She warmly receives us in her homespun house in Neboi, Mandera town. Smile plastered all over her face, she talked to us and asked us about ourselves.
Within a few minutes, children flooded the compound. Delight and amazement acknowledged our presence.
Hodan Abdullahi, 35, is a mother of 19 children. She has, however, lost four. “I feel good because Allah has blessed me with many children. Bringing them up is the major hurdle for me”, she says, sitting on a black-metal bed, surrounded by her children.
Apart from two sets of twins, the rest are single births – eight girls and eleven boys. The oldest is 20 while the youngest is 6 years.
Food and education
By the grace of the almighty, kids are blessings. Feeding and educating them, she says, is a thorn in the flesh. Dedicating her time to care, love and bring them up is a lifetime achievement.
“If you have like 5 children you can easily, through struggle, educate them but in my case, it is never easy”, she adds.
Taking care of her sister’s 7 children also means more mouth to fend for. “Sometimes the house becomes like a lodging because of the large number of household members. I also have grandchildren at home”, she adds. Her sister and her last husband support her financially.
Feisal Ali, the firstborn, form four is happy that he has many siblings.
“Am okay with the fact that I have many brothers and sisters and I study. I usually visit my mother during school holidays and the major problem we face is getting school fees”.
His younger brother, who dropped out of school due to school fees works as a turn boy.
She considers having many children as an investment and hopes to sire more if a chance presents itself.
No family planning
“Am not planning to use family planning and if Allah gives me more children I won’t decline it. If I get someone who can support me I won’t mind marrying again and having more children”.
The last born of a family of 9, Hodan, was born and brought up in Bulla Society, Mandera town. At the age of 13, she was married off which lasted for 10 years with 8 children.
The second marriage ended with 3 while the final marriage ended with 8 children.
An aspect she wished for is having a fatherly figure for the children. “External support is always limited with no father at home and it also demoralizes the children who could have had a person to look up to”, she adds.
She is optimistic about her children going to school, a chance she missed at a tender age. She, however, managed to see them through school – 7 in primary and one in secondary.
“I don’t want my children to be illiterate like me. For them to be educated I should struggle day and night and give them their basic right to education so that, in future, they won’t be suffering”, Hodan says.
To fend for the large family and keep her children’s dream of success, Hodan took odd jobs including shopkeeping and artisanal mining – handpicking rocks – in Isiolo County.
It didn’t last for long. “Leaving girls alone at home, staying away for several months is dangerous because anything can happen to them. I constantly advise them to stay indoors”, she says adding that the mining activity consumes three to four months.
The mining job, at one point in time, left her injured and hospitalized for 3 months.
“Well-wishers footed my medical bill but currently I cannot work there since my movement is restricted by the injury. This also reduced by earnings”, she explains showing a picture of her on a supporting metal stick.
The land her house stands on belongs to a friend since rent had been an issue.
“In the past, we were chased from a rental house because we couldn’t afford, worse enough, landlords, at times end up putting a padlock at the gate. It happened to us. We were chased from a rental house on numerous occasions”, she recounts.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 2014 Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), women in Kenya currently have an average of 3.9 births.
Women in rural areas have almost 1.5 more children, on average than women in urban areas.
Mandera county has a notably higher total fertility rate of 5.2 than the national ratio of 3.9. Additionally, the northeastern county has an average household size of 6.9 per household.