The priest scatters the first handful of red dirt onto the small wooden coffin. Mournful song rises up through the trees and children sob quietly into their sleeves; their eyes red and distant. They are gathered to say farewell to Munene, a child at the orphanage and a “beloved brother” of all who live there, who has died of AIDS. Through this one ritual, the shadow of disease that so many other of the orphans live under becomes that much darker.
Before Munene’s passing unseats their world, the children of the AINA children’s home measure out their lives in a quiet routine of play and study. Marbles knock in the playground and the daily jaunt to school is a procession of laughter and games. However, once inside the class room, typical lessons like religious education merge into a more specialised curriculum, the teacher informing the children on how HIV is transmitted from person to person.
Beneath their smiling faces lie layers of trauma, each child harboring stories of loss and abandonment. Some children have no parents, whereas others, like Sharon Kinya, live in limbo. She resides with the other orphans but has a living mother who is too ill to take care of her. The tears that stream down her face as she visits her sick mother speak of the pain of having nowhere to truly call home.
After the shock of Munene’s death, and the catharsis of the funeral, each child must start to come to terms with their own circumstances and map out a future in which they can thrive, regardless of their disease. One child would like to turn his health struggles into a life of helping others: “If I go to the university, I'll study medicine. Doctors are beautiful people. They save lives.”
A beautiful coming of age story, where relationships and aspirations flourish within the distinct culture of rural Kenya.