The day starts early for 12-year-old Kikelomo Famuyawa. She gets up first, has her bath then runs another one for her two-year-old sister Victoria who suffers from hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and has severe learning difficulties.
Then Kikelomo – known as Kiki to her family – helps her mother Anna, who is almost blind, to bathe the little girl, taking particular care of the tube inserted in her head to drain away the liquid.
“I dress my sister and put her nappy on, make her breakfast cereal and prepare her milk and her nappies and wipes for the day. I show mum where everything is so she can cope while I am at school before I leave the house at eight,” she says.
“After school I cook the tea, maybe rice, noodles or chips and sausages. I do some cleaning and laundry and wash the dishes. I help my mum put Victoria to bed, get her nappies ready and put her milk by the microwave so all mum has to do is push the buttons to warm it up. At the weekend I go shopping with mum because she can’t see what to get without me.”
“It keeps me very busy,” says Kiki. “I have time to do my homework but not for anything else. I’m OK with it. I like caring for mum and my sister because I get to play a lot with my sister and to talk to my mum all the time so I feel very close to them. I like cleaning up, too, because then everything looks good and it makes my mum happy.
“Sometimes I wish I could go out with my friends or have them to stay but I don’t feel jealous of them. I think I am a bit more grown up than them. They don’t look after their parents. Some of them don’t even know how to cook. I don’t tell them I can’t come out with them because I am a carer. I just say I am busy.
“I’m not sure why but I think it’s because I’m afraid they might make some comments about my family and I don’t want that.”
After spending many months on the waiting list, Kiki began attending her local Carers’ Centre every Friday evening two months ago and says it has made a huge difference to her life. She plays sports such as tennis, basketball, football and cricket and does indoor activities such as arts and crafts and cooking and she will get the chance to go on adventure trips.
But perhaps the most valuable thing is that she meets other children in the same position so she doesn’t feel “different” or have to hide who she really is. There are adults to whom she can turn for advice or support, both practical and emotional, and readymade friends she can talk to if it’s all getting a bit much.
She also gets a brief break from her family responsibilities in which she can just enjoy being a 12-year-old child. “I get two hours to myself, relaxing and not looking after anyone,” Kiki says.
Kiki became the linchpin of the family two years ago when Anna, 34, started losing her sight. “I rely on Kiki a lot, even for simple things like telling me when the clothes I have put on are not quite clean or if I’ve put something on inside out,” she says.
“I have been surprised at how good she is. I wish she did not have to do so much but she never complains. She is really understanding, saying to me, ‘Mum, it’s not your fault you can’t see’. I could not manage to look after Victoria without her. She is a gift.”
Original article written by Gill Swain, Daily Express, June 2007