Comedy critic and journalist Kate Copstick today returns to London from one of her regular trips Kenya, where she is works for her Mama Biashara charity. Below are the latest (shortened) excerpts from her diary. Full versions are on her Facebook page.
Mama Biashara’s slogan is “A hand up, not a hand-out”. It gives relatively small amounts of start-up money for small businesses which can become self-supporting. It also provides free health advice and medicines where it can.
There is good news – after my threats of reporting them to the World Health Organization, the doctors at the local hospital are behaving themselves and the general health of the community is quite good. Our one salon is now four, the tomato and sukuma wiki (sort of kale) ladies are doing amazing business and the young guy we originally worked with setting up a chapati business and then expanded to a little hotel (cafe) has now taken on four other lads into the biz. Ditto the computer lad for whom we bought a printer – he is training local lads by the fistful. We get stuck into the business plans – 26 in all, with 41 people involved.
One interesting thing is that, having seen how well the women do when they have their own little business, quite a lot of men have decided that doing something of a businessy nature is A Good Thing, even if only not to feel emasculated by their wives. And, although the men tend to pitch much higher than the women, they do do good business.
The pitch plans are really well laid out now. After seven years of ploughing through “I buy a sack from the farm and sell and I get 200 bob and my fare is 100 bob each way” type plans, we have finally got people to think logically about the business set up. And understand the difference between gross and net profit.
Jayne is impressed by our Education Project leaflets. But she thinks we should also do something about secondary school education. Which is not free for anyone. Even the government schools demand fees. Then, on top of the fees, the grasping headmasters and school boards demand other (illegal) fees – for cooking, for toilet cleaning, for use of the ancient school bus, for example. I also get a graphic insight into another gift the white colonialists left Kenya. The concept of Flashman type prefects and fagging. This is in government schools.
Two boys in a highly-thought-of government secondary school were found recently with their backs broken after what sounds like a hazing. When you go into the first form secondary, it is the expected thing that you will be ‘tortured’. By the prefects.
Doris arrives, having had a terrible day. She tried to take the meds to our ringworm & oral thrush lady. One would think, given the state of her, she would be desperate for the bloody meds, but no-show. Doris tried to track down the firewood ladies who all want to see me about their pains and ghastly acid stomach. The village of prozzies has decided (after a visit from their local politician) that I must have some bad intentions and am probably coming to experiment on them, so they have cancelled their medical day.
By half one it seems pretty certain that the medical is not going to happen. When pressed, Doris says that the women who, yesterday, wanted us to come, have now been told by someone – and are convinced – that I am coming with bad intentions, to experiment on them.
To be fair, it is always a hurdle to be jumped – the total disbelief of many of the people we work with that anyone would come and help them for free. And give them medicine for free.
Felista changes the meet from Java to Shalom. A Fat Shiny Bloke arrives along with Men In Hats, I never trust a Fat Shiny Man. He obviously wrote the book on Patronising With A Smile. He gets out his laptop and The Mzungu appears on Skype from Canada. She uses phrases like “We want you to know we are on your side” and starts far too many sentences with “I am sensing …”
The Mzungu and Shiny Man are from an organisation called Lift The Children. They support 75 children’s homes in Kenya. And elsewhere I think. They are big. They give DECIP (a children’s home run by Mama Biashara’s helper Felista) about £250 a month. Which is great. However, for this, they seem to want control of the home. They have sent Felista a formal ‘Warning Letter’ about withdrawal of funds, specifying that the home is dirty and in need of repair (pretty much true), that the beds are old (true), that the children are frequently messy and in torn clothes (true) and that she does not have their recommended ratio of one member of fully trained staff per ten children (absolutely true). They want all this remedied.
I point out, as calmly as I can, that Felista herself would jump at the chance to remedy all of this, but it is entirely a matter of having insufficient funding. Fat Shiny Man disagrees.
“It is not about money” he smirks.
I also point out that if Shiny Man ever looked at the children themselves, talked to them, he would see that they are so happy. They are secure, loved, reasonably well fed and they have self confidence. They are looked after medically and they love being at DECIP because they have freedom.
The authorities bring children to Felista that they cannot place elsewhere. Severely damaged and abused children. Because they have seen that – and I quote – “Felista heals them with love”. And she does.
I know kids there who have arrived totally withdrawn and incontinent, crazy and angry, or just tiny, malnourished, wobbly things. And now they are having fun, they are happy, they are confident. I suggest that there is more to a well-looked-after child than a shiny face and a smart uniform.
Shiny Man witters on about ‘making a bad impression’. The Mzungu makes some fair points. There are too many kids at DECIP. And this is a problem. But the authorities, the police and the community keep dumping kids on her and Felista has a heart the size of Lake Turkana.
We pack the car and head to the airport. I hate this morning. Just handing over an amount of money that would change the lives of fifty people to a grubby little man in a grubby little office so the stuff can get sent on a probably corrupt airline to the UK. This time it cost £800. Plus about £90 to clear it at the other end. It never fails to depress and upset me. Anyone with any contacts with any airline that flies to Nairobi… how good are you at emotional blackmail??
Doris says some women have come and said there is a boy the village who is now a total orphan. They want us to give him the de-worming medicine and if he is not dead in an hour they will come with their children. Bit by bit people arrive. They always check with each other about how safe it is… and what my reasons could be for coming here.
We de-worm and de-scab. The garlic and Flagyl take a hammering. There are a load of urinary tract infections, a ton of tonsillitisy throats and a lovely lady with oral thrush. Luckily I have the meds. A small river of castor oil is dispensed for those who have problems with their ‘tumbo’ and, after rigorous questioning, reveal they have not been to the loo in four days. We give all the usual advice about not cooking indoors, not just eating a mountain of ugali before bed and drinking enough water.
There is a lovely old lady who has a body full of aches and pains (she gets an extra tube of diclofenac gel just cos I like her), a load of giggling girls who just want something for free and more snot than you could soak a box of Kleenex in. Some kids scream and run from the mzungu. Others are fascinated and want to touch my skin. Three hours goes by very quickly.
Much-needed donations to Mama Biashara can be made HERE.
No-one takes any salary from the charity and Kate Copstick covers 100% of her own 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.
The Mama Biashara shop, staffed by volunteers and Copstick herself, is in Shepherd’s Bush, London.