One cannot afford to sit and complain of their situation after they listen to the stories of Mwiyukirie women’s group and their treacherous journey that brings hope to the hopeless. Mwiyukirie is a Kikuyu word that means – help yourself to stand on your own – That despite living in the informal settlement areas and their livelihoods disrupted during the Post Election Violence (PEV) in 2007/2008, they have a reason to celebrate for the feat in their lives currently.

Rosemary Nambuya is from Uganda but married to a Kenyan. She recounts her tribulations vividly of the occurrences during PEV.

“I woke up early, cooked a lot of food as usual and I was still preparing and waiting for my customers in my kibanda- small shop by the roadside – where I sell the food. As I awaited, all of a sudden from nowhere, I saw a large crowd of young people approach my kibanda. I was terrified; I had never seen such massive movement before. They attacked me, took all the food I had prepared; ate some, poured and destroyed everything they could lay their hands on. In that melee, I was lucky to escape unhurt as I took chance during the confusion and found my way to a police station. My house help who was with me at that time was not lucky as she was raped,” narrated Rosemary.

Rosemary in her food kiosk
She speaks of how tribal Kenya had become at that time. She says that there were rifts between communities that had co-existed for ages. The events like demarcations that prevented rival communities from interacting with each other and neighbours hating each other was a sad period indeed, she confesses. She notes that the violence which lasted for well over a month, saw people lose a lot of valuables, businesses suffered losses and people’s lives were destroyed. She says that all that is behind her now and prays that those events will not reoccur in Kenya.

Rosemary is grateful to the OAIC for organising capacity building workshops for them in Mathare that enabled her and other women in Mwiyukirie gain life-long skills that they have used to re-establish themselves.
“Bishop Simwa and David encouraged us to organise ourselves into small groups and think of ways of improving our lives rather than depend on handouts like most of the residents in Mathare were doing. The money they donated to our group, which we shall forever be grateful for, helped us a lot. Each member was given Shillings 2,000 to either start a business, and for those who already had businesses, the money helped them to restock and our lives have never been the same again,” stated Rosemary.

She says that the revolving fund has helped her tremendously as she has been able to take her girl to a boarding school. She was able to restart her business and whatever profit she makes from it, is channelled to the revolving fund and by doing this, she has been able to pay school fees for her two children.

Quinline Muthoni’s story is no different. Hers is a struggle for survival after she lost everything she owned during the PEV period. She owned a salon before then, but the gangs took away all her equipment. The fact that she was able to survive, pick herself up and re-start what she knew best, is something worthwhile noting.
Quinline is a beautician, she makes women look splendid. The most encouraging bit is that she is now an employer, and she envisions a bigger dream in the future.

“After theQuinline does what she knows best in her salon violence had subsided, most of the residents in Mathare went to see what remained of their homes. I had lost everything. I did not know where to start, I did not know what to do in order to survive. The only available form of earning a living was to walk to the neighbouring Eastleigh estate to look for menial jobs. This was a nerve-racking period in my life as the only jobs available to us were basically washing people’s clothes. The trouble is that the people who provided such jobs knew that we were desperate and they would put together clothes for up to 3 houses and give to one person to wash. We would be paid a paltry Shillings 200,” she narrated.

She is glad however, that she was able to join Mwiyukirie and save as much as she could which enabled her buy equipment one by one and eventually she was able to start another salon afresh. Her business is now doing well and she is glad that her life is now an example that gives hope to the destitute. She was even able to move from her mabati shanty- house built with iron sheets – to a bigger and better house which also doubles up as her salon.

On a good day she makes up to Shillings 1200 and on a bad day Shillings 600. She has one employee, a girl who helps her in the salon. Her vision is to have a bigger and better salon. She also hopes that she will soon be able to start a hairdressing school that will empower other girls and women to start their own salons in order to improve their livelihoods.

Mary Wambui, another member of Mwiyukirie is amongst the elderly women in this group. She is happy to be alive and doing well. She owns a grocery store and acknowledges that with the income she gets, she can be able to cater for her five grand children who are currently under her care.

When she joined the group she says she could not afford to eat three meals in a day. She recalls the days she would go to a Catholic church where the sisters would give them food to eat. Others used to carry sufuria’s – pans – so that they could carry some of the food to their young children. She says that the revolving fund has enabled her to re-stock, feed herself and her five grand children effortlessly.
Mary who is a mother of 8 says that the PEV experience was something she had never seen before in her life.

“I live near the Mathare river. I came to Mathare when I was only 12 years. I have grown up here and now I am a grandmother. What took place during that period was unfathomable. I had never thought there would come a day when something of that magnitude would happen in Kenya. We had voted well and I was just sited with my visitors and my mother was also present as we chatted and awaited the announcements of results of the elections. All of a sudden screams rent the air and when the children peeped outside they saw the General Service Unit – GSU – officers and we knew there was trouble,” narrated Mary.

“People ran to their The gentlemen who recently joined Mwiyukiriehouses when they heard gun shots. Juja road, up to Muthaiga, all the roads were impassable and people were left stranded. The GSU entered people’s houses and started roughing them up and beating. Ones gender did not matter and people were told to get out of their houses as they searched for the miscreants amongst us. We were ordered to lie flat on the roads. Only old women were spared. In that melee, I saw people die; they drowned in the Mathare river as they tried to escape,” she added.

Mary’s mother who was elderly at that time was perturbed by the events; she lost several of her teeth, never spoke and seemed to have amnesia as she could not understand anything she was told and she eventually died.

She’s is glad that Mwiyukirie helped them to forget the tragedies during that period as they would fellowship together and share their thoughts and thus heal their wounds. She managed to pick herself up, improved her green grocer after she got her share of the revolving fund. When the group started they used to contribute Shillings 50 each but as it grew they began to contribute from Shillings 100 onwards according to ones capability.
Her green grocer’s shop which she used to operate from her doorstep has grown tremendously and she has moved to a bigger place where the business is doing well.

OAIC was able to first give the group a grant of Shillings 90,000 which helped them re-stock their businesses and re-establish themselves. They were then given a second grant of Shillings 63,000 after a year of progressive development. When we visited the group recently the organisation gave them a cheque of Shillings 15,000.
When Mwiyukirie started it was as easy as saying that one wants to join. But Mary informs me that the rules have since changed and for one to be a member, they will be required to pay Shillings 500 for registration, consistently save with the group for two months and thus the consistently earns them the membership right.

The men saw how the women had established themselves in the community and decided to join them. Currently, only two men are members and a few more have asked to join.
The group members say that sometimes some members decide to go to their rural homes and are forced to remain there since they may be required to take care of their homesteads and thus the effect on their numbers.
Mwiyukirie envisions a bright future where their businesses will have grown tremendously and their children will be able to manage their estates.

They are already doing their research on various investments from land in order to grow their fund. One step at a time.

 

Fiona Imbali, OAIC Communications.

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