02 March 2021

Rukhiya’s story, part II: Finding family transformed my future

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re sharing the stories of remarkable women who are part of the global campaign to end the use of orphanages by strengthening and supporting families. Today, Rukhiya Budden leads what she describes as a very blessed and lucky life, with a loving family and a beautiful home. But her life certainly didn’t start out this way Rukhiya survived a harrowing childhood in an orphanage in Kenya to become a passionate advocate for an end to the institutionalisation of children worldwide.

In this second part of her story, Rhukiya describes how finding a new family freed her from the orphanage and transformed her life.

Rhukiya Budden

My sister and I lived in the orphanage for nearly ten years, just surviving day to day, never feeling safe, let alone loved or even seen. And then our salvation came in the shape of a very unlikely guardian angel. He was a former World War II Japanese fighter pilot called Tomiji Minigowa. He had ended up in Nairobi and was leading a kind of hippy existence there. We would pass his house on the way to the mosque and we became friends with him. He offered to sponsor our education but my sister and I said, “No! We want you to foster us. We want to live together like a family.”


“We loved living with Tomiji because it felt like we were a family. We ate breakfast at a table for the first time in our lives”


Tomji was horrified at first! He laughed and said, “No, no, no!” but we were determined to get out of that place. We persuaded the people in charge and they got social services to come and check Tomiji was OK. After that, we were allowed to move out to live in a rented apartment with him and our lives changed completely.   

We loved living with Tomiji because it felt like we were a family. We ate breakfast at a table for the first time in our lives, we watched movies together, he taught us how to make Japanese food and how to play mah-jong.


Rukhiya and her daughters with her foster father, Tomiji

Rukhiya and her daughters with her foster father, Tomiji


Tomiji is my hero because without him I don’t think I would be where I am today. He is the first person who ever expressed a sense of the future to me: “You could do this, you could do that,” he told me. He encouraged us to try to make the best out of our lives. His goal was for us to be independent, to travel and study and eventually, with his help, that’s what we did.


“I didn’t really know how to look after a child because no one had shown me love and care when I was growing up.”


In the final part of Rukhiya’s story, she explains how her own experience of motherhood has made her more determined than ever to fight for the right of all children to grow up in families, never orphanages.

Read part I of Rhuikiya’s story: Growing up in an orphanage shaped my life
> Read part III of Rhuikiya’s story: I’m not interested in making orphanages nicer places for children


Too often, the voices and stories of women, especially those involved in the care of children, is marginalised and hidden. Throughout March, we’ll be sharing stories that demonstrate how the empowerment of women also helps to ensure children grow up with the love of a family and the safety of home.

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