The £2,500 theft and Copstick in Kenya

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick at a happier time in Kenya

Mama Biashara’s Copstick on a previous Kenyan visit

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity gives sensible sums of money to help locals start sustainable small businesses in the poorer areas of Kenya.

She flew there last Friday.

Last Wednesday, £2,500 destined for the charity’s work in Africa was stolen from the Mama Biashara shop in London. At the time of writing, a donations page for the charity remains open for another 24 days and monies from the first night of promoter Mike Leigh’s new Comedy Happening night in London on 16th March are also being donated to Mama Biashara.

Below is an edited version of Copstick’s latest diary from Kenya. No-one takes any salary from Mama Biashara and Copstick covers 100% of her expenses herself. She takes no money from the charity nor from any donations to the charity. 100% of all money donated is spent on the charity’s projects.

Mama Biashara logo


SATURDAY

Doris at the ferry in Mombassa

Mama Biashara helper Doris at the ferry in Mombassa, Kenya

I am sleep deprived and knackered when I land. But get painlessly through customs and immigration, which is wonderful.

Situation update in Kenya is: there is a serious drought and a State Of Emergency has been announced. However I, although my personal luck is currently waving goodbye as it disappears over the horizon beyond dreadful, have brought the rain with me. Last night and this morning there has been rain – even in Nanyuki (which is impressive). Everyone is happy.

Doris is resplendent in new braids in grey and black (a gift from a friend).

I run through part of my To Do List and Doris says she thinks we should concentrate on things other than business set-ups because business is appalling in Kenya at the moment. Some big companies are relocating, small companies are closing and tiny Mama Biashara type businesses are in a dire state. All food prices have gone up and water has become very expensive.

Also doctors in all government hospitals have been on strike for 77 days and counting. People are lining up outside non-functioning A&E departments to die. Apart from that, everything else is crap too.

SUNDAY

The highlight of my week so far is my new favourite word of all time. Coined by the marvellous Julius, it is ‘grumpling’. Close but subtly different from grumbling. And much friendlier.

We arrange more jiggers treatments (see previous diaries, but it is not pretty), more medical, more shoes and then Julius starts talking about “the well”…

I would love to dig a well. There are 600 people in the community around where Julius lives.

Pro the well: it would bring water to the community and save the women trekking 5 kilometers to get the stuff and, thanks to all the support we have had, if we locate water which is not to deep underground, it is financially doable for us.

Con the well: the cost could be big. If all goes well and the diggers do not hit rock, it would be quite cheap. But rock means big costs. In addition to that, my experience is that, as soon as there is a ‘thing’ here, the heavy mob (there is always a heavy mob in poor areas) appropriate it. My worry is that they would grab the well and start charging the locals. And, when Julius dies, his land goes to his son and his son’s wife who might not be a decent as Julius.

Thoughts, people? Especially those who donated to Mama Biashara.

Without you I would not even be able to consider this.

The alternative is to teach the locals about the Raincatchers I invented for the Maasai.

You create a sort of hammock that you hang from trees, with a hole in the middle which is directly over the opening of a 1,000 litre water tank. The rain is ‘caught’ and collected and pours into the tank AMAZINGLY quickly. Maybe a Raincatcher for every four or five houses would be enough. This can be done at about £50 per raincatcher.

Copstick with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

Copstick with Mama Biashara worker Felista on previous visit

And now Felista arrives. Her ginormous breasts are in danger of pouring over the edge of the bra (Thank you Sara Mason) she wears and out of her blouse, which is missing a button.

Every time she takes a breath, it is like watching a tsunami of flesh gathering to swamp everything in front of it.

She shows me her skirt, which is similarly missing bits … like quite a lot of material.

“My clothes have all been eaten by a rat,” she announces with hoots of laughter.

As ever, with Felista, there is good news and there is bad news.

She also has been to Nanyuki, (as well as Doris), currently ravaged both by drought and by tribal warfare exacerbated by drought.

“Eh, they are dying like chickens there!” she cries, shaking her head. “Like chickens.”

Back at DECIP (the children’s home she created and runs on a wing, many prayers and a heart the size of a Trump ego), the bus which left in December to take 20 orphans back to their home area in Awendo in December has returned in February with the 20 as well as 49 others. No shoes, hardly any clothes. Forty nine. Because the women in Awendo know Felista will not turn away a child in need. And Awendo and surrounding area is rich in children in need.

So now Felista’s two rooms (bedroom and a sort of sitting room) as well as a store room and the dispensary, are dormitories for the tiny kids while the nursery dorms, as were, house the bigger kids.

Awendo also sent four male teachers, whom Felista has just had to tackle and expel for trying to rape girl pupils. Twelve year olds. When she stopped them and went crazy, they announced:

“But we are teachers. These girls are our meat. This is our culture.”

They have now gone.

The situation is further complicated by the older Luo girls (from Awendo) who are described by a grinning Felista as “crazy for sex”. And so I am going to be teacher for an afternoon at DECIP. Teaching sex education. Oh yes, I know. Dracula in charge of a blood bank and all that, but I will have my sensible hat on.

MONDAY

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara

Some of the Kenyan children helped by Mama Biashara money

I am determined to get some heft behind our campaign to stop teachers and Head Teachers extorting money from the poorest of the poor at government schools by creating illegal charges and then excluding the children when the parents cannot pay them. This is a Big Thing here. And it is the main reason so many of the poorest kids don’t get an education.

Some fat drunk in charge of a school wants an extra wedge so he (or she) creates a ‘sitting on the chairs’ charge or a ‘learning on Mondays’ charge. The parent cannot pay up, so the kid gets sent home.

All these charges are illegal. Including the omnipresent ‘registration fee’.

We spread the word everywhere we can when we are in the slum areas and I have written a leaflet, quoting the relevant bits of the Act and screaming in bold letters: “No child can be sent away from a government school because of money.” 

But the message is not getting out there enough.

Yesterday a lady told me her kids’ school levies a ‘cleaning charge’ twice a week. 200 pupils each pay 50 bob. Twice a week. And the cleaner is paid 200 bob tops. Twice a week. The rest goes in the headmaster’s pocket. Illegal. But kids get sent home if they do not pay it.

So I go to the Education Officer’s office and have a chat. He listens. He nods. And then he says:

“Firstly I must tell you that everything you say is true”.

Marvellous.

Then he says: “…and I must congratulate you on being so bold. These people are volatile.”

“Thieves and those who spend their lives conning money out of orphaned children often are,” I say. He smiles.

They tend to smile a lot, these officer types. Not widely, but a lot.

The upshot was that either the official types are just scared to take on the bastards or the bastards are paying them off so that the larceny might continue.

Whatever, he did say he would support a poster campaign (and have posters all over the Chief’s offices), would encourage me to speak on radio and would help with lists of parents associations to which we could speak.

Probably not me as the whole white thing is not great when push comes to shove.

1 Comment

Filed under Africa, Charity, Kenya, Politics, Poverty

One response to “The £2,500 theft and Copstick in Kenya

  1. Owen Morgan

    Rotten luck about the £2.5K theft, but unfortunately it happens to all charity shops who don’t have a rock-solid secure donation box. SUGGESTION: get a donation box or a safe that can be encased in concrete, but with a slit in the top for people to make cash donations and an open area for the lockable door so’s you can open it to retrieve donations. That way it’ll be too heavy for thieves to make off with it, especially if it’s chained to the counter or floor as well. Old trick used by Oxfam shops.
    Re.’raincatchers’, sorry Kate but you didn’t invent the idea, or if you did it’s coincidence- it’s an old SAS method for self-sufficiency, can be found in the popular ‘SAS Survival Handbook’, but it works by collecting condensation from the air too. Good idea for the short-term, or for small communities with a low population. As to well-digging, suggest that you contact WaterAid to explain the problem of local thugs using them as protection rackets- they must have come up against the same thing, their raison d’etre is providing water for Third World countries, so they may be able to advise you how to deal with the problem. One possible solution might be to have Government-issued tokens for ‘token-operated pumps’, which are issued free, directly to people with no water supply, by Government offices and which are slot-fed into the pump so that it issues a standard amount of water per token. The number of tokens necessary per week would depend upon the size of the person’s household- it’d be a bit like filling stations in England charging people to put air in their car tyres. Not saying that there wouldn’t be any black marketeering in tokens, it’s not an ideal solution, but it could be better than nothing. Also, ever thought of using some of the charity money to invest in old ex-military water tankers that could be driven round to the neediest areas by charity members? I know that when the old Green Goddess fire engines were decommissioned in the UK in ’99, some of them went out to Africa for use by fire departments over there- the UK Government might be prepared to do the same with now-obsolete army or RAF water trucks. The Kenyan Government would need to provide some sort of protective escort (armed if needs be) to the vehicles to stop criminal gangs from hijacking them or intervening at the stop-off points- the first step would be to ask the appropriate Government agencies if they’d be willing to do this, and then take it from there. Sounds like something out of Mad Max 2, but then much of Africa IS like that.

    As to the schools rip-off, I can’t suggest any solutions to that one I’m afraid, but in a different way the same thing happens with the education system over here. Schools and headmasters demand that parents pay for school uniforms when they can’t afford them, kids get sent home if they aren’t suitably dressed (i.e.wearing trainers, etc.)- but at the same time, the parents get no financial help to kit their children out as the schools want them to be. The teachers and headmasters are earning enough, if it matters to them THAT much, why don’t THEY pay for uniforms out of their fat salaries?! It’s the same with school funds, teaching in this country is supposed to be free but in many schools, funds are compulsory and children are suspended if their parents can’t afford them. And the devolved nations are no better; Scotland, Wales and Ulster are just as bad. Bottom line is- teachers are wingeing, self-interested hypocrites

    Re. problems with medical help, I myself wanted to train as a doctor as a mature student (age no longer an issue if under 60) but in this country, am not allowed as I have had 2 convictions for drink-driving and would not be regarded as fit to practice in the UK. Once I’ve done my ‘A’ Levels I’d be happy to be trained in Kenya if they’d disregard my convictions (I’m over my alcohol problems now and am teetotal) and to work out there, so I am potentially available in the long term, but it’s a question of whether they’d train a white man (especially a Brit., given that Kenya was one of our former colonies), whether I’d have to pay for my training (I’d get no funding from the Government of the UK to do it), and also how much difference just one person could make to the system. But I’m a theoretical source of medical aid if the powers that be in Kenya would consider me.

    John, please pass this message on to Kate, I would like her to have my input. Thanks.

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