07 September, 2010

Margaret Musimbi


In Kenya when you ask a woman how many children she has she only tells you of the ones she gave birth to. But by asking the follow up question of 'How many orphans' you can get a more accurate picture of exactly how many children one mama takes care of. Margaret has 5 children and 4 orphans in her charge and brings a whole new meaning to the term 'single mother'. Her husband left her after she moved to Nairobi 10 years ago and since has been raising and supporting the 9 on her own. She is excited about the new constitution and what it means for herself as a single mother. There is a birth clause that if implemented could help many of the mama's in Kawangware and Kenya. Many of the 'boyfriends or husbands' of these women can and do walk away from the family and sneer any sort of responsibility for their children. This clause could mean that the fathers of their children would be held financially responsible for their child's well-being. It wouldn't be a huge compensation but enough to help educate the kids. Margaret has thought long and hard over this clause and is excited for its possibility. She says repeatedly that everything helps no matter how small or insignificant it could be.

Elizabeth Mmaitsi


"It used to be like a dictatorship in Kenya, but now we are seen", Elizabeth says with authority. There was more police harassment, more corruption and those at the grassroots were forgotten. Now, with the new constitution, she believes things have changed. There is a restored faith in the political leaders that peace will continue and build. Kenyans had been promised a new constitution since independence and this month they finally got what they had been longing for. I ask her what she thought of the celebration that took place on August 27th and she says it was a very happy time but that the only bad thing was that al-Bashir showed up. Omar al-Bashir is Sudan's President that has a ICC warrant out for his arrest for crimes against humanity. Elizabeth was under the impression he has already been arrested and sees this instance as a way the celebration was tainted, but as she smiles and shakes her head, she says that it's not important. Change is. The only thing is that there is a new constitution and it means things will progress positively. That's it. There's no need to say to more.

Mary Kavere


Mary's story is not unlike many of the other women in the WEMA group. She left her home in Western Kenya to come to Nairobi to find work. She came with her husband and children, only to be left alone when he passed away to find a way in which to maintain her family unit. Right now she is taking care of two orphans and three grandchildren and is unwavering in giving them an education. School fees for primary school are 2200 ksh per term, with three terms in a year (approximately $82USD per year). This may not seem like a lot to those in the States but for someone who makes less than two dollars a day, those fees can be daunting, but not for Mary. She makes sacrifices for those under her charge and sees that an education must be given at all costs. "How will they have a better life if i do not give them this", she says when discussing the financial strain of educating her family. They will have a better quality of life through education. Mary has no doubt of that.

Rukia Wambundo


Rukia wears many hats. That of WEMA group member, mother of 12 children, community worker, entrepreneur and teacher are just a few of them. She has made many crafts in the past but struggled with finding a market for them. She currently sells soap, is a seamstress and weaves baskets in addition to the paper bead making. She does not hoard the knowledge she has but is consistently going to other women's groups to share and teach income generating activities. She hopes to one day soon to go back to Mombasa, where she was born, and set up a shop on land promised through the new constitution. She knows things will change with its implementation and one thing she dreams of is that her daughter will someday be a member of parliament. "It's not that shenzi of a dream" she explains, but it has to happen to someone's daughter, so why not hers? My thoughts exactly.

Conslata Anyango


"I'm a mother" says Conslata with her head held high. That's an understatement. With 9 children and 5 orphans in her charge, Conslata is a mother times 14. She has seen Kenya through many changes and originally came to Nairobi to work in 1983. My interview with her took the longest of everyone in the WEMA group. This mama can talk and would even put my mom, a notorious chatty Cathy, to shame. We talked about the Swiss and French families she used to work for, the death of a child, her hope for her great-grandchildren, the new constitution, providing without a husband and much much more. Her hard work, dedication and resilience not only make her a force to be reckoned with but someone who speaks with authority and understanding. She believes the new constitution, when implemented, will bring more jobs so that her children can have opportunities she didn't. Conslata doesn't mind the daily struggle to sustain herself and her family but instead sees the challenge as the opportunity her children and her children's children will have that she didn't.

Absolom Kisai


Most Kenyan men do not like to share work alongside women. They see it as beneath them but Absolom, not only is used to it but sees the positives of working alongside women. As a health promoter in the community he sees the women, not the men, as accepting of their HIV status and willing to take advice on how their quality of life can improve. Not only that but women are a lot of times sole providers and are the ones that can improve the families circumstances. By having his role in the community as well as being part of the WEMA group, Absolom hopes to be an example for other men. The norm is for men to only take certain jobs that are considered 'masculine' but by modelling a good work ethic that is not based upon those roles he hopes to changes things. He doesn't mind working hard trying to provide for his family but accepts his role and the work he does. Like, many of the mamas he hopes to give his children a better quality of life than he got and will do whatever it takes to achieve that.

Nathan Lodenyo


Nathan is very quiet and finds it difficult to express himself. His soft demeanour is overpowered by the chatty mamas on a daily basis. His main job in the WEMA group is to do the varnishing of the beads. He is proud of his contribution and his role within the group. Nathan left his home and family in Western Kenya 7 years ago to come find work in Nairobi. He is the sole provider for his large family of 14 and two years ago he brought his family to join him in Kawangware. He used to do mostly manual labour as a way of generating income but finds it difficult these last few years since he is getting older. He is not ashamed of the work he does now but instead sees dignity in making the paper beads/ jewellery. "It doesn't matter how you get money to provide for your family..only thing is that you provide" he says firmly. But then even more quietly asks if its okay if he can go back to work.