Kate Copstick in Kenya: cerebral palsy, accidents, drugs, epilepsy and paralysis

Copstick at last month;s Edinburgh Fringe

Copstick in the West at the Edinburgh Fringe

I posted the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast today, but without co-host Kate Copstick.

She is in currently in Kenya, where she runs a charity called Mama Biashara, based in Nairobi. It helps deprived individuals and groups to start up their own small businesses to support themselves.

She is posting a daily diary on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.

Below is an edited version of a little of what happened on just two days this week.


Kijabe Street market calls and I head off with David. Much loveliness is discussed and ordered.

I am approached by a man with a picture of his 13 year old daughter and a list. I assume some kind of sponsored bungee jump. But no. This is Kenya. He has received phonecalls from a local group (gang would make them sound too organised. These groups are more just opportunistic villains) who kidnapped his daughter from school and are demanding 300,000 shillings for her life. This, I learn, is quite a common occurrence and the police have so many of the cases on their books that they just fob you off to get your child / husband / father back yourself.

As we leave the market, a woman on a pikipiki is involved in an accident. The driver gets up but she is lying in the road. It is now that I receive a reminder of quite how cheap life is here.

“Stop!” I cry.

David looks vaguely irritated.


“This woman is injured!… Look! She cannot stand up.”

David looks and makes a clicking sound. “There is no parking,” he says and he drives past.

“Go around!” I demand – pointing at the roundabout we are joining.

“For what?”

“To help the woman!!”

More clicking from David, plus a tutting noise, as he drives off the roundabout.

“What could we do?” He is self-evidently irritated at my even considering risking a parking ticket to help a woman spreadeagled and twitching in the middle of a main road.

I am incandescent with rage. Such as to leave me speechless for the rest of the journey.


Kate Copstick. My house. Yes this is more or less all of it. I am standing with my back to the other wall.

The full extent of Kate Copstick’s accommodation in Kenya

Wednesday got off to a very bad start.

I awoke – and I do not exaggerate – crippled with pain.

I was contemplating not getting up at all, but Margaret is at the door at 9.30 to tell me that I have to empty out the storeroom I have been using for what I buy because someone wants to rent it. She is a tad taken aback at the hunched, trembling figure that opens the door. And she says I can empty it out in my own time.

I am tottering around the corner to Shalom for wifi and a hot milky coffee when I am stopped by a burly bloke sent by the shosho who wants – whatever Margaret says – the place emptied now. So the burly bloke helps me and we cram my little house with Mama Biashara loveliness. Then I go to Shalom and take meds plus a small handful of Tramadol.

Although, as my sister Amanda would quickly point out, opiate addiction is NOT my friend, at times like these I find that Tramadol is.

I do not feel like making the trip to Kibera by matatu or pikipiki so I extravagantly get a taxi. There is a room full of blind /deaf/ choking/ twitching/shrieking young humanity there with its mothers.

As soon as the Tramadol kicks in, we get going.

I talk to the families one by one. As I get the horror stories from the mums – mostly housebound because of the kids – I (who am really a King Herod in my heart) just want to sort things out a bit. And so Mama Biashara funds the group.

There is Mama Anita. She is 13 and has severe cerebral palsy. She is doubly incontinent and unable to do anything for herself – like sitting up. She is also blind and deaf.

Mama Ronnie

“Mama Ronnie is a beautiful young woman with more severe cerebral palsy than Anita”

Mama Ronnie is a stunningly beautiful young woman – a 19 year old with even more severe cerebral palsy than Anita. Her son is a big boy. His mother can no longer lift him. Which makes cleaning him and all poo-related activities extremely difficult. Feeding him one meal takes about an hour and a half.

I chat to Mama Ronnie about the possibilities of running a business from the house (poo-covered as it frequently is) and we discuss omena and liquid soap which has a really high profit margin. She gets slightly teary – which is very unusual for these amazing and resilient women.

It turns out that – because she has been unable to pay her rent – the landlord has locked her house. Her landlord, being much stronger than her, has had little difficulty in lifting Ronnie and placing him propped against a wall in the mud outside the door. Mama Ronnie is, naturally, unhappy.

And this, dear reader, is why it is so important that Mama Biashara keeps making money. So that when I meet someone like Mama Ronnie, in a situation like this, we can pay her scuzzy landlord his arrears and let Ronnie back in the house. And go off to Kawangware and buy 150 litres of soap chemicals so that Mama Ronnie (plus five other mums of disabled kids) can start earning and not have rent arrears again. As the meerkat says: “Simples”.

Mary and Joy - the blind twins

Mary and Joy, the blind twins – burns, paralysis and epilepsy

I meet the blind twins – one of whom has whole body burns after pulling a pan of boiling water over herself; Irene, who had a stroke, is intellectually impaired and paralysed down one side and has recently developed epilepsy; two more kids with severe cerebral palsy; and a contingent from the albino community including Alan who wants to be an accountant; Rebecca and her dad; and the absolutely delightful Evanson Kangethe, a brilliant boy who is No 1 in his class and wants to be a footballer. He, representing his community, sends a huge thanks to Sandra Smith who sent them a huge bag of Factor 50 sunscreen.

I tell them about the Oxfam adverts with the sad children but we are laughing too much to recreate them.

Everyone gets a small business – even Irene, who will sit beside her mum and sell sweeties.

This is Chritus who wants to be an accountant

This is Chritus, who wants to be an accountant.

I go off with a shopping list topped by several sizes of what they call here ‘beeeeg diapers’. We get a matatu to Dagoretti Corner where Alan (who is looking after his disabled brother), Joan and Dan eat with me at the Mali Cafe. Doris arrives and they go off and we start to schedule the Mombasa trip. We leave Friday. We have half a dozen big groups to fund but the budgets they have asked for are far more that we can afford.

The bus is 9 quid and our rooms are about 4.50 per night each. I fret over every penny. We are also doing – if we can – some experimental work recycling flip flops and carrier bags. But there is not enough time for me to get the kit I need before we leave. We pack in a quick meet with Felista and I hand over the stuff I have brought her to sell in the cyber cafe – DVDs and headsets mainly.

At last I manage to Facetime Daddy Copstick which is wonderful and we all talk.

I have extremely strange dreams…


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Filed under Africa, Kenya, Poverty

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