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Various people at different stages of life and age.Grafik: Tobias Schrank © Goethe-Institut

Family Matters - Kenya

Women from Kenya welcome us into their lives of chosen families, refugee status and homelessness. The Covid Pandemic has accelerated many developments in people’s lives; some good and some bad.  A man shares his story of a long distance relationship. Despite the “new norm” and unprecedented events of sadness, one thing remains: the community spirit of humanity.

More about family structures in Kenya

Zainabu

Zainabu is a 39-year-old year mother of three school- going children aged between 8 and 14 years. She was brought up in a small industrial town in an extended family system. She described her family of origin as a conglomeration of multi-generational homesteads. She is a professed Muslim and cohabited with her Christian male partner for seven years before formalizing their marriage which lasted for six years. She has been battling in court to retain the custody of her children. During difficult times, she receives support from her mother and other close relatives to meet basic needs for her family. A close examination of Zainabu’s family history demonstrates the diversity and evolution of family structure throughout an individual’s life course.
 
  • Zainabu together with her three children and other children of her family © Julian Manjahi/Goethe-Institut Nairobi
    Zainabu together with her three children and other children of her family
  • The two sons and the daughter of Zainabu © Julian Manjahi/Goethe-Institut Nairobi
    The two sons and the daughter of Zainabu
  • The children of the family gather around 39-year-old Zainabu © Julian Manjahi/Goethe-Institut Nairobi
    The children of the family gather around 39-year-old Zainabu
  • An illustration of Zainabu and her family © Nzilani Simu/Goethe-Institut
    An illustration of Zainabu and her family
Interview with Zainabu

Arya

Arya is a transgender woman in her mid-30s and is the household-head of a family of choice of 6 queer persons including, one transgender man, one transgender woman, two lesbians, a gender non-conforming individual and a cisgender heterosexual woman. The six persons met each other in LGBTIQ protest parades in Nairobi, Kenya in 2018 and discovered that some of the members lived in the same neighborhood. They discussed the idea of a shared living arrangement for a while, but the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated their plans of co-residence. They have lived together for approximately 6 months and created an intentional family as a matter of choice and by mutual agreement. The chosen family is one of the most marginalized and excluded family structures from mainstream society in Africa in general and in Kenya in particular.
 
  • Arya's queer family gathered in the kitchen © Julian Manjahi/Goethe-Institut Nairobi
    Arya's queer family gathered in the kitchen
  • Arya, the household-head with her family of choice © Julian Manjahi/Goethe-Institut Nairobi
    Arya, the household-head with her family of choice
  • An illustration of Arya and her family © Nzilani Simu/Goethe-Institut
    An illustration of Arya and her family
Interview with Arya

Lucy

Lucy is a South Sudanese refugee. She is 47 years of age, a widow and a foster-mother of 5 refugee children. Lucy is self-employed in the clothing industry, stitching women’s and children’s clothing and upholstery. She married her late husband at the age of 20 years in 1993 and one year later, she and her husband were forced to flee to Nairobi, Kenya as refugees from Sudan due to the long civil war. Her marriage lasted for 13 years until her husband died in 2006; the couple was childless during their marriage.  After her husband’s death, Lucy decided to establish her own family by sharing her life with five foster refugee children from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The lived experience by Lucy demonstrates how civil conflict and political instability can negatively impact family stability and resilience.
 
  • Lucy with one of her five refugee children. They hold a portrait of the deceased husband © Julian Manjahi/Goethe-Institut Nairobi
    Lucy with one of her five refugee children. They hold a portrait of the deceased husband
  • Lucy and her "daughter" with their dog © Julian Manjahi/Goethe-Institut Nairobi
    Lucy and her "daughter" with their dog
  • Old family pictures with Lucy's husband who died in 2006 © Julian Manjahi/Goethe-Institut Nairobi
    Old family pictures with Lucy's husband who died in 2006
  • An illustration of Lucy and her family © Nzilani Simu/Goethe-Institut
    An illustration of Lucy and her family
Interview with Lucy

Mary

Mary is 23 years of age and a single mother of a two months old daughter. They are living on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya. She was born of a single mother with five siblings in Nakuru town. Mary moved to Nairobi in March 2020 in search of a better livelihood due to poverty in her home. At the time of leaving her home town, Mary was five months’ pregnant with her first child who was born in Nairobi under difficult circumstances. Mary considers her fellow street persons as her family, describing the older street persons as her parents and the younger as her siblings. She said the extended street family often support each other during the most difficult situations by pooling their resources together.
 
  • Several people sitting together on a street in Kenya's capital Nairobi © Julian Manjahi/Goethe-Institut Nairobi
    Several people sitting together on a street in Kenya's capital Nairobi
  • Mary and a member of her family living on the street © Julian Manjahi/Goethe-Institut Nairobi
    Mary and a member of her family living on the street
  • Mary with her two months old child in her arms © Julian Manjahi/Goethe-Institut Nairobi
    Mary with her two months old child in her arms
  • An illustration of Mary and her baby © Nzilani Simu/Goethe-Institut
    An illustration of Mary and her baby
Interview with Mary

PHILLIP

Phillip is a 44 year old husband of one wife and the father of four children. He is a professed Christian by religious affiliation and currently works as a motorcycle taxi operator. His wife lives in their rural village to monitor the construction of their permanent home on ancestral land. Phillip visits his family every fortnight.
  • Phillip holds the picture of his family in his hands © Julian Manjahi/Goethe-Institut Nairobi
    Phillip holds the picture of his family in his hands
  • An illustration of Phillip and his family © Nzilani Simu/Goethe-Institut
    An illustration of Phillip and his family
  Interview with Phillip

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