’s Kawangware to a mother who worked at a watch shop near Jamia Mosque.
“She abandoned my father and left us wandering in the streets,” he says. His mother later died.
Mr Wambugu lost his leg to a neglected bruise suffered while criss-crossing the city as a street child. Doctors amputated the diseased leg when he finally went to hospital.
Ms Waithera was born in Nairobi’s Mathare slum and was also abandoned by her mother. Her legs were crippled by polio when she was four.
“Life has been hard. Sometimes we drink alcohol because of stress,” she says.
The two never went to school. They say they have four children in a care home. Baby Beatrice Wanini, who they move around with will follow the same path.
“When she reaches an age where she knows her mother and father, she will go to school. We can be visiting her later, like we do with the others,” Mr Wambugu says.
In the streets, the threat of theft is ever present. Anything that can be stolen will be stolen — including a baby.
Days before the interview, the baby was snatched by a woman who attempted to flee but was accosted by a matatu crew.
Besides begging, Mr Wambugu washes cars for a fee. Ms Waithera’s biggest wish is a family house to live in; while Mr Wambugu hopes to be employed someday at a car-wash yard or as a driver.