She is in Kenya for her charity Mama Biashara.
Mama Biashara gives small grants and advice to individuals and groups so that they can start self-sustaining businesses which will allow them to climb out of abject poverty by their own hard work.
The charity aims to “give a hand up not a hand out”.
Kate Copstick covers none of her own expenses and 100% of all money collected is spent on the charity’s work. No-one working for Mama Biashara is paid. It survives solely on donations and on sales at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush, London.
These are edited extracts from Copstick’s diary over the last week.
I am meeting Vicky, Our Lady On The Coast, to get an update on our goings-on down there and do some funding. Vicky has with her a young man who was one of our group of rent boys who wanted to ‘reform’. There is plenty of work for a fit lad on the beaches and in the bars and clubs here. But these lads wanted out of the game.
Their chosen new business was renting what they call ‘floaters’ on the beach. Happily, this turned out to be rubber rings and other swimming type floaty things. Phew!
There was a group of fifteen and they were doing incredibly well. Until some of the other boys in the ‘fun in the sea’ business decided to get rid of them. All it took was a few whispers that they were gay and they were regularly attacked and their stuff ripped to shreds.
Finally, they were set upon by a mob and one of the boys was stabbed and another burnt. Fire is huge here as an expression of displeasure. There is an epidemic of school-burnings. Pupils who are upset about anything simply set fire to their dorms and classrooms. Would never have happened at Paisley Grammar. Anyway, at this point six of the boys decided to cut and run. Well, five ran. One was in intensive care. Now they want to start another group along the coast in Watamu. It is a marvellously liberal town by Kenyan standards. They tend not to burn their homosexuals, for example.
Even when Mama Biashara has no money for funding, our ladies (Vicky, Purity, Fatuma and Vixen) along with Doris, try to find ways to get women work.
For example, we have had news today that a group of our girls are going to get jobs promoting Tusker Beer and Heineken in bars around Nairobi. They get a uniform, giveaways, basic training and 800 bob a day, which is phenomenal money.
Doris had sent a letter to Tusker some weeks ago and the guy had heard about Mama Biashara and so we got in through a sort of back door. Fantastic opportunity which we are hoping will be available in other cities soon. Purity and Doris had also managed to get 18 of our ladies in the Limuru area trained up as vaccination health workers, trained to go out and give polio vaccine as and when it appears. Work like this on their parts keeps Mama Biashara going and punching well, well above her financial weight. Even the baby care in Mombasa – ladies now number in the hundreds – is almost free to run.
Today Purity came with some new groups that want funding. There is a group of ladies who have found a supplier of pepino plants. This is a South American fruit that is purported to have amazing effects on high blood pressure and is much in demand. It is part of the solanum family, grows fast and sells at premium rates. They already have customers keen to buy.
Vixen has also mobilised our groups of sugar cane juice sellers. This has turned into a huge business for us right across Kenya. She has been approached by someone on behalf of a group of fifteen young women – all HIV+ – on a place called Lusinga Island in Lake Victoria. They are sex workers because they know how to do nothing else and because there is not much else to do. But Vixen thinks they could make a really good living from sugar cane juice and has found a good, sturdy second hand machine. The ladies have also asked for as many condoms as I can send.
VIxen is lesbian and has not had an easy time. Like many many lesbian girls, she has been a commercial sex worker. You dare not show your fondness for the flatter shoe (as Zoe Lyons says) or all hell will break loose. And, talking of hell, the current educational trend is interesting…
Across Kenya, girls in their hundreds are being excluded from school, expelled, on the basis that, generally without any substantiation, the Head Teacher denounces them as lesbians and so – as we all know – worshippers of the devil. I kid you not. Worshippers of the devil. They are then expelled with a letter stating their devil-worshipping lesbian tendencies, which ensures that no other school will take them in.
It recently happened to Barbara, the daughter of my lovely friend Janet who died last year. Doris has a pile of letters from parents asking for our help and enclosing the pages of written bile. There is no appeal. We are one step away from flinging the girls, bound, into a river to see if they float. I am not quite sure what to do.
Currently, the Somalis have taken over almost all the viable farms in Meru, buying them from the older farmers, or, more easily, from their widows. This is the heartland of miraa (khat, jabba, call it what you will) and it is now monoculture.
The Somali growers get the young locals to pick it. But this is picking like no picking since cotton picking in America – complete with bullwhips and sticks with which the pickers are beaten. If any of the pickers is seen eating even one single leaf of the stuff, then the overseer takes that person’s hand off at the elbow. And if it happens again, the other forearm goes. Apparently the idea is that just losing the hand is insufficiently crippling. And the local police and other authorities are simply paid to look the other way.
Julius brings some great news about a boy Mama Biashara set up in a water carrying business in Kawangware about two years ago.
He was bought a wheelbarrow and some jerrycans and he would go to the water point, fill up and then go around houses selling water door to door. He has now given that wheelbarrow to another young bloke and started him in a water business while the first young man now owns and runs two motorbike taxis and is in the process of getting one more. This is huge. And makes me very happy.
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