Rukhiya: My Story

Rukhiya re visiting the  orphanage in Kenya where she grew up, May 2018


Rukhiya Budden is the first to say that today, she leads a very privileged life. She lives in a lovely home in Buckinghamshire with her husband and their three beautiful daughters. But her own childhood could not have been more different.

Poverty and mental illness meant that, when she was five years old, Rukhiya’s mother felt she had no choice but to leave Rukhiya and her sister in an orphanage on the edge of one of the largest slums in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.

“The day she left us there is one I will never forget,” Rukhiya recalls. “I just had such a feeling of hopelessness. I remember hoping and praying that she would come back and get me.”

It didn’t take Rukhiya long to realise that the orphanage was not a safe place. She saw what happened to girls there at the hands of the older boys and some of the staff. Her response was to be very quiet and stop eating.  “I wanted to be as small as possible, to be invisible,” she remembers. She became anorexic but her condition went undiagnosed for years, until she was an adult and wanted to have a family of her own.

Rukhiya has terrible memories of the abuse and neglect she and the other children suffered during the decade she spent in the orphanage. Like the time she saw a toddler die after falling into a tin bath of boiling water. No one tried to console her or help her come to terms with what she had witnessed. Instead she was reprimanded, “Let that be a lesson to you! See what happens when you don’t do what you’re told!” the staff said.

Rukhiya and her sister survived ten years in the orphanage before help came in the unlikely form of a former Japanese World War II fighter pilot called Tomiji. “We would pass his house on the way to the mosque and we became friends,” Rukhiya remembers. “He offered to sponsor us but my sister and I said “No! We want you to foster us so that we can leave the orphanage and live with you!” Tomiji took some persuading but once the authorities had carried out the necessary checks, Rukhiya and her sister were allowed to move into Tomiji’s apartment.

She says this was the moment that changed their lives. “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 and he taught us to play mah-jong.”

Rukhiya calls Tomiji her hero because he was the first person who ever expressed a sense of the future to her, encouraging her to make the best of her life.

“His goal was for us to be independent, to travel and study and eventually, with his help, that’s what we did”.

Rukhiya moved to London in her late teens and after many struggles and setbacks, made a life for herself in the UK. She met her husband through work and together they have created a beautiful home and a loving family of their own.

I thank God every day because I know that I am one of the lucky ones,” Rukhiya says with conviction. “Most children who grow up in orphanages really struggle to build any kind of a life for themselves as adults.  I know this for a fact because of what’s happened to the other children from the orphanage, including some of my siblings, who I’m still in touch with back in Kenya.”

In May 2018, Rukhiya retuned to the orphanage to make a film about her experiences for Hope and Homes for Children.

“It was very, very hard to walk through those gates again. But now I know what needs to be done. I’m not interested in making orphanages nicer places for children or giving them better clothes or school equipment. We need to get to the core of the problem. We need to eliminate orphanages,” she argues, “because I know from personal experience that children need families not orphanages.”

“Hope and Homes for Children has proved that this approach is not only right but it’s also achievable,” Rukhiya explains.

Like Rukhiya, most children who live in orphanages (80%) have families who could care for them if they had the right support. Hope and Homes for Children is succeeding in closing orphanages around the world by reuniting children with their families and supporting those families to stay together, by finding safe and loving foster or adoptive families for children who cannot return to their birth families and by establishing services that strengthen families to prevent children entering orphanages in the first place.

“By supporting the work of Hope and Homes for Children you, like me, can be part of the growing global movement that is going to make orphanages unacceptable, that is going to make orphanages history within our life time,” Rukhiya concludes.


By Isobel Eaton, Writer and Story Gatherer