Last week, my mother was travelling back home from an engagement in Kitui town when a pedestrian meandered onto the road without warning. Luckily, my mother’s car only grazed her finger. However, my mother took the woman to hospital where she was given a clean bill of health. That should have been the end of this encounter but mum decided to take the woman to her house for overnight observation. Although mum didn’t have to do all this, she was fueled by kindness to go the extra mile.
Such is the kindness that needs to be rekindled in our families and societies. According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, at least one in every eighteen households in Kenya is headed by someone who has been divorced or separated. This represents a 16.5 percent rise within a decade.
In addition to an upsurge of divorce and separation cases, the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) revealed that over 40 percent of women have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Further to this, according to the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA), 13% of Kenyans who drink alcohol have developed dependency.
All these societal challenges are symptoms of broken families.
Last week, I came face to face with the specter of broken families and its effect on our youth. I held a discussion with the Principal of a leading Secondary School and what I learned from her was quite disheartening. She told me about cases in which the conflict between students and their parents is so venomous that the students express a desire to kill their fathers or siblings.
Clearly, students carry with them a lot of distress from their homes. It’s no wonder that in October 2021, a record 35 schools were set on fire by students. Many of their families back home are already on fire that keeps getting worse.
In yet another case of a broken family as featured through media a 90-year old lady was kicked out of her house by her own grandson due to a land squabble. What heartlessness! In the same vein, it’s not uncommon for elderly people in Kilifi or Kisii counties to be killed by their own kith and kin ostensibly because they are witchdoctors. What cruelty!
Evidently, the Kenyan family is under attack and we must do whatever it takes to restore it.
Dr. John M. Gottman, a renowned family psychologist has found that children from divorced families are more likely to experience emotional problems, behavioral problems, and academic problems. Such children need our support, not vilification or victimization.
For us to heal our broken families, parents, teachers and students will have to reclaim their responsibility of rebuilding the family unit.
In 2021, renowned psychologist Dr. Frank Njenga teamed up with Kenya Primary Schools Head Teachers Association to advocate for teachers’ mental health to be prioritized. This is critical because teachers are in many respects co-custodians of students’ mental health. In this regard, teachers can greatly support the rebuilding of families.
Ultimately, the family unit lies in the hands of parents and children themselves. Children, especially those in their double digits, should understand that they are not just passive members of their families. While it’s not easy, they can pick the broken pieces of their families and build better, brighter lives. Because it takes a village to raise a child, our children should understand that they are not alone. They have an extended family and a wider community that is there for them.
Finally, parents should never forget that they are the primary custodians of the family unit. The wellbeing of their families — not their jobs, communities, or anything else — is their most important responsibility.
Indeed, I dare say that many of the problems in our society and our politics, will be solved if we rebuild the family unit. We can do so by recapturing and nurturing critical family values like the kindness that my mother extended to a stranger last week. Think green, act green!
He is the Founder and Chairperson of Green Africa Foundation, an organization that was founded in the year 2000 that champions Sustainable Development in Africa.