Hardley Songole Sinjaa met Busu only a year ago.
He was doing some plumbing work and needed extra help with the digging. Hardley’s right-hand man brought young Busu around. He was young but knew how to work and was not expensive.
“I wondered how such a young man was coming to do this work,” remembers Hardley.
He asked around. He knew Busu’s father. He asked Busu, who was living with his grandmother without his parents in their tiny village of Mahanga in western rural Kenya.
When Busu and his elder brother were younger, their parents separated. The mother went to another town. Busu’s father smokes a lot of marijuana. It has affected him greatly. His father remarried and the stepmother mistreated them. They were younger than 10. His father was on drugs and mistreated them for anything small.
Busu and his brother ran away. They chose to become street kids in the city (Eldoret) rather than stay there. At some point, they discovered a hauling truck was coming this way — to Kaimosi and Mahanga — and they hitched a ride on it. They knew their grandma lived here.
She took them in, but she’s disabled. She has a very hunched back and is unable to care for them, so Busu had to fend for himself and find food for his grandmother.
“But they were happy because they had shelter, and people were not abusing them,” Hardley says.
Busu asked people for food, and did small jobs for something to eat. People started to give him responsibilities: Do this job before school and I’ll give you some money and food. Sometimes Busu would go to school. Other times, he would work.
“That’s when I noticed he was passing through a difficult life. He had no support,” says Hardley. “This is too much for such a young person.”
Hardley talked to his wife, Lydiah, and his mother, Rose, about changing things for Busu.
They gave Busu a home.
Busu is now in school full time. He should be in high school for his age, but he lost time. He’s in class 7.
He’s now a part of Hardley and Lydiah’s growing family. They pay for his clothes, his uniform, his supplies and fees for activities, and will try to help him get to college, but that will be difficult. Busu lives in a room in the back part of the house, and is responsible for cleaning his own room and his bathroom. He helps with chores but does not work for them; He’s 16, so he needs to continue to learn to do things for himself, says Lydiah.
It’s not very difficult to take care of him, says Lydiah: "His demands are not much.” Here, he can go to school regularly and learn discipline. He can see their sons, Wesley and Cerrullo, go to school. Here, he can see another way to live, she says.
“We felt, if we can bhelp him to have a more decent life in the future, then we would have also played a part as a family. We may not be able to help so many people, but this one, maybe we can help.”
I see him bringing the cow and calf in to the barn when it rains, and feeding them maize in the morning. Sometimes he watches Nigerian soap operas with Alulu, Moses and me. My last evening in Mahanga, Lydiah tells him I have not tasted roasted corn yet and he goes to the field to find two ripe ears and then spends 30 minutes roasting them on a traditional fire next to the chicken bedding, a few kids watching, including me.
It blows my mind to think of the stories everyone carries with them; the everyday testaments of the will to survive, and generosity that are out there. Just ask a question.
It blows my mind to think of raising a 16-year-old kid as not that difficult, and I guess it isn’t. Food, shelter, love, some guidance and go to school. Busu has to be here at 7:30 PM. They set some rules. They want to show him discipline. Busu is used to taking care of himself and is grateful for the support. It blows my mind, and opens it. My mother was orphaned and their story really settles into me.
There are so many things we aren’t using, Hardley told me. Things they don’t need. Others need them. He was lucky:
“My father looked after me well, this old man. He sent me to school and gave me protection. I see other children and there is a mother not there, there’s a father not there, not even to help with school work or a pencil.”
“Generally, for me,” says Hardley, “I feel every human being can feel what I feel. If he’s hungry, I’m hungry and I don’t want to miss lunch … If you can help one soul, it is better than living some other way. He doesn’t have to be disadvantaged the rest of this life.”