On the front lines of relief work in a number of African countries, Margaret Njuguna ’94 was increasingly troubled by the sight of disabled children and adults left to fend for themselves in the cities and villages she visited.
In response she founded the En-Gedi Home for Children in the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, a place that rescues children with severe disabilities.
“These are children that a lot of people don’t like, including their own parents,” she said. “We run a rescue ministry to help children escape from confinement and neglect and to save children who have been left in the jungle to be eaten by hyenas. It is a call God gave me.”
Njuguna currently has 12 children in her home; none of them can walk and just one of them can talk.
Under her wings, these children have freedom, love and care.
En-Gedi is almost three years old, begun after Njuguna spent the previous 27 years in the employ of World Renew, the global relief ministry of the Christian Reformed Church.
Njuguna was trained as a finance and administrative manager—doing office work—in World Renew’s Kenya and Uganda offices. She wanted to do something more. In those years, she met many Calvin alumni employed by the organization, and an alumna convinced her that Calvin College was an option.
“I came to Calvin and can say that it was the best decision I ever made,” she said. “I found the Calvin community to be very inclusive and welcoming, from the students to the professors. I found I belonged to a very Christian community.”
She graduated from Calvin with a group major in social sciences.
“I learned that all people, regardless of their backgrounds, are made by God,” she said. “Every human being is made in the image of Christ.”
After graduation, Njuguna went back to Africa for World Renew, this time in Tanzania, to continue developing communities. In time, however, the call to advocate for the disabled led her to a new ministry.
“I wanted to find out why people would hide children with disabilities, why they would want to sacrifice them, why they would want to neglect such children to death,” she said.
In Kenyan culture, many people believe that having a child with disabilities is a curse or related to witchcraft—the children have been bewitched.
It is her challenge to diminish the hold that superstition has on families who have disabled children, to see the image of God in them rather than an evil spirit.
“It is a dark world,” she said. “When I got started I told God that I want to be a channel through which he can shine his light into the world of darkness.”
This is difficult work—both the daily caring for special-needs children and the quest to alter long-held beliefs and perceptions.
Njuguna thinks the light is starting to penetrate.
“Slowly, slowly parents who did not want to even look at their children who are disabled, are now visiting and they can even hold their children,” she said.
En-Gedi is not an adoption agency. Every child Njuguna takes in will either be cared for indefinitely or—her great hope—parents and relatives will eventually want to take their children back after accepting them and after they have learned how to care for them well.
She knows this is a project for the long haul. Njuguna believes it will take generations to fully overcome current prejudices.
But she is preparing for that future, expanding her own facility to take more children and creating the climate for other homes across Kenya to be established.
“We are heading there,” she said. “I trust that God will continue to shine his light.”