You knock on a door, and a child opens it. The mother is too weak, sitting on a chair at the corner. Disease has ravaged her body. And she is a matchstick figure of her former self. The father to her children was buried weeks ago, and she was too weak to bury him.
Two kilometres away, another house, six children play to pass time. The father is lying on a dirty mat. He is unable to even lift his ailing body and cook a meal for the children. If a passer-by comes with food and cooks, they eat, if not, they sleep hungry. The mother died.
These are only two scenes of hundreds of families living in Kibera, Korogocho, and Kawangware slums in Kenya where Winnie Wanjugu Kabuga has been working.
A MORNING IN THE SLUMS
Life in the slums is controlled by hunger. “A woman wakes up at 4.00 am and goes out in search of kibarua (manual work) to wash clothes. She knocks on gates, and when she is successful, gets KeS. 200 to feed her starved children only a meal a day.
“The next day, she wakes up, knocks on different gates. Today, she is unsuccessful as other mothers got the job before her, or the owners of the homes have now invested in washing machines.”
“She goes home without a shilling and remembers a man who had made advances at her. And transactional sex provides food for her children that day,” Winnie narrates.
TRANSACTIONAL SEX, BROTHELS, AND SODOMY
This state of life in the slums has turned the shanties into brothels where HIV/AIDs has ravaged families, leaving men and women as widowers/widows and children as orphans.
“Sex trade that spirals to sexually transmitted pregnancies, HIV/AIDs and early pregnancies are prevalent. Sex is a cycle in the slums,” says Winnie.
Poverty, a bad economy, and the lack of work have pushed parents to vices untold and unplanned pregnancies in the informal settlements.
There are also increased cases of sodomy and child molesting as children are seen as easier prey.
“I visit such families and ensure they take the free ARVs from Government hospitals, sometimes help them pay their rent, and get food for their children,” says Winnie, a graduate of Egerton University in Gender, Women, Poverty and Development Studies.
Her mobile phone is full of pictures and videos of her new-found friends in the slums. She sheds a tear when she scrolls a picture a before and after picture and video of a woman before HIV ‘ate’ her up, and after.
Clean water, a meal is hard to come by, and a balanced diet is the hardest.
Despite her social work in the slums, Winnie knows there is only so much one person can do.
“One day I spotted a child who could not control her bowel movement. And from my lessons in gender-based violence, I knew someone must be molesting the girl. Further investigations confirmed my fears, it was the father,” narrates Winnie.
Winnie works with rescue centres and organisation, and the girl was taken to hospital and is now living happily at a children’s home.
She has cases upon cases of unpaid rent, unpaid hospital bills, and women just begging for small financial assistance to start small- scale businesses like a roadside greengrocery, mandazi kibanda, or shop.
“A wrong turn or decision should not be a life sentence of struggle to the death but financial empowerment of the thousands living in the slums will break this cycle of poverty, sex, disease, and death,” ends Winnie.
The Women In Leadership team will share more stories from the slums as we seek to empower those living in informal settlements.
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