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Celebrating International Day of the Girl Child

Issue Number 41 • October 2013

In Tharaka girls bear the burden of family troubles …By Kenyan Correspondent

I

Woman

n the semi-arid zone to the east of Mount Kenya, drought is a recurring challenge to people’s livelihoods. In this part of the country, key economic activities revolve around farming and livestock, both of which are affected adversely by long spells of drought. Tharaka District is low, hilly and sandy lowland characterised mainly by sandy and stony soils. “We only get water from the dry river belt which is six kilometres away. When it is dry we have to walk for five hours. We also look for casual jobs in far flung areas. Most of the time I leave home very early in the morning and return late at night,” says Janet Gakunyi, a mother of six children. She adds: “Sometimes you buy food, but you may not be able to cook it because there is no water, so you have to wait until the following day to trek five hours to look for water.” As you drive to Kathangachini, there are troubling signs of poor or non-existing infrastructure such as roads, irrigation canals, hospitals, telecommunication and lack of water. Apart from the economic

challenges, cultural practices and attitudes towards girls are problematic. Dominic Muchemi, a program’s officer of livelihoods at Plan International in Tharaka notes: “The community has apportioned mothers and girls the responsibility of making sure that food is on the table. They are the ones who look for firewood, graze the cattle and cook for their families. In most cases when the parents go to the market, the girls take responsibility to care for their siblings at home. They will miss school and have no chance of getting education.”

Abuse In recent droughts, cases of abuse have gone up, not only denying them access and enjoyment of basic human rights but also threatening their future. Most children have been abandoned as parents search for food in areas outside the district. Some have dropped out of school while many others have to grapple with diseases as a result of inadequate water and poor nutrition. “A case in point is when we have experienced severe food shortage over two years due to the unreliable rainfall pattern. Women would go to the mountain to cut grass and bring back

to sell at KSh5. That time maize was going for KSh50 per kilo. We would then save until it was enough to buy food,” explains Gakunyi. She adds: “Some days we would be lucky but at times it was not enough to even buy half a kilo. I would grind that and cook porridge for my children.” During the dry spell, life is harsh for girls. They are forced to drop out of school and assume parental responsibilities while the parents move Grace, 18, checks on her baby in their hut. She was forced to drop out of school as her parents could not afford to provide food and pay for school fees. about, fetch water, graze livestock and in some cases are married off. “During the days I stayed at farm so that they could provide up infrastructure such as water Sometimes girls will offer sex for home, there was a boy who used milk for my children. I was not pans and local catchments to food or water. to herd cattle near our home- able to provide food for my fam- increase rain water harvesting. Grace, now 18, was forced to stead. We became friends and I ily and thought that would have This will enable the communidrop out of school as her parents would go with him to the fields. I helped. I pray to God to help me ties to access water for domestic could not afford to provide food would follow him to his parents’ so that my children can get edu- use and livestock,” says Michael and pay for school fees. She used house to eat because they had cation too.” Muthui, Coordinator of livelito take care of her siblings as her food while we had nothing to eat To help avert the rising cases hoods for Plan International in parents went to look for causal back at home except porridge. of girls dropping out of school, Tharaka programme unit. work. After five months I discovered, Plan International is helping He adds: “We are also initiat“Sometimes I stayed home I was pregnant and he ran away communities access their rights ing and supporting communities for two months and every time from this village,” Grace says. to food, education and health. with irrigation projects targeting I returned to school, my classDuring the emergency in- about six hundred households. Interventions mates had already completed terventions, the children’s char- This will not only improve food their exams. I never wanted to Her father adds: “What hap- ity started a school feeding pro- security at household level but it drop out of school, but the prob- pened to my daughter is because gramme to support schools with will also be a source of income lems we faced at home pushed I allowed the herd boy to build extra food. for the poor families.” me out,” she says. Courtesy Plan International “We have also helped to put the shed for their cattle in my

Naivasha women walking out of poverty …By Munene Maina

M

ary Njeri has seen her cloth business grow. Although she has not attained her dream business step by step she is headed there. For Mary it takes risk for anyone who wants to grow their business. She says her one and half year old business nearly collapsed, barely eight months after opening it. “I almost closed the business after I got some financial problems and I had to look for a way to save it,” she says. Mary says after days of thinking on what to do she decided to do the last thing she wanted- take loan. By then she was a member in Naivasha Women Sacco and she approached them for a loan. “It was my first ever loan and I was fearful of what will befall me if my plans failed. Nonetheless I took it and it helped save my business,” Mary says. She notes that borrowing with a clearly defined purpose is one way that can help many business-women overcome hurdles. Mary is among over one thousand women in Naivasha who are members of Naivasha Women Sacco that funds women running small businesses in the area. Women in the area are changing

trends and are engaging in business to help supplement their husbands in providing for the family rather being house wives. Most jobs available in Naivasha are casual in the many flower farms surrounding the town with little pay to fully support the family.

Naivasha, former assistant minister and Naivasha Mp Jane Kihara urged them not to let their dream fade. “When we started this sacco our aim was to empower women and fight poverty. We must not let that dream get away. Let us increase our share capital to strengthen our sacco,” said Kihara.

Need

Problems Diana Njuguna, Naivasha Women Sacco manager, says there are a lot of family problems in the town that are as result of financial constrains. “A large number of people in Naivasha work as labourers in flower farms and what they earn is not sufficient to support all family needs. This has created a lot of family issues some of which are bad tales to tell,” says Ms Njuguna. She says the objective of sacco was to help women operating small business grow them as well as lending a hand to those wishing to start. “The sacco aimed at helping women at the grassroot level in lending them money at a low rate and enable them save,” she adds. Ms Njuguna notes through the

Members of Naivasha women sacco, during their Annual General Meeting. Picture: Munene Maina.

sacco many women have been able to expand their businesses through borrowing and increase their savings. However, she says the sacco has not been able to perform as they wished due to politics since it was an initiative of the former Naivasha MP Jane Kihara. “When she lost election some members stopped saving while others defaulted paying their loans. This almost crippled the operation of the sacco,” she

says. She notes through mobilization the membership of the sacco has grown and its now on the right track. Started in 2007, Naivasha Women Sacco brings together women from both Naivasha and Gilgil districts with the objective of empowering them economically. Addressing members during the sacco’s annual general meeting in

She said a strong sacco will do much better in improving members lives and called upon loan defaulters to repay. The former Naivasha Mp said she was not interested in politics any longer and urged members not to allow politics kill the sacco. The sacco which is in partnership with other Saccos is helping women walk out of poverty. Ruth Wanjiku, a farmer attests to this. She says through the loan she got from the sacco she bought several sheep and a cow. Today they have conceived and is expecting them to add her fortune once they give birth. To many women in Naivasha it is a step by step out of poverty. “Women in Naivasha are venturing in businesses to change their economic status. Many are taking loans unlike in the past where many feared,” says Elizabeth Munene, a loan officer with Speed Capital limited.

Kenyan Woman Issue 41  

October 2013 Issue | The Kenyan Woman newspaper is a monthly publication of African Woman & Child Feature Service.

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