Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's no easy life in the streets

By Ochieng’ Ogodo


[NAIROBI] “Sometimes you feel that the world has neglected you with all the cold merciless winds of suffering ranged against you. You have no space and you just want to die,” Ramadhan Njogu Mbugua a.k.a ‘Msani’ summed up his many years experience in the streets of Nairobi.
With a distant look in his eyes under the shade of a curved peaked cap, he breathed rather heavily and uttered, “It’s been difficult; very tough. Years have rolled by and life has been extremely tormenting. Living in the streets is no easy undertaking.”
He went on, “the society does not accept you. People look at you very suspiciously whenever you walk around.”
Dressed in a checked cotton shirt, a denim trouser and a pair of heavy soled suede shoes-all soiled out of their factory colour-Mbugua is the embodiment of the harsh reality that life is for many street children in Kenya.
Born in a poverty stricken and quarrelsome family, Mbugua abandoned school at primary when in class three and hit the streets at the age of about 11 in 1998. In the first two years it was an on-off affair.
“The first time I started staying in the streets it was very miserably, not to mean that it isn’t today. Then I was about 11 and I had to struggle with older boys, some of whom were ruthless and could forcefully take my food away,” he remembered.
According to Mbugua it has been a life with hardcores, some of whom settle their problems using knives. Use of drugs like cocaine, mandrax and bhang is rampant. “People even injected themselves with drugs. As for me, I have been using marijuana. What else would one do to remain calm in this hustle that is street life,” he posed.
His day starts at 5 PM when he wakes up and goes to clean some premises in the bustling business estate of Eastleigh in Nairobi. Sometimes he gets a paltry US$1.2 that he uses for breakfast. After that he takes a break and rests at the base
According to Joseph Nandwa, an officer with the Undugu Society of Kenya, one of the most experienced organisations in dealing with street children in Kenya, the street children and youth operate in gangs of about 10 in specific locations code named base.
Back to the base after morning odd chores, Mbugua takes a rest until 4 PM when he goes scavenging through heaps of garbage for discarded materials like plastics bottles and broken plastic containers, cartons, charcoal and sells for them an income. He also wanders about for scrap metals, which he sells to dealers.
Just turned 20 recently, Catherine Wanjiru dropped out of a secondary school in form three after she conceived in 2007. Then she was staying with her grandparents after her father and mother died in 2002 and 2004 respectively. With her aging grandparents unable to support her properly and her expected child, she was forced to leave Nakuru town, about two hours drive south west of Nairobi, where they were staying to move to Nairobi.
She joined a married age mate. “Her husband always pestered me for sex and one day he tried to have carnal knowledge of me then I reported him to police. He was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for two months,” said Wanjiru.
 “It was at this point that I moved to the streets to beg. Some were sympathetic while others outrightly abused you.” She got another street boy who married her and they rented hovel in a slum area but violence made her flee back to the streets and to a different base.
Out there, she aid, some want to take advantage of your desperate   situation and exploit you sexually. One of the most serious frustrations, according to Wanjiru, is harassment by city councils security personnel and police who pounce and arrest them.
 Some of these people sometimes lead the girls to dark alleys where they are raped before being set free. They don’t have food, no shelter and people sleep in the cold covering themselves with polythene sheets during rainy season

But why the street?
According to Undugu Society of Kenya Programme Manager, Children and Youth, Josephine Muli, poverty is one of the major reasons accounting for this. “Those who cannot find food at home take to the streets to beg.”
Mistreatment by step parents, especially where there are semi-orphans or total orphans also drives them to the streets.
In slums areas there is overcrowding. “When they reach a certain age they feel they can no longer stay with parents in those tiny ramshackle and they will move to the streets.”
There is also the peer pressure from those already   in the street. “Whenever they tell those not yet in the streets of how they make a few shillings from begging, they also get encouraged to join,” said Muli
Started some 44 years ago by a Dutch priest who was concerned about the plight of parking boys, Undugu Society of Kenya has done the task well but its has not been easy.
 “From a humble beginning we managed to put up two children’s homes in Dandora, one in Eastleigh and another in Kitengela,” Muli said.
“We go to the streets and talk to them to quit, something we do at night when they were not scared of city security workers and the Kenya police,” she said.
Muli said the mantra of their message has been for them to think beyond the street life; that there is a much better life out of the streets and to also ask them to think seriously of what they want to be in future.
In those days a few of them could turn up in the homes the following morning. “We rehabilitated such and took them to their parents but some would return to the streets and that has been one of the big challenges in dealing with street children; the return back syndrome,” said Muli.
But three years ago, the organization changed its plan and in the new Strategic Development Plan 2006 to 2010, the emphasis moved from having them in homes to working with them in the streets. 

Capacity building
“In the streets they operate in gangs [base]. Every base has a leader and we try to put the leaders of different bases together and train them on leadership skills. We also give them knowledge on HIV/Aids, group dynamics-how a group works, to know how to handle different characters and on the lifespan of a group,” she stated. They become trainers of trainers for effective trickling down of information.
Undugu Society of Kenya then trains the leaders and the group members on business skill on how to become and how to become entrepreneurs. “The second stage,” according to Muli, “is capacity building; building confidence in them, make them have self esteem then give grants on average US$ 150, or more based on what they want to do, to start small businesses.” 
To ensure that this works smoothly, Muli said, they introduced the association model and they seek the opinion of members on what they want to do with the grants.
Some do garbage recycling, others environmental cleaning while some sell small merchandises like sweets. Some are trained in skills like hairdressing, dressmaking. “We attach the children to artisans and we pay for the cost of trainings like in mechanics.”
Currently they are making contacts with the government to include them in the Youth Development Fund so that they can be advanced loans to run businesses. She said during the interview that a few have registered with the fund.
The Undugu Society of Kenya shut down all their homes under this new strategic development plan except one in Kitengela where they take very small children for between one to six months after which they are taken back to their homes and put in school with the organisation meeting the cots of education.
“We also talk to teachers and local chiefs about the children and incase there is problem they reach us.”
 Undugu’s challenges
City security officer and regular Kenya police harass them making it difficult to operate as an association. And because they have been living on begging they expect handouts almost all the times. Another major challenge for any organisation in dealing with street children is their coming back to the streets. “But, for those who have gone through us only a few come back,” she pointed out.
Nandwa says there is also the bad attitude from the public and people see them as potentials criminals whenever they are about. At times they are suspected of a crime, which could be true or false, and people are always quick in administering mob justice on them without bothering to determinate truth.
Whenever they are under the influence drugs a quarrel may ensue, for instance sharing proceeds from chores undertaken, leading to a serious fight among them according to Nandwa. Some also use them for crime perpetration like theft of motor vehicle side mirrors.

**Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi-based journalist whose works have been published in Africa, the US and Europe .He is the  English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He is the chairman of the Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association. He can be reached at ochiengogodo@yahoo.com or ogodo16@hotmail.com.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Abused and ejected out of a marriage

By Ochieng’ Ogodo


[NAIROBI] Tears welled in her eyes as she narrated what turned out to be twenty five years-that was in 2005-of agony encapsulated in intense physical, emotional and verbal abuses in the name of marriage.
Alice Wanjiru said she had not only known nothing about peace in marriage, but was also abandoned by her husband and was forced to take care of their four children after they were ruthlessly evicted and taken to her parents’ original home.
Her story is a chronology of marital violence and typifies that of the many women suffering similar fate but remain hushed.
Wanjiru says, ‘When he came to my home in 1984 and everything was transacted according to Kikuyu customs, I was happy to leave my parents to go and start a new life with a husband,’ she reflected.
In 1985 they were blessed with bouncing baby girl, Susan Wairimu, but soon after violence, which has tenaciously stuck to their marriage, reared its ugly head.
According to her the man showed her the door when the girl was only three months old. And with the child tucked in her back, she picked her way to Saba Saba in Muranga, her birth place. As she was about to reach home he appeared and convinced her into coming to Nairobi.
When their first born was bout to join primary one, the wild beast in his husband exploded again and she found herself on the way to her parents’ home. But this time she left the kid behind. This was in 1992.
Even the prospect of another baby in 1987 did not insulate her against the beastly acts. She ran away two months to delivering Francis Macharia to escape the incessant quarrelling and physical violations.
Wanjiru was to stay at her home until 1989 when she came back to him. It was in the same year she gave birth to Mary Wambui. But when the kid was five months old she was chased again by the husband and had to spend the next three months with her parents. The husband visited her home and after a meeting with his in-laws, agreement was reached and both came back to Nairobi.
But this was not the end to the agony that their marriage had now been steeped in.
In 1993, three months pregnant, she was chased away again. A week to delivery the husband visited their home incognito, and at the ungodly hours of the night. They thought he was alone. It never occurred to them the man was up to something nasty. With him were other men who stood at strategic places in the darkness within the compound.

It was a trick
After his pleas to her parents about his desire to have her come back, he asked her to escort him up to the gate. Once she set her foot in the darkness she was lifted up and spirited to a vehicle he came with.
‘He called me out and pretended he wanted some information on certain documents he could not trace in the house ever since I left. It was trick,’ she said.
Her mother who was making tea got alarmed and on coming out in her defense she was pushed to the ground as they sped off. On the way her husband remarked, ‘this dog has been disturbing me for long. I am going to kill her,’ she remembered.
Incensed by what happened, her parents arrived In Nairobi the following day and after lodging a complaint with the chief went to their house and declared the two unwanted in their compound as what they had done was an abomination.
In 1995, after several pleas, they defied the ban and went to her home. That matter was deliberated upon and the ban was lifted. But the violence that ruled their house continued and reached boiling point in 1999. On February 17, 1997 the man married another woman and rented a house in their neighborhood in Mathare B.
At this time they had a kerubo (local brew) club where he operated from the second wife’s house on daily basis. On 17, February 1999, he went to her house and demanded food. “For about three months he had not stepped into my house,” she said.

He stabbed her
A quarrel ensued and he stabbed her on the upper part of the left arm. A few days later chased out of the house. Like before, she went to her home where she was to stay for months.
On December 23, 2001 he sent all the children to her grandparents place. He told them to stay for two weeks and come back with their mother.
Two weeks later a woman who took the kids to their grandparent’s home appeared saying she had been sent by the man to collect them and their mother.
Wanjiru budged and they trooped back to Nairobi, the children in her tow. A semblance of peace existed for some months. In June 2002 he started campaigning for a civic seat and left Wanjiru to run their local brew pub.
He requested her to look for Sh.20,000 from her merry-go-round group and pump it into the business. But, once she got this money he diverted it to his campaign. From kerubo proceeds she was able to refund the money. Elections came and he won. But with the victory came another dimension, the man of the house was mostly coming home to change clothes. Sometimes he sent a girl he employed at the civic ward’s office to collect for him some clothes to change.
Incidences where he could pop in the house in the middle of the night with a woman and order her wife out of their matrimonial bed for them, she said, dot almost the entire marriage life from consummation.
‘It was quite humiliating but what could I do. I have children I wanted to take care of under their father,’ she stated. In 2003 May, she was shocked when the office assistant became plain that her husband had proposed to her. A few days later she was confounded by her husbands surrendering one of his cell phones to the office help when he was away in Mombasa for seminar. ‘I cried to God, why me.’

Accused of peddling her body
Come October 2003, he ordered the kerubo club locked allegedly because she had turned it into a place for peddling her body. ‘He told me to go and sell my body somewhere else but not in his club,’ Wanjiru reflected painfully.
She said he now could disappear from the house for days. Also stuck in her minds is October 20, 2004, when he strangled her almost to death and it was by the grace of God she is still alive.
The eve of 2004 Christmas saw him call the house and ask everybody to prepare as he was taking them somewhere. For a family that lived in fear from his brutality, they looked at each other wondering at what it was. He came home and asked them to get into the car. A few meters a lady appeared from the roadside and the man braked. She was asked to get in. The wife reacted coldly and this earned her severe verbal abuse before her children.
“Referring to me as prostitute, he asked why I was not greeting people properly,” she said. They drove up to town and she was given Sh.8000 to do some shopping. They were driven back to the house. Surprisingly after what looked like change of heart, the man decided not to talk to anybody in the house save for the last born. Well aware of the fact that the wife was not doing anything substantial. He asked her to pay school fees for their two children in secondary in January 2005.
“He asked me and my elder daughter to look for money whenever we could even if meant selling our bodies,” she said. The man even stopped eating anything from her for fear she may poison him.
Hoping against hope, she was on May 29, 2005 chased out of the house and the office assistant who by this time was staying with them was instructed not to allow her into any of the rooms. The husband locked all the doors. She relocated to her daughter’s bedroom from where he ordered her out on July 07, 2005. As if that was not enough the man sent all the children away with a promise he will never educate them and they went their grandparents place.
Her daughter, Wairimu, remembered the many incidents of violence their parents had. One such was in November 2003 when her mother bled profusely from a beating. She has not been spared either and has had to drift from one relative to the other to escape the wrath of the man. At one time the father accused her of swinging her back in the estate for men to see and that she was a hopeless creature.
‘Currently I am staying with my uncle after my father chased me away on July 7, this year.
In the past he had hit her sometimes even pulling her hair strands but on this day, after quarreling he went into her room and started removing his trouser. ‘I wasn’t sure of what he wanted, I got scared, probably he wanted to curse me,’ she said. That was the agony they had to endure.
The writer is the winner of the English-Speaking Africa and the Middle East region for the 2008 REUTERS-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at ochiengogodo@yahoo.com or ogodo16@hotmail.com
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Climbing beans changing Rwanda's small-holder farmers fortunes

By Ochieng’ Ogodo


[KIGALI] AT 47, Alphonsin Nyirambranjinka, a peasant farmer in Rwengeri sector in Muganze district, Northern Rwanda, has been around for long. Like any other small-holder farmer here, she has had to grapple with declining bean yield, especially with African soils already very depleted.
Beans are the main staple food in Rwanda-one of Africa’s most densely populated nations-and are relied on as a prime source of protein and a huge part of calories.
Here, beans are consumed on a daily basis by almost everybody-from the very poor to the rich. Whether served alone or with other dishes, it’s an imperative component of the meal table content.
But now, Nyirambranjinka can breathe a sigh of relief thanks to ingenuity of science that has bred various varieties of climbing beans now being adopted in Rwanda and Eastern Africa.
“I started farming beans in 1973 with the bush beans. But yields have been on a downward trend and from a half hectare of land I could only manage about 500 kilograms from one season,” she reflected.
But in 2005 she shifted to cultivating climbing bean type. The first time she got one and a half tonnes but she lacked knowledge on better cultivation methods because of lack of extension services.

Yields has tripled
With the new seed variety and extension services available from the Rwandan Agricultural Research Institute (ISAR) the yield has tripled over the last few years and she is now one of proud peasant farmers depending on a climbing bean variety.
She sells the surplus in the local market and money netted is used for other household needs like buying utensils and furniture. Because of her agricultural activities Rwanda Ministry of Agriculture recognized her with a Fraizer milk cow donation.

“From cultivation of this type of beans I have had tangible benefits,” she said with a wide smile as she fished out beneath her dress, slightly above her breasts, a Motorola cell phone she bought using money from sale of beans.
Out of climbing beans cultivation she has educated her children, two of whom are out of high schools and another in secondary school. She is also able to put food on the table for the family.
She is part of the farming community working closely with ISAR from where she gets training, seeds as wells as extension services. According to Nyirambranjinka the new seed variety not only gives good yields but good taste when eaten and is disease and rain tolerant in her high potential area that northern Rwanda is.
“If I plant seeds provided by ISAR then I have no problem with disease and rainfall,” she said. She has no regrets about her shift from bush beans to climbing ones. “This type of beans is changing our lives and raising high our fortunes. The good thing is that it can be intercropped with other crops like maize and does not interfere with them at all,” she said. Maximising use of her land she also grows maize, Irish potatoes and vegetables.
Like Nyirambranjinka, 56 year old Ngiraba Twere has abandoned bush beans variety for the climbing one. For a piece of land that yielded three sacks he can now take home more than 10 bags at harvesting time. “I can now afford to sell some and still remain with what meets our dietary needs at home,” said the father of four.

More income from beans
Although he grows sorghum, he now prefers giving large chunks of his land to climbing beans as “it brings more income than sorghum.”
In the past he has had problems with weevils that destroyed and left their bush bean fields bare but now he can afford plentiful harvest from the new variety. And for people who gets no government subsides, Twere who hails from Lurindo district in Northern Rwanda, said this said this is a most welcome variety.
Dr. Robin Buruchara said a research spanning ten years by the Rwandan Agricultural Research Institute (Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Rwanda - ISAR) in collaboration with International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has developed beans that slink up stakes two meters high tripling and even quadrupling yields.
On January 15, 2009 they released new varieties that were bred for lower elevations between 800 to 1600 meters above the sea level, which are medium altitude climbers.

They do well in nutrient poor soils and are also diseases resistant. The beans take three months to ripen and thus offer possibility for four planting seasons annually with a hectare yielding 3-4 tonnes each harvesting season.
Beans are an important source of nutrients, providing the average Rwandan with about 39 percent of their dietary protein intake. Besides they account for 13 percent and 18.72 percent of carbohydrates and lipids respectively, and are potent sources of iron and zinc.
This, according to Buruchara who is the regional Coordinator for CIAT in Africa, is the outcome of sustained research and promotion that has made the climbing beans variety to be increasingly gown across income and gender groups. Today 65 percent of Rwandan farmers grow climbing beans varieties.
Buruchara said the collaboration worked on conventional breeding to improve resilience to diseases and tolerant to rainfall. They took various germplasm from CIAT bean germplasm bank-the largest in the world-based in Cali Colombia and after crossing them they came up with varieties suited for different elevations in the region.
“We worked in partnerships to develope improved varieties through conventional breeding coming up varieties that have better yields and more nutritious but also disease resistant and rainfall tolerant,” he said.
These beans varieties require stakes and in comparison take more labour they help fix soil nitrogen and also curtail soil erosion in sloping areas with heavy rain.
Scientifically referred to as Phaselous vulgaris L., Buruchara said, the improved climbing varieties have gained popularity and are now increasingly grown in Eastern and Central Africa notably: eastern Kenya, eastern DRC, Rwanda, south west Uganda and Burundi .

Improved climbing varieties
According to Augustine Musoni, bean breeder and coordinator of bean research at ISAR, northern Rwanda has had pockets of bush and climbing beans grown. But a devastating roots disease wreaking havoc coupled with declining soil fertility threatened the livelihoods and food security of many people.
“The varieties were vulnerable and the disease wiped all the germplasm they had. But with research and the introduction of improved climbing beans people saw improved resistance to diseases like anthracnose, root rot and ascochyta blight,” he explained.
At policy level, Musoni said, the government is promoting climbing varieties and currently it is estimated that between 50,000 to 100,000 hectares in Rwanda are under climbing bean varieties cultivation.
On land ownership, he said, Rwanda has 0.1 hectare per capita and ensuring maximum yield from the fields is therefore crucial. “You can get five tones on average per hectare when you plant climbing beans and even with potential for more yields but only 500 kilograms on the same piece of land with ordinary varieties like bus beans.”
The beans variety does not only offer small scale farmers plenty of yield despite land scarcity resulting from population pressure that continue to translate into more land division but also allow farmers to use leaves, pods fresh grains and dry grains for food as well as source of income from sales. It is a seed of hope.
The writer is the winner of the English-Speaking Africa and the Middle East region for the 2008 REUTERS-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at ochiengogodo@yahoo.com or ogodo16@hotmail.com
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