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Curfew: the elderly left at mercy of abusers



Mama Mariana sits pensively alone in her tiny sitting room. She is preparing to retire for the night.

It is only 6.30pm though, a bit too early to go to bed. She decides to give it another 30 minutes. Shortly, there is a loud knock on the door.

Her heart skips a beat as she struggles towards the door, her knees almost give way to the biting pain of arthritis.

Before she can fully open the door, a visibly drunken man forces himself in, almost throwing her to the floor.

Shaken, the 78-year-old grandmother, a mother of five, manages to steady herself and slowly walk back to her seat, pain written on her face, as the intruder stares menacingly at her.

He sinks into a chair and demands food. This is Gerald, her 39-year-old last-born. With shaky hands, she serves him a plate of fried potatoes, carrots, cabbage, maize and beans.

About 10 minutes later, he rudely pushes the empty plate away, swears at her and staggers out towards his shack, a few metres away.

She clears the small wooden table and heads to bed. This has been Mama Mariana’s life for six years now, since her son abandoned his wife and two children, gave up his “difficult” carpenter’s job, and returned to his mother’s home in Nyandarua County.

Tonight, she will have an early night, thanks to the dawn-to-dusk curfew imposed last month by the government as part of restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly Covid-19 disease.

Before the 7pm-5am curfew, her wayward son would wake up the widow as late as midnight when he would stagger home from a bar, demanding food amid threats.

He spends his time idling away and drinking with friends and peers at a local trading centre. She suffers the torture silently.

However, Mama Mariana counts herself lucky. She knows of a neighbour, an elderly widow who goes through “worse’’ in the hands of her sons and grandsons.

She endures sexual and physical violence and related violations from her kin. Like her, they have been too afraid and ashamed to tell on their abusers.

One of these is an 81-year-old widow rescued by villagers from her abuser grandson. He not only subjected her to physical assault, but also raped her several times under the cover of darkness.

The 28-year-old would threaten to kill her if she dared whisper a word of what was going on to anyone.

The granny was eventually rescued by a daughter, who, on visiting home from Nairobi on a weekend, noticed that her mother walked with difficulty and wore a miserable look.

“We broke down in shock and guilt. That our mother had been undergoing this kind of violence right before our faces is difficult to live with,” Elena says.

Such cases are not isolated. Violence by immediate family members and guardians against the elderly, especially women, is widespread, but underreported, with a couple of cases having been highlighted in the media, including some from Murang’a and Kericho counties.

However, such cases are more common in the Mount Kenya region. This, however, was before the horrendous Covid-19 disease came calling.

It now sadly means that with the containment measures, such elderly victims are trapped with their abusers.

The government has acknowledged that the Covid-19 containment measures have seen a surge in domestic and sexual violence and other gender-based violence perpetrated by close relatives.

The Ministry of Health has pledged to work with other departments to fight this crime.

In addition, disaggregated data to capture the full impact of the violence would be released soon, the ministry promised last week, on Tuesday 14.

Women’s rights advocates have welcomed this commitment, further asking for consistent and regular messaging as part of the coronavirus strategy response.

Despite the anticipated stern action against abusers and tightening of measures to curb the pandemic’s spread, there are concerns on the need for specific interventions to protect elderly women, most of who live in rural counties, where they face all manner of violations.

In addition to their vulnerability, they are known to be victims of sexual and physical violence as well as mental torture.

Quarrels over land ownership and inheritance are some of the excuses unscrupulous relatives, including the elderly women’s own children and grandchildren, use to assault and subject the elderly to violence, including sexual abuse.

The cash stipend provided by the government under the social protection programme for the 70-year-olds and above is another cause of the violence, intimidation and mental torture meted out to the elderly to compel them to hand over the money.

“During the Covid-19 response, we need to take care of our elderly citizens, especially women prone to abuse and exploitation,” says Wairimu-Munyinyi Wahome, Coalition on Violence Against Women (Covaw) executive director.

“Let us establish a continuum of care for the elderly that mitigates violence of any kind, and this, like any other efficient and effective GBV response programme, requires deliberate planning and delivery by government at county and national level,” she adds.

Covaw suggests that at the community level, chiefs and leaders of Nyumba Kumi be required to do regular check-ups on the welfare of the elderly, “including teaching them how to report abuse”.

Besides honouring and taking good care of their elderly parents, grandparents and others, Munyinyi-Wahome advises relatives and guardians to ensure their elderly parents’ safety by talking to them regularly for the sake of their mental well-being.

Furthermore, they should conduct due diligence on their caretakers to reduce the possibilities of having an abuser as a caretaker.

“Violence thrives in silence and isolation, and it is likely that during these difficult times of social distancing, there are elderly women suffering out there,” she points out, adding that violence against elderly women, mostly aged 60 years and above, and mainly living in rural Kenya, is often overlooked and even ignored.

HelpAge International, an NGO that champions the rights of the elderly, says social stigma goes hand in hand with violence against older women, and lack of attention leaves the victims marginalised and unable to access psychological or legal support.

As a result, the structural and systemic status quo continues unchecked with perpetrators getting away unpunished.

“The shame older women feel when they are the victims of violence, combined with a lack of support services, discourages them from speaking out about what has happened,” HelpAge adds.

Community Advocacy and Awareness Trust (Crawn) Executive Director Daisy Amdany calls for studies to help understand factors that drive abuse against the elderly, even as she singles out inheritance, substance abuse by caregivers and/or criminal elements within the family and delinquents as some of them.

“Violence against the elderly, which ranges from physical abuse to neglect, rape and even murder, is often unspoken because generally, especially these days, very little value is attached to the elderly in a country like ours where we manage stress poorly and tend to use violence and aggression to resolve disputes. The weaker and vulnerable among us then become targets for violence,” she notes.

With a broken social service network, she adds, “the neglect and abuse of the elderly, which is often unseen and unspoken, goes easily unnoticed and unaddressed”.

While some counties have put in place interventions to take care of special categories such as the elderly in an effort to fight the coronavirus, few have specific measures to help deal with sexual and gender-based violence among elderly women.

In Nyandarua, Governor Francis Kimemia says County Response Committees at the sub-county levels have been profiling those in need and assessing their needs to support them.

“The whole intervention framework is anchored on the Nyumba Kumi and the Community Health Volunteers in every village,” he says.

“They are the first-line responders and actors … as such, any unique challenges are very easily detected and acted upon,” the governor, the response team’s co-chair, adds.

To cushion special interest groups in Nakuru County, a multisectoral team is also focusing on SGBV, which includes putting together rescue measures and establishing recovery centres in major health institutions in its sub-counties.

“We have structured reporting channels, which include a reporting tool at the trials, and data can be obtained through sub-county clusters, department of health and the police,” says Lucy Kariuki, the County’s Executive Officer for Youth and Gender.

Ms Mary Shimwenyi, a community leader with GROOTS Kenya in Malava of Kakamega County, can easily list at least 20 cases of neglect, abuse and violence against elderly women in the county by people close to them and others county in just about a month since the government’s containment measures to curb spread of the deadly coronavirus kicked off.

The latest in the case of violence that the Women Land Rights Program coordinator cites the case of a woman whose age she puts at between 78-80 years who was physically assaulted by a son, apparently over an inheritance issue.

“Clearly, the son who physically attacked her, in collusion with a brother want their mother out of the way so that they can inherit her land,’’ she says adding that case is under investigation.

The other cases involving women between the ages of 70 and 81 years revolved around abuse and violation against the elderly women.

Ms Shimwenyi attributes this criminality to the fact that “all focus appears to be on Covid-19 and the perception that access to justice is at a standstill.’’

At another ward, Ms Alice Isoyi, a Champion for Transformative Leadership and Kakamega County coordinator also for GROOTS Kenya, says abuse and violence against the elderly cases have spiked since movement restrictions and curfew was imposed about four weeks ago.

“This is surely a big problem now within the community,’’ says Ms Isoyi. “It is rampant, disturbing and women including the elderly ones, and even children appear to be a key target of abusers during this time,’’ she says.

One of the cases she cites is of an 89-year old single woman who has been living alone. She was attacked and gang-raped last month by a group of men who on apparently realizing that she had recognised them, murdered her, Ms Isoyi says, adding that issues of land ownership especially in polygamous families are a major cause of conflicts and thus violence against grannies and other elderly women.

While data on sexual and gender based violence in Kenya especially against women and girls is easily available, that against abuse of older women mostly from the age of 60 years and above is hardly available.

HelpAge International, a global network which advocates for the rights of older people that faults what it says is a lack of proper documentation and data on violence, abuse and neglect against older women. “Most of the statistics on this kind of violence and abuse against the elderly (women) rotates around a 49-years (age) cap. That is our worry and that is what we have been fighting for,’’ says Ms Roselyne Kihumba, the organisation’s Regional Advocacy Coordinator.

This is what HelpAge International says:

1. All stakeholders must recognise that older women experience violence, abuse and neglect, and include them in a meaningful way in any new and existing research, policy and programmes on violence against women and girls.

2. Data to monitor the achievement of gender equality across the SDGs must be disaggregated by sex, age (in five-year cohorts), disability, location and other grounds for discrimination prohibited under international human rights law.

Monitoring must include the 900 million women (24 per cent of the world’s women) who are over 49 years old.

3. In order to be inclusive of older women, data, policy and programmes addressing violence against women and girls must widen their focus from sexual and physical intimate partner violence to include different forms of violence, abuse and neglect, and a wider range of perpetrators and settings.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges that older people globally are currently facing the most threats in the wake of the coronavirus disease.

It is asking governments and communities to ensure that the elderly are treated with dignity and respect during this global crisis.

“Supporting and protecting older people living alone in the community is everyone’s business,” said Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO’s Regional Director for Europe.

“I am reminding governments and authorities that all communities must be supported to deliver interventions to ensure older people have what they need,” he said on April 2.

While the WHO boss spoke in the context of significant risks that the elderly face in contracting Covid-19 due to their advanced age and underlying health conditions, the need to take care of our elderly, including their safety and mental health as part of the response to the horrendous pandemic cannot be understated.


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Duo gives libraries vital facelift



Public libraries are vital as storehouse of knowledge; they mould character of cities. Yet, most public libraries are in dilapidated conditions and require a facelift.

At the end of 2018, author Wanjiru Koinange and publisher Angela Wacuka, founders of Book Bunk, conducted a research and found out that contrary to popular opinion that Kenyan’s don’t read, 300 people were walking in and out of public libraries every single day to use them. For this reason, three years ago, they set up Book Bunk to give public libraries a new lease of life after decades of neglect.

“Our mission is to restore public libraries, to convert them not just from a physical perspective but also from a social and experiential perspective. In a sense, what are other people doing in their spaces, what

are they getting access to, what are they reading and what kind of services are in public that we can bring to the libraries,” starts Wanjiru.

They have three projects, with Macmillan Memorial Library as the flagship and others in Makadara and Kaloleni in Nairobi. Two years before the renovations, the duo spent time doing a lot of programming work, events and research, and when the funds came, they began physical restoration, starting with Kaloleni.

However, Covid-19 happened and with it came new rules and regulations on how construction work should continue. At that point, the two had already hired 28 people as casual labourers for the project. Luckily, by the time the new regulations were set, they had already done the bulk of renovation and all that was left was just painting and tiling, which could be done by fewer staff members.

“It didn’t feel right for them to stop because they were relying on the cash to survive. We began looking at how they could space out work, even though it would take longer, but it meant that we could still keep them. They were able to do that and currently they have completed the renovation of first branch,” she says Though risky, they used local people to work on the project to make them feel part and parcel of it. Since land grabbing is prevalent in these areas, most locals look at those who walk in with projects suspiciously, thus educating them on the project’s significance was not a walk in the park.

“It wasn’t a one day or week event to convince people of our intention. We had to go there time and again trying to sell the idea to them that public spaces can be beautiful and functional whether they are in Runda or Kaloleni,” says Wanjiru.

The Kaloleni project is now complete and the community is vigilant in safeguarding it and ensuring that there is no vandalism.

Working with the government has been a challenge and a bonus for the pair. A challenge because bureaucracy in these institutions makes things drag than they would if handled by a private entity. Nevertheless, meeting kind people in offices made it easier for them navigate things that could have take a long time to deal with. The second challenge has been financing their project.

Operational funding “Operational funding is our greatest challenge. It’s shocking to me that in this day and age, people still expect to have their

names on the building when they support a project without even catering for salaries of people who do the work. Wacuka and I struggle to find cash to pay our people’s salaries, to give the people committed to the project good life and not have to worry about anything. It breaks my heart all the time because we don’t struggle to find money for events or research, yer for salaries, it is a struggle,” she explains.

The pandemic has made the two think of future libraries, which is leaning towards being more technological.

“We are currently creating a framework on what digital adoption will look like. The Makadara Library is full of university students and teenagers, which will force us go digital because young people in that age bracket are using technology. This means we must have plans for high speed internet, tablets and we must also have a place where people can experiment with coding; that’s the future of libraries. I think libraries as public spaces needs to evolve into more of community centres instead of rooms full of books. This evolution cannot ignore tech or it’s bound to fail,” she adds.

With Macmillan, they are trying to Africanise the library.

Library and culture “When the Macmillan Library was opened in 1931, black people weren’t allowed in. Presently, if you look at the collection, you’ll realise the content was not meant for Kenyans. On the other hand, the library in Kaloleni is such a significant one in our history, but no one talks about. The building became the unofficial parliament before it was even set up,” she says.

The pair has been trying to reconnect libraries with cultures and to have African literature and art represented.

Understanding the youths are idle during this pandemic and that going to libraries has been prohibited due to health risks at the moment, the organisation has also been trying to take the library to the local’s homes.

“We hired people to find out how many children live in every single estate and in Kaloleni, we found out that they were about 190 children. We appealed to our partners and friends for colouring books, toys and novels and walked around giving the kids in their homes,” she recalls So far, Kaloleni was just a pilot project in as far as the book donation drive was concerned. They plan to do this in Makadara as well.

“The future is more libraries and we want to create a template, which can be replicated in as many libraries as possible. We want to create a team in whatever spaces that we can who can carry out the work and have more libraries than bars,” she says in conclusion.

• Wanjiru is a writer and has recently released a book, Havoc of Choice.

• Angela Wacuka was the director of Kwani Trust for around eight years and that’s when she met Wanjiru and the two became friends. Wanjiru started assisting Wacuka manage her events and that’s how their work relationship was borne.

• While Wanjiru is good at management and administration, Wacuka is an incredible networker and communicator.

• They have sessions where they ask each other how they are doing. They have also a small staff who check on them and give their expertise instead of doing it all on their own.


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Why I chose to have my breast cut off



Lucy Njeri vividly recalls the horrors she underwent on the day she received the test results showing she had breast cancer.

“It took me by surprise,” Lucy says. “Emotionally, I went down. I tried to clear my tears, since I was still in the office, but immediately I left the gate, I broke down and cried. I was all by myself. I was not ready for it.”

The result indicated she had ductal carcinoma [cancer that starts in cells that line the milk ducts), grade 1. The news hit her like a ton of bricks. And so she sat at the gate to her workplace, wrapped in colossal agony, struggling to come to terms with her new, sorry predicament. She was still nursing emotional bruises sustained by her mothers lengthy battle with throat cancer. Now here she was, physically sick from a similarly debilitating malady.

Just then, a complete stranger, touched by the sight of a lonesome lady crying her heart out, approached to help.

“This passer-by tapped my back and asked me, ‘is it okay’? I shook my head, and gave her my results. She read and told me it was go ing to be okay. She asked if she could call my mum. I told her no, she cannot call anyone in my family, since everyone was sick emotionally,” she explains.

Thus had begun Lucy’s long battle with breast cancer, a journey which, for many people, is beset with uncertainties and excruciating consequences on a person’s material and emotional well being. For Lucy at least, she had a shoulder to lean on right from the onset, and this assuaged pangs of grief that had belligerently gripped the mother of three on that fateful day.

Lucy’s newly found comforter cut short her journey, offered to buy her a meal and they walked to a nearby restaurant. But Lucy couldn’t eat. She cried her heart out the whole afternoon. She later gave the Samaritan the phone contact of one of her relatives, who came to pick her up.

“At night, I could not digest what I had read”, Lucy narrates, fighting back tears. “The next thing in my mind was committing suicide. I had seen anguish and pain my mum was going through. I was not ready for it.”

As luck would have it, Lucy wouldn’t hang herself that night. She didn’t find a place to hang herself in the house. But she cried the whole night.

On waking up the next morning, her uncle candidly advised her to brace for the new reality. It was time to summon her inner strength, and face her condition head-on.

“My uncle told me to face the lion, and fight it,” she adds. The words served to buoy her through the turmoil. But another calamity lay ahead – nurses were on strike, and her hospital couldn’t take her in. Her doctor advised her to seek surgery elsewhere. After weighing her options, Lucy settled on Kenyatta National Hospital, where she was booked for surgery.

“I had my breast removed,” she says.

Just before the mastectomy, a medic had counselled Lucy to be positive about the consequences. There are people without breasts out there, the medic told her. They are surviving, and they’re okay. So, there is nothing to worry about. Life has to go on.

With these words, Lucy mustered the courage to go through it. And she bubbles with joy, noting hers was a choice between living with one breast or dying to maintain the image. She chose life.

“I have seen people who resist treatment,
who say their breast(s) cannot be removed, and we lose them. I’d rather not have the breast, and be alive. I am lucky to have one. I have seen people who don’t have both, and they’re still there. Since then, I look at life from a different perspective”.

Thankfully, Lucy’s NHIF covered her treatment. This included six chemotherapies, radiotherapy, follow-up treatment and hormonal therapy.

Constant support This was a tough time for Lucy’s three children, who underwent manifold emotional excursions in these trying moments. They wondered at spike in visitors to their home. They’d been told their mother was sick, but couldn’t quite relate with the sickness. Lucy requested help from a friend who broke down the news to her children, while assuring them that mum would be okay. She recalls the news was particularly devastating to her daughter.

Now a fully recovered and ebullient cancer survivor, Lucy recounts her journey through the malaise with appreciation for galaxy of magnanimous supporters who held her hand through the predicament.

Right from the benevolent stranger who took her time to comfort Lucy in her low moments at the gate, to her circle of friends that helped her raise money for biopsy, her relatives, her husband and children, and neighbours, some of who would do her laundry, look after her children and even provided foodstuff and paid house rent in the bleak moments. There was even a matatu crew that would wait for her early in the morning on the days she went for treatment. And of tremendous importance to her journey, have been the healthcare providers who handled her condition.

“There are people you can’t even pay,” Lucy says. “I got a lot of help from neighbours and friends and even strangers.”

Her journey encapsulates the importance of a support network in the healing process of a breast cancer patient. As the world celebrates the Breast Cancer Awareness month, a call is made upon everyone to lend a helping hand and a supportive shoulder for those caught up in the throes of this exacting malady, a malady that deals long-lasting blows on the purses and hearts of hundreds of households it afflicts.


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VIDEO: Chopper crash, Tunai pilot speaks out



The pilot of the helicopter that crash-landed in Narok County with Governor Samuel ole Tunai aboard has blamed the accident on bad weather and high altitude.

Governor Tunai, Narok East MP Lemanken Aramat and their aides cheated death on Saturday when their chopper, hired from the Mara Elephant Project, had an accident in Olkipejus village at about 4.30pm.

“There was no mechanical problem. Nobody was injured as all of us came out well. Things just happened in a blink of an eye and that is it,” said the pilot, Marc Goss, yesterday. “I have finished writing the full report on the crash and a team of investigators has instructed me not to talk to the media,” he added.

Type-Robinson 44

The chopper, Type-Robinson 44, was to drop the governor in Narok town but failed to take off in five attempts. Mr Tunai was admitted to Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi although an official from the county government said he was out of danger. The governor was leaving the burial of Mzee Tompo ole Sasai in Melili.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority has launched a probe into the accident. “The aircraft investigation department of the ministry of Transport Infrastructure, Housing, Urban Development and Public works has already initiated the investigation and will inform the public once the investigations are concluded,” said KCA Director-General, Captain Gilbert Kabage.

Video footage showing the final moments to the crash depict a clear sky and normal wind currents blowing through the vast wheat fields. The wreckage of the chopper Registration Number 5Y-MEP lay on the field near Olkipejus village, with its tail section cut off from the main body.

The chopper is a regular in the Mara region whenever elephants invade human settlements. Mr Goss is the MEP chief executive, which is involved in driving elephants away from human settlements, real time response to incidents of poaching and wildlife injuries in the Mara and surrounding conservancies.

Human settlements

They have been using the chopper since 2015 and have expanded its operation area for rapid response to poaching, injured wildlife and conflict areas in the 4,000-square-kilometre region.

 “It supports our monitoring efforts by marking the collaring of risk elephants to be safer for both the animals and support team. It also helps us collect important data, like herd size and health,” said Mr Goss.

Despite having plans of procuring another chopper, the accident is a big blow to the project with elephants facing eminent danger from poachers, he added.

“Although MEP has rangers on ground, the helicopter provides them with aerial support in difficult human-elephant conflict situations. We are able to locate the animals faster and provide a much-needed distraction from the elephant while our rangers on the ground guide them to safety,” Mr Goss said.


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