Category Archives: Charity

Copstick on real life and death in Kenya

Continuing the diary extract blogs from nine days ago…

Comedy critic and journalist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working with her charity Mama Biashara.

Among other things, it aims to help people out of poverty by giving them start-up money (and advice) to create their own small, self-sustaining businesses. 

These extracts from Copstick’s diary are heavily-edited for length. The uncut originals are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.

So this is part of what happened, in Kenya, a little over a week ago…


FRIDAY

The coach from Nairobi for Awendo leaves at 8.00am.

After Kisii, in really quite quiet rural areas, suddenly vast swathes of land are being dug up for huge roads. And, by the looks of it, huge highways are being built. No idea why. No-one here has any idea why other than the President’s obsession with his ‘legacy’. 

Yet again, the devastated remains of tiny roadside businesses can be seen along the way. The work means that sometimes the road (as was) disappears altogether into mud and dust. The plans for the road to be built and the destruction of businesses to make way for it give no suggestion as to how long the work will take. Arrival is not important here. This is not even travelling hopefully. It is just booking the ticket and cancelling everything else. 

We get to Awendo at about 5.30pm. Even the Kenyans are pissed off. Jayne is there with a local taxi.

We start seeing business people immediately. 

The evening funding goes pretty well. All individual businesses. Fish, fried fish, bananas, petrol. The last surprises me because of the new petrol tax. But they are selling in half litres to people with sugar cane squishers and there is still wriggle room for profit at that level. 

FYI thanks to the government’s War on the Poor, kerosene – which the very poorest of people use for light – is now more expensive than diesel. So the poorest children can no longer see to do homework or try to read books. But the fattest of Kenyans can drive the biggest of gas guzzlers. Our little old ladies who sell kerosene by the thimbleful so they and their neighbours can see in the hours of darkness are devastated. 

Colonialism and its legacy can be blamed for a lot, but the passing of new taxes that punish and extort only the poor, while destroying the smallest businesses and cutting off the route to starting new small businesses in the way this government is doing requires an active greed, a terrifying selfishness and an overwhelming lack of care for the poorest people. 

The only thing that talks in Kenya now is money. If you have none you are no-one. Maybe that is the legacy of colonialism. But the Kenyans who are now in power sure love and work very hard to keep it alive.

SUNDAY

I get up at 8.00am, marvelling at my ability to do so. The Kenyans are sniggering at how long I sleep. They have been up since 6.00am.

Big news is that a load of houses nearby were set fire to in the night. As a reprisal for the three young men who attacked and killed a male family member with pangas (machetes) in a neighbouring field. There was a ‘dispute’ over family land. This is the local way of settling it. The houses are still smouldering. 

MONDAY

I read a piece in one of the newspapers about how to be a successful stand-up comedian in Kenya. The instructions were: funny accents (make fun of other tribes and other nationalities, Nigerians being particularly fertile ground because they talk funny), make fun of poor people, uneducated people, people from rural areas and old people. Dress up in a parody of whatever group you are having a go at. Basically racism, sexism and punching down.

TUESDAY

We arrive back in Nairobi at 4.45am. It is cold and dark and the centre of town is a strange mix of hustlers and prostitutes at the end of their night’s work, drunk and slightly the worse for wear but really friendly… and market traders at the start of their day. 

We wait in a bunch for a matatu (privately owned minibus) and I end up sharing with four people and five huge sacks of oranges and sweet potatoes. 

Later, we meet Doris for something to eat. We will definitely be going to Mombasa on Friday so we have tickets to buy. 

There are a load of Glam ladies there and Doris wants me to meet with them to discuss the ongoing working relationship between us. Thanks to the government’s War on the Poor, it is incredibly difficult for Mama Biashara to set up tiny businesses the way we used to and turn people’s lives around. 

So Doris has developed this amazing network of businesswomen and women with a reasonable amount of money (many of them from the streets themselves) who need/want workers for all sorts of jobs. They now trust Mama Biashara and the people we get for them. So we are putting hundreds (maybe even thousands) of men and women into employment. 

Good wages, decent treatment, frequently accommodation and food come with the job, so ideal for Phoenix Project people who need to be relocated away from their abuser. 

Our ‘official stamp’ has come from the maker. Load of bollocks, if you ask me, but everyone has one if you are an organisation. And I am giving all the volunteers a certificate to show (a) Mama Biashara is legit and (b) they are legit. So we need The Stamp. 

WEDNESDAY

Vicky meets us at Majengo. Pretty much everywhere has a Majengo. An area on the outskirts where refugees or displaced people live. A slum amongst slums. 

There are three groups. We huddle in a small room and I ask if we can open the door – just because I am a fan of things like seeing what I am doing and breathing. But they are terrified we will be seen and attacked. So the door closes. 

One group is going to sell sweet potatoes and arrowroot (boiled and grilled), one is a cleaning group and the third is a Phoenix Group. They had gone to a Maasai area because they were offered building work there. But the Maasai have turned on them. And the usual weapons of physical and sexual violence have been deployed, as ever, frequently towards children. The group want to go back to their own area. Which is unfortunately far away. But Mama provides fare and money to set up a group business once they are there. I also asked Vicky to keep me in touch with a view to adding coffee selling to the miraa business they are starting with. This leaves me pretty much out of money.

We go to Limuru and meet the lovely Vixen for a make up workshop for a dozen girls. I have brought loads of stuff from the UK. Does anyone fancy donating more make up? Hair straighteners? Decently powerful hairdryers? Brushes? 

Our make up businesses are doing amazingly well. In Kisumu, Mombasa, Kitale … around three hundred girls. 

The girls being trained today are young mums. Which means the babies are in the workshop too. So the small room is a cocktail of smells: cheap make-up, body odour, breast milk and baby poo.

Meanwhile I talk to Joy, who is a refugee from Narok where troubles are reaching a terrible pitch with daily killings, shootings, hospitals full of people with arrows poking out of every body part, house burnings and livestock slaughterings. Joy has no idea where the rest of her family is. They just ran from their burning house. She is staying with a local (Glam) lady for the moment but she needs a way of making a living.

Then we head off. To look for somewhere to eat. 

Two bites into a lump of dead something I lose a front tooth. A whole tooth. A whole front tooth. Gone. Out. All I can think of is NOW I HAVE TO GO TO THE DENTIST and my world collapses in around me like a bubble gum bubble on an upturned face. 

I try not to panic. Or cry. But it is tough. The appalling combination of my greatest fear (dentist) and the hideous prospect of the quite honestly impossible costs involved take my breath away. I freeze. 

To be fair, the missing part is a crown that was put in thirty years ago. But it has broken off right along the gumline. I can feel my hands go numb. I am dizzy. I am in my own, personal hell. Genuinely, I wish my leg had broken and not my tooth.

I am having something of a panic attack just writing this so I am going to stop now.

… CONTINUED HERE … 


Mama Biashara is totally financed by individual donations and from sales in its London charity shop. You can donate here. Copstick receives no money. She covers all her own costs including travel to and accommodation in Kenya. 100% of everything donated goes to the charity’s work.

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Copstick and the abused Kenyan girls

Kate Copstick is Mama Biashara

The UK’s most influential comedy critic, Kate Copstick, is currently working with Mama Biashara, the charity she started in Kenya.

This is the (edited) second series of extracts from her diary. The first was posted a couple of days ago.

The full version is on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


SATURDAY

The government has closed the forests and so there is pretty much no (legal) charcoal or firewood.unless it comes in from Tanzania at exorbitant cost. Fine for the rich but very unfine for the poor who cannot afford gas, much less electricity to cook with. 

We have had huge success with recycled fuel briquettes using a variety of biowaste according to region. Unfortunately our success drew the attention of the charcoal cartels (oh yes there are such things) and our groups were either physically attacked or threatened into submission. So our groups have split up into smaller, less threatening-looking chunks and spread out. We are teaching people how to make the briquettes so they can use them themselves and save money.

Two of the Mama Biashara Mary Faith children (posed so as to obscure their identities)

SUNDAY

I go to see Mary Faith.

New girls have been rescued and five of the older girls have been turned away from school because there is no money for school fees.

Firstly Lucy, who is paralysed and a little bit intellectually challenged. Ideal, then, for the men around her to have some fun with.

She was brought to Mary Faith pregnant and she refused to have a termination because she says she wants someone to love her and she thinks the baby will be that someone. Because of the paralysis she needs a Caesarean Section. Two hundred quid.

Then there is Diana, who is four years old and an absolute joy. She stares at me and asks me what I am. I tell her I am a shosho (an old lady). She grabs my arm and scratches gently. She looks at me and asks if my legs are the same as my arms. I roll up my leggings and she shrieks with laughter. She makes me pull them up further. We further inspect my tummy, my back and my bottom, all to hoots of amusement and amazement. Then she inspects my hair – to see if it is real. 

Mary Faith and I tell her that there are lots of people like me. She is wide eyed. She is a little odd and has a stammer, but then she saw her mother beaten and running for her life and then she herself was raped and then abandoned, outside their locked house, by her father. 

So that would tend to make you a bit stammery. At four. But we do counting and singing and she thinks my name is funny, so she is doing really well. 

And then there are the girls who have been sent away from school because there is no money for fees. The fees are about one hundred pounds per girl per term. They are all working really hard at their studies 

Jane is 16 and has a three year old son. She was abused by a family friend and abandoned.

Teresia is 17 and has a daughter aged 3. She was married off at age 14 in order to use the dowry to pay a debt that her grandfather had managed to incur.

Doris is also 17 and was also married off at age 14 by her uncle after both her parents died. The uncle sent Doris’s three siblings with her from West Pokot to her new marital home in Nairobi so she could look after them. Obviously, he wanted nothing to do with them once he had her dowry. She got pregnant, miscarried and was bleeding heavily for six months after her husband abandoned her because she was obviously no good at having children. All four of the family are with Mary Faith. Doris still has appalling gynaecological issues.

Rafina is 16 and is the mother of a two and a half year old boy. She was raped by her paternal uncle in the family home and then, when the pregnancy was apparent, taken to the centre of Nairobi and abandoned. She was sleeping rough when some of the street boys who knew about Mary Faith brought her to the home.

Margaret is 16 and was abused by neighbours when her parents died and she was left alone looking after her siblings. All are now with Mary Faith.

Finally there is Berine, another new girl, aged 16. She was sent by family (after her parents died) to Dandora as a house girl. Sold, basically. There she was abused and impregnated by her employer. As soon as this Prince Charming saw she was pregnant, he threw her out. She found occasional shelter with street sex workers but when she gave birth they also threw her out. 

She was living rough for weeks when the street boys rescued her and brought her to Mary Faith.

So there you have it. I am really hoping Mama Biashara People can come up with the school fees. Even the money for the Caesarean Section. I do not know how you choose who to help. (Donations can be made HERE.)

In other, other news, inspired by Janey Godley, I am working with a group of young guys here who do art and ceramics and all sorts of stuff to see if we can come up with a Mama Biashara T-shirt design and they will handpaint them. Watch this space.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Critic Kate Copstick needs money and is offering to provide feel-good pampering

Kate Copstick at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherds Bush, London

Kate Copstickdoyenne of British comedy critics, founded and runs the Mama Biashara charity which, in Kenya, gives small grants and advice to impoverished individuals, mostly women, to start self-sustaining small businesses which may help them get out of poverty. The charity’s slogan is A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out.

It survives solely on donations and on money raised at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherds Bush, London. The shop is also the venue for the free, monthly, open-to-all meetings of the comedy industry’s Grouchy Club.

Mama Biashara, in search of more funds for its charity work, is holding a special event in a fortnight (Saturday 7th April, from 2.00pm). I talked to Copstick about it at the shop.


JOHN: So Mama Biashara’s philosophy is…?

COPSTICK: Well, an awful lot of charities are about infrastructure and about ‘things’ – an office or a school or a this or a that. I have always thought you should invest in people and then people can build the things.

JOHN: And neither you nor the volunteers in London nor the volunteers in Kenya get paid any money from the charity.

COPSTICK: No. They’re volunteers. That’s why I am looking for someone to help build a shed in my back garden in London. I am going to Airbnb my flat and move into a shed in my garden, to try and keep afloat financially.

JOHN: So what’s this Saturday thing in a fortnight?

COPSTICK: You know what it is, for ’twas at the Grouchy Club that this idea was born.

JOHN: What idea would that be?

COPSTICK: To be fair, John, I only have a vague recollection, because quite a lot of Jura had been drunk – a delicious single malt whisky brought to the table by the even more delicious Martha McBrier.

Maybe 75% of the money we spend in Kenya is made here in the Mama Biashara emporium of loveliness in Shepherds Bush. However, of late, the emporium of loveliness has not been attracting as many people as it should.

Footfall at Mama Biashara’s shop is affected by supermarkets

JOHN: Why?

COPSTICK: For the last year-and-a-half because the Morrisons supermarket opposite closed, which decimated the footfall. We are now starting to get it back because a Lidl has opened opposite.

At this month’s Grouchy Club, the lovely Samantha Pressdee brought some gorgeous Neal’s Yard stuff and she came up with the idea of a sort of pamper day in aid of Mama Biashara and Martha McBrier revealed herself to be a tarot card reader.

JOHN: As is Samantha…

COPSTICK: Indeed so. She has a done it at the Grouchy Club. And here at Mama Biashara, we have a lovely lady who comes in once or twice a week who sells and uses medicinal grade aromatherapy oil. In fact, the morning after the Grouchy Club at which this plan was hatched I came in, unsurprisingly, with a fairly highly-developed hangover.

I said to her: Headache.

She said: Try peppermint oil.

I said: I don’t like peppermint. I’m a big spearmint fan. But don’t like peppermint.

The Mama Biashara afternoon event will also involve raffle prizes like this one donated by Samantha Ruth Pressdee

She put a tiny little drop of medicinal grade essential peppermint oil, grown in Washington State, on the back of my hand and said: Lick that.

As you lick it, you have to breathe in. And, well, it is like somebody has taken the top off your head. Suddenly everything becomes clear, your tubes are clear, your chest feels clear… Hangover… gone! Extraordinary.

So she is going to be coming along on the Saturday afternoon. And there will be people doing foot massage and whatnot. I am going to try and get some live drumming music and it may well be that we have a comedy show in the evening.

JOHN: So people will come into Mama Biashara for free and can look around the shop as normal…

COPSTICK: Yes. It’s sort of an open day. And there will be these added extras they can pay to have – the pampering and tarot reading and foot massage and so on. You can come in and have a tarot reading to see what the future holds. For example: Will your show be a massive hit at the Edinburgh Fringe?

JOHN: And the money raised goes to the Mama Biashara charity.

COPSTICK: Yes.

Hatching the idea were (L-R) Samantha Pressdee, Kate Copstick, Martha McBrier and Siân Doughty

JOHN: This will be in the back bit of the Mama Biashara shop.

COPSTICK: Yes. In the bit where we hold the Grouchy Club and occasionally do comedy shows. When Ngambi McGrath lost the long-time venue for her Heavenly Comedy nights recently, she moved it here until she found a new venue and it was absolutely rammed – I was running around trying to find extra seats.

JOHN: Mama Biashara is a good place if what you are road-testing a show…

COPSTICK: Yes. It’s intimate. There’s no microphone, no proper performance lights but, if what you want to do is get your content tightened, then this is a great place for workshopping. One of the guys who was doing 10 minutes at Heavenly Comedy runs a comedy course and asked if he could do it here which would have been fine except I’m in the throes of a volunteer crisis so I don’t have the manpower or womanpower to keep the shop open on a Tuesday until 8.30pm, except the second Tuesday of every month which is the Grouchy Club.

JOHN: Any other shows coming up here?

COPSTICK: I also offered the space to Alfie Noakes of the We Are Funny project.

An article by Alfie Noakes, as published on chortle.co.uk (Photograph by Steve Best)

He came to see me because he has this Challenge thing going – a topic for an hour-long comedy show. And this topic was initially: Is Radical Feminism Killing Comedy? which was going to be put on at Farr’s School of Dancing in East London. But there were objections from… I don’t know what we should call them. The Ladies of the Left? The Sisters? They objected to the… I suppose to the mere idea that anyone might even debate let alone think such a transgressive idea.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Mama Biashara’s expanding charity work in Kenya – with Kate Copstick

Kate Copstick – at the Mama Biashara shop in London before one of her regular trips to Kenya

In two days’ time, Kate Copstick returns from Kenya, where she has been working for her Mama Biashara charity, which was started to give advice and small amounts of money to poor people (mostly women) so they can support themselves by starting small self-sustaining businesses.

The charity’s work has widened to try to lessen other social problems, as shown in previous blogs and, here, in edited extracts from her diary, we catch up with a little of what she was doing last week, continuing from a previous blog… 


Vicky, holding the latest in cheap de-worming tablets.

WEDNESDAY

I get a call to say that the Meru groups are all moving today to Garissa under the watchful eye of Vicky. For those who did not read the Meru diary, these are twenty women who are escaping their rapist, paedophile husbands who have been sexually abusing their own children. So the twenty women and about ninety children are simply disappearing from their appalling life today and starting another life in another place. The women will form a little community and everyone is part of one of the group businesses. There is a hospital waiting to look at physical damage and a counsellor to address the psychological trauma. Vicky is working on a school for the kids.

Doris calls from Limuru, where the bravest five of the girls who have been being kept as sort of house/sex slaves are leaving for their new lives. Some have children born of the abuse they have suffered. Most of them were brought to Nairobi aged about eight or nine. The sexual abuse started at the latest, six months later and has continued unabated ever since. They have rarely been allowed out of the house to mix with other people. So this rescue has been tricky.

But now they are going.

They all have someone waiting for them – a Mama Biashara person – and a place to stay, well paid, nice work and three days training each week in skills like hairdressing and sewing. These young women have been so abused for so long that we could not have given them their own businesses. They have no confidence, no skills and almost need looking after like children until they can heal a bit and find themselves again. Which they will. Doris has excelled herself here.

The rest of the girls in this group are too terrified to come along. And they have difficulty (which often happens) in believing that someone actually wants to help them. But we are staying in touch.

Helper Felista works hard for Mama Biashara all over Kenya

THURSDAY

We have had great difficulty in keeping in contact with the Maasai girls in Shompole. I do some research and find it is not “there, above Meru” but over, again, towards the Tanzanian border between Lake Magadi and Lake Nacron. Not, in the grand, Kenya scheme of things, far.

I resolve to go on Saturday and come back Sunday or Monday. It turns out Shompole is quite the tourist trap. It is hotching with safari operators, camps, ‘wilderness experiences’, ‘cultural exchanges’ and the rest. I see pictures of jolly Maasai ladies engaging with eager tourists. I am assuming that the old ‘cultural exchanges’ do not include female tourists being held screaming while they are cored like a pineapple and then sewn up with parcel twine (which is what happens in the local version of female genital mutilation).

I get a call from Felista who is sounding not at all well. I was supposed to meet her to give her some money for some lengths of pipe for the sewage system at the home. She had explained earlier: “The pipe which is here is very small and the poo-poos are now very big and they are blocking, blocking and returning into the cho”.

I find her slumped on a bench in a pharmacy.

She has a pain in her chest which sounds like heartburn. But she seems very weak (unusual). The pharmacist has given her Omeprazole.

“It works like a charm,” he says.

“IT is a PPI (a proton-pump inhibitor),” I hoot. “These are serious drugs and you cannot hand them out like sweeties”.

“But it works,” he smiles. “In one hour she will be fine.”

“What do you give for a headache?” I mutter. “Morphine?”

He chuckles.

In an hour, Felista is not fine. And the pain has shifted to her back.

I ask the PPI King if he has a blood pressure meter. He has. Felista’s blood pressure is high: 177/104. But no shortness of breath, no clamminess, no racing or thready pulse.

I chat to the PPI King about likely antibiotics for the girls in Shompole. He does not seem that bothered by my description of the problem.

“That is the Maasai. That is what they do,” he nods.

I get Augmentin in high doses, iodine, hydrogen peroxide (for when it is time for the maggots to go) and take Felista next door to drink tea. She is not perking up that much, so I put her in a taxi. Sadly the cost of a wee ECG here is ridiculous. But I might see if we have any pullable strings.

High tech under the dashboard of the Mama Biashara car

FRIDAY

David and I eat peas and rice in the little place downstairs and go to the car. Which has apparently died. Completely. Not a flicker. The usual rearranging of cardboard bits on the battery and banging the contacts with a spanner do not work. A mechanic is called. An hour and a half later, the car comes back to life.

“It is a fuse,” pronounces David.

The car dies again.

We do a lot of pushing her around the dusty compound while David attempts to start her up.

We apply jump leads.

Another half hour and she is going again.

“Doris is again working her magic…”

SATURDAY

More sexually abused girls from the forest community outside Limuru have come forward. Seven of them; four with babies.

In a slight twist to the usual story, one of them was brought to Nairobi aged twelve, by her older sister. It is her sister’s husband who has been raping her ever since and it is his baby she has.

Doris is again working her magic within the Mama Biashara community and has found the seven girls places with our Glam customers. Accommodation, food and very well paid house work plus, in all cases, the all-important training. In one case the Glam lady has four shops and is looking to train our refugee girls for all of them.

The feedback about the girls who left last week for their new homes is very positive. The host ladies are delighted and the girls are thrilled. We may have discovered a whole new way of dealing with sexually abused teens. FYI all of the groups will be getting counselling: that is part of the package we set up.

It occurred to me that some of you might see the whole child rape/sexual abuse/FGM thing as being Mama Biashara ‘spreading herself too thin’.

Let me explain how and why this is working.

At the moment, about 75% of Mama Biashara’s income comes from the London shop. Currently the shop is breaking me. And I have no real idea for how much longer it is viable. The problems are both personal and personnel.

I have to find a way to make Mama Biashara more attractive to funding bodies/fundraisers/donors. This means being (I have been advised) much more specific. Very few people are wonderful enough to give money to give away to people to change their lives through setting up a small business. Apparently that is too ‘vague’.

Serendipitously, the whole child rape project reared its ugly head. The day we put our feelers out on the ground to see what was lurking there, it turned into the Hydra. The women whose husbands were raping their children but who could not leave… the sex slave girls… and even Maasai women who were prepared to run from their clan to save their daughters from FGM are now Mama’s constituency. They are all being saved the Mama Biashara way – by being made strong and independent by having their own, sustainable businesses.

And now I am hoping that we are more eligible for grants.

I have admitted defeat on the ‘just do the right thing’ front.

I have to continue doing the right thing but be prepared to parcel it up the way the trusts/donors/fundraisers want to see it.

Yes, we will still do de-worming and ringworm days. Yes, we will still do all the civil rights information leaflets and health information. But that is easy peasy.

Now we have a bigger job adding on counselling, medical care and relocation expenses. Girls will get training (as the sex slave girls did) and Maasai girls will get the education they have been refused (there is a small school at the centre in Rombo). But it is still all the Mama Biashara Way.

We still have our groups in Awendo (hotbed of all things non-consensual and unnatural where sex is concerned, Western and the Coast. As well as the new communities growing in Dodoma (in Tanzania – we are literally an international charity!), Nanyuki, Garissa and the rest.


Mama Biashara exists solely on donations and from sales at its London shop. Copstick takes no money for herself in any way. 100% of donations and of the shop’s earnings go to the charity’s work.

You can donate HERE.

Part of the Mama Biashara shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush

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Copstick in Kenya: Good news and bad

More edited ongoing extracts from the diary of Kate Copstick who is currently in Kenya working for her Mama Biashara charity which gives small grants to help poor people start their own self-sustaining businesses. It also gets involved in wider social issues. 

The full diary is posted on her Facebook page.


Kate Copstick (left) working for Mama Biashara in Kenya

MONDAY

I am more than a little pissed off to learn that my 22kg of donated bras is not yet ready for collection. Something about being lost in Paris. Tomorrow, says Morris the Export Man.

I go to Corner to meet Doris. I am, to be honest, rather dreading this. Our last attempt at getting some actual paperwork done ended, if you remember, somewhat tumfily (Scottish word, a tumf is a bad mood). Since then, her texts have been entirely in Kiswahili (never a good sign) and quite formal.

But she is fine.

However, the news from the weekend is troublesome.

Since we accidentally opened this Kenya-sized can of worms and found a pit of snakes, the ghastliness has just kept on coming. All of it hidden away, all of it culturally approved (by men, mostly) and none of it ever, ever addressed.

While I was with Nais (see yesterday’s blog), Doris was around Limuru meeting a group of girls (14 in all but only 5 made it out to the meeting) who are living in a sort of forest area far outside the town. These girls (aged about 15-18) are in the same state that the Kangeme girls were.

Sent by their parents to relatives ‘in town’. The relatives say the girls will get an education or vocational training. But, when they arrive, they are house slaves for the women and sex slaves for the men. The girls are much the same in demeanour as the Kangeme girls – utterly cowed.

But they had got to hear about the Kangeme girls and got a borrowed phone and called Doris. She has absolutely no idea how they got the number. They have no skills, no ideas about business. And they are pretty much broken. We discuss what options we have. When these girls leave their community it has to be like the Kangeme girls and the women from the quarry we rescued – they all just have to disappear. Or any who are left will be beaten.

We explore creating temporary safe houses – mine here in Corner, for a start. Doris says leave it with her so I do.

We go to Chicken Master and continue to administrate over lunch. I get all the info on the Magadi and Namanga groups and then Doris tells me something terrible but which will be wonderful. The leader of the first group, Ntoto Sayoon, has been in touch from his new home.

The charcoal business is up and running and everyone is so happy. But he has a best friend. And another friend. Who are still in the old village. They are in the same position that Ntoto was. The Maasai men show their dislike of incoming men by raping their wives and children in front of them. Ntoto’s best friend did not come to Mama Biashara for funding because he did not believe it was for real. He did not believe anyone would help them, much less get them out and into a new life.

So now Ntoto wants to bring his friends into his charcoal group. He says they will share their houses with them till they get somewhere and they will share the business. Gulp.

The bad news is that, as a result of the repeated rapes, both his best friend’s wife and young daughter are pregnant. And his wife is now unwell after trying to abort by hitting herself in the stomach with a hammer.

In other news, we have also been contacted (no idea how this number is getting around…) by a group of Maasai girls from up north.

Up North in Kenya is not the joyous beer, whippets, flat caps and real tea experience that it is in England. It is quite killy. And women are quite a long way below goats in the respect stakes.

This group of around twelve girls – average age 12 – have all been ‘cut’ (female genital mutilation). All are in agony.

After the entire clitoral area is removed like taking the top off a boiled egg with a teaspoon, the girls are sewn shut with parcel twine. All these girls have massive infections. The girl who spoke to us mentioned pain, pus and maggots (which are currently probably saving their lives). She says the smell in the classroom is appalling and all the boys laugh at them. If they try to remove the stitches to clean the giant wound, they are beaten.

Not quite sure what else to say here… We are working on it.

Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

TUESDAY

I have been asked to find a Jewish Cemetery by the fragrant Sarah Chew back in London. She makes the oddest requests, but I feel I can make a fist of this one.

David has no idea what I am talking about. “What is Jewish?” he asks.

The cemetery is a tragic sight. Not a headstone left intact, totally overgrown, full of litter and homeless people enjoying an al fresco bottle of glue. This is not anything to do with anti-Semitism. This is just Kenya. If no-one is actually defending something or paying money for it, it just gets trashed.

I take pictures and we leave to spend an hour and a quarter travelling 200 yards and get beaten up (just poor Mary, not David or myself) by a real bastard of a matatu driver. Mary has a nasty scar down one side now. I am not quick enough to figure out the Swahili for “Your mother sucks cocks in hell” and had to settle for “Mchinga” (stupid) and a wanking gesture… as he drove off – not daft enough to do it while he was beside us). I feel I have let myself down badly on the sweary insult front.

Market is quiet and we get back to Corner relatively quickly. My arms look like scabby mince, my face resembles a pink bag of marbles and I cannot take another night of mosquito torture.

In the back streets of Corner we meet a great group of prozzies and pimps.

“I love your hair,” says one girl. “Can I touch it?”

So I go over and she runs her fingers through my hair, as does her friend.

“So natural,” she says. She offers me a feel of her braids. “Mine is from China.”

“You look nice,” one of the pimpy lads tells me. “Are you available for service?”

This is the closest I have come to being chatted-up in years. I smirk girlishly.

“Some other day,” I tell him.

We get a net and meet Doris. She has been back out to Limuru and played an absolute blinder. Five of the girls managed to get away from their ‘families’ and make it to town. Doris has persuaded some of the well-off customers of our Glam project (you say what you want and for how much money and we find it for you… sort of a personal shopping service) to take the girls in and give them a job as, more or less, au pairs.

Very good money, nice accommodation and – best of all – these women are offering to sponsor the girls to be trained in either hairdressing, rug making or sewing. PLUS they are not even afraid that the ‘families’ will come after them.

“If they come we will expose what they have been doing,” say the ladies.

Amazing!!!

Doris is going back tomorrow to try and collect the rest. Mama Biashara will be providing fares to get them wherever they are going.

This is where the years and years of setting up small businesses all over really comes into its own. When the call goes out, Mama Biashara people will help. That is The Way of Mama Biashara.

Now back to Casa Copstick and we open the Big Box of Bras. I want to sort them out so we can make sure they go to the right women (the old ladies of Western are not that keen on underwiring).

As we sort them, I realise Mama Biashara knows some seriously well-stacked ladies in the UK. There are some gorgeous undies. Doris is working out where best for them to go and we will start distributing.

I manage to set up my mozzie net using a mop and a slight rearrangement of furniture.

Bliss. Bliss.

Bliss is a night undisturbed by mosquitoes.


Copstick receives no money from the charity and covers all her own expenses, including flights and accommodation. The Mama Biashara charity survives solely on financial donations (you can donate HERE) and on sales in its London shop.

 

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Kate Copstick: The real, horrific details of female genital mutilation in Kenya

Continuing edited extracts from Kate Copstick’s diary. She is currently in Kenya, working with her Mama Biashara charity.


Copstick in Kenya with Mama Biashara co-worker Felista

SATURDAY

For the first time this trip I am a bit meh when I wake up. It has been incredible this trip. I have not so much looked at a painkiller. And nothing has swelled up, crusted, oozed or turned a funny colour. I thought I might be cured.

To Corner for food. Today seems to be the slaughtering-the-chickens day at Chicken Master. There is a LOT of blood around and piles of feathers and bits in the little room beside the entrance. And the smell of death. And piles of plucked chicken ready for sale. I have rice and cabbage.

I check on Doris who is deep in the forest outside Limuru with our next batch of terrified mothers with raped children desperate for the chance to flee their rapist husbands.

My phone abruptly dies. Falls off its perch. Becomes an ex-phone. Not pining for the fijords. Dead. With my life inside. Cos stuff doesn’t get saved to the buggering SIM card any more does it ???? NO !! It is about 7.30pm. To say I panic would be… well, OK I do get a bit unsettled. I set off through Corner and find a phone kiosk.

“Ah! – It just needs a charging,” says the young man. “The betri is veeeeeery low.” Fifteen minutes later he looks at it and says: “It is dead!” It is some sort of newfangled solid state thingy and the battery is non removeable. Without the phone I have no internet. WhatsApp. Messenger.

I get a piki piki – and immediately regret saying I need to get to Junction fast – I get to the phone shop in Junction just as it is closing. I get a slightly soiled ex-display techno-something for about £9. And I am phoneable. But with no numbers. But at least I am contactable.

I get back up the road to Corner. While online I get news that the compound in Rombo now has most of its fence, is about to get a gate and is looking gorgeous in blue and yellow. All paid for by Mama Biashara’s Phoenix Project. But nails and bits of wood and whatnot are surprisingly expensive.

I go to bed convinced amazing things are happening online and I can’t see them. Sob.

Nais – “She is not living in fear any more.”

SUNDAY

I meet Nais. She is fifteen and Maasai from the Rift Valley. Her father killed her mother and then burnt down the house with the body inside. Nais and her brother were taken by her maternal grandmother to her village to live. However, being fifteen, Nais knew what was coming and she ran away. And travelled on foot, sometimes thumbing lifts, over a period of a month and a half, to Nairobi. Desert country. She was found by the police who brought her to Felista.

Now she is not living in fear any more. She is a charming young woman. After we get her story I ask if I can ask “a hard question” (Nais speaks Swahili but not yet English). I ask if she has been ‘cut’ (ie female genital mutilation). She says no, but that was why she ran. It was the season of cutting.

And now I see something I would never have thought possible – I see Felista shocked and totally discombobulated.

I ask Nais if the cutting is done the same way as in, for example Rombo. She says the old ladies use a pair of big scissors. Think tailoring shears. The same pair for all the girls that get done that day.

“What do they take away?” I ask.

“Yote” she says. Everything.

Felista’s mouth gapes.

“And then they put goat fat and cow dung?” I ask.

Nais nods. Although in the Rift Valley they sometimes use Kimbo (cheap cooking fat), possibly because a mere girl’s butchered undercarriage is not worth wasting good goat fat on. They also put sugar on the wound, for some misbegotten reason. And then periodically wash it with cow urine.

Felista is aghast. And incandescent with rage.

“I am hearing this for the first time and I cannot believe!” she says. “Why are these people not in prison? They will arrest people who were with Raila in the park… doing nothing… but they will not arrest people who do this to young girls?”

She is also furious at the many many many NGO who get quite a lot of money for supposedly educating about and opposing female genital mutilation.

“They do not tell you the truth,” she says. “They are just being polite because they do not want the wazungu (whites) to see how backward are these people. They should say the truth!!” And then, more surprises. “They just say ‘the cut’,” says Felista. “But there are many cuts. I was cut… everyone born 1959, 1960, 1961… We were all cut. But not like this!”

The Kikkuyu tribe traditionally cut girls. And women up to the age of 49. Although it has more or less stopped now.

Felista explains that, by the time she was cut, there was only one old lady who was doing it. When Felista was taken to her she told her that they would have ‘a secret’. She would cut Felista but not the full cut because she did not want to do that any more. So she bifurcated (split in two) Felistas clitoris.

“And then you put a leaf on,” says Felista, explaining the post-operative procedure. She makes a V sign with her fingers and waggles them. “It is also very good for the man”.

I am silent.

“But that was not like this !!!” says Felista, gesturing towards Nais. “We must mobilise. But we must meet with the shoshos.” She grabs my arm. “You cannot win a game with a fight. You win a game with a game.”

According to Nais there are a load of old ladies who earn about £12 per butchering. And, given there are no gloves, no disinfectant, no cleaning of the scissors and that goat fat and cow dung are readily available, that is pretty much pure profit.

Felista is fired up about joining our anti FGM arm of the Phoenix Project.

She reckons we can do a deal with the old ladies. Persuade them to stop (for cash, obviously) and create some sort of ‘pretend’ FGM involving sanitary pads and fake blood. No-one looks to check it has been done, says Nais. And no-one comes into the manyatta with the girl when it is being done. So only the girl and the shosho know what is really happening.

That is how it stopped in other tribes. When the old ladies do not do it any more, the practice just stops. For once, the power is in the hands of the old ladies.

When I come back in April, Nais will take us out to her grandma’s village and we can see what happens. And Felista is all for creating a home for runaway Maasai girls in DECIP. I have never seen her this worked up. I think it is a lot about never having been told the whole truth that is outraging her.

“You should be telling people,” she says, poking me in the chest. “You are on the ground.” I am indeed. “I think they are working from offices,” she says, doing a fair mime of someone at a computer. And it is true that the many many many many anti-FGM NGOs (it is a killer pitch if you want funding nowadays) tend to pussyfoot around a bit.

They do a lot of talking and never quite get round to calling a spade a bloody spade. There is a lot got away with under the blanket of what is, broadly, political correctness. And the government do very very little in terms of stopping it.

It is understandable (not forgivable but understandable) because he who takes on the entire Maasai nation would face an absolute nightmare of a reaction. With the Maasai you do not fuck. Really.

“They are worse than the Meru men,” says Felista.

Alarmingly – although FGM is illegal in Kenya (like THAT has made a difference) – a bloke called Kamau is working (with quite a lot of support – even from women) to have the law overturned and FGM legalised again.

CONTINUED HERE

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Kate Copstick’s charity Mama Biashara in Kenya and the need for donations

Copstick in Kenya with a chicken

Following on from yesterday’s blog, more highly-edited extracts from Kate Copstick’s diary in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity is based. The original, unedited diaries are on her Facebook page.


MONDAY

Zaida tells me more about the plans for the girls’ refuge – education, personal development, outreach work. It will also provide a refuge for any girls who are raped, because here, neither the local chief (Maasai himself) nor the police will do anything about it. Slight problem is that they have chosen to call the refuge Gates Of Zion. Which worries me, although there is no overt church involvement. I tell her about Mama Biashara’s Phoenix Project … Zaida likes the name.

We go and see the compound they have been offered. It is great – a row of mabati houses, space for more, plenty of space to develop and all for 12,000 a month, which is just under £90. They are already using one house as a school for girls and anyone who wants to learn to read and write and do a bit of arithmetic. They have also already mobilised an outreach team and just need the wherewithal to make this place their own before they start rescuing girls.

Oh – and we need to dig new pit latrines because these ones are full.

We kick off our collaboration with two months’ rent and money to make a security fence. And I will be back in April.

So Mama Biashara’s Phoenix Project is rising in Rombo, under the shadow of Kilimanjaro. Apparently God lives there.

Two ladies at the new Phoenix Project compound in Rombo

TUESDAY

Back at Corner, Doris has loads of follow-up information on our Phoenix Project groups.

The first group – the Maasai people where the problem was the husbands raping their own children within the marriage and the man whose wife and kids were being raped by neighbours – have already gone. Mainly to one town in Tanzania.

We have a counsellor there and she is organising homes and a friendly doctor who will examine all the kids to see if medical treatment is required. The lady who had been raped and impregnated is no longer pregnant and is off to start her new life with her group. The girls from Kangeme are going to two centres: Malindi and Nanyuki. In both places, Doris has contacts. Malindi we know well and at Nanyuki the incomers are being put up in a hotel till they get started.

Doris has been a bit of a demon with the forms I made up for personal information on the women. We now have nuggets of info. She is getting calls in from all over Kenya on the Mama Biashara line. This is like squeezing what you think is a plook and finding it is cancer. OK, I know that is not how you diagnose cancer but you get my drift.

Tomorrow we are seeing another group of women from far away (they want to come here because we cannot meet where someone might recognise them). And the rent is paid, I hear, on the compound in Rombo. The Phoenix is rising, people. The Phoenix is rising.

Doris, one of Mama Biashara’s key helpers

WEDNESDAY

Now we have another meeting with groups from Magadi – another area of big intermarriage with the Maasai. Four groups.

This time, there are four men involved and their stories are as toe-curling as before.

If anything, the men who marry-in are treated worse than women (and that is saying something).

The Maasai men rape their wives and children in front of them. Just to show them who is boss.

And the women tell the same old story. When their children get to about five or six, their husbands start getting the inexplicable incestuous, paedophile horn. The women usually discover it has started when they “see blood coming down” from a child.

But now it is not going to happen any more for these groups. Sixteen families – which include 69 children – are moving to join the rest of our relocated people. There are places awaiting them, they have terrific self-sustaining businesses (porridge and sweet potato – separately) and Stella is waiting with counselling and medical help. Stella is turning out to be a humongous asset. Yet another friend of Doris.

Doris goes home early. She is absolutely knackered. Calls are coming in from all over almost non stop. And she has to triage the misery. I think we might have to get another phoneline and get someone to help with the first line approaches. Which is where donations will come in handy.

Mama Biashara’s Vicky: “They will just remove your head.”

THURSDAY

Vicky has come to enlist the help of The Phoenix Project for a group from Meru.

The women are in the usual hell of having a husband who rapes their kids but not having the wherewithal to get away and take the children to safety.

These groups want to go to Garissa. Which is on the border with Somalia. Your life has to be quite bad for Garissa to seem like the promised land.

“The thing with Meru men,” says Doris, “is they are mental.”

Vicky nods. “You cannot speak to them. They will just remove your head.”

This is something I have heard before, when we were helping groups of boys escape virtual slavery on the miraa farms in Meru.

There is a kind of shortcut between “Are you looking at me?” and violent death here.

It makes the East End of Glasgow look like Little Giggling in the Grasses.

Thoughtful Kate Copstick, as seen by Joanne Fagan

FRIDAY

Now the gates of hell open.

I try to get Doris to understand paperwork and follow up and form filling. It is a nightmare and we both end up tetchy.

The money for Mama Bashara has almost always come from our London shop or through donations I personally have got. We have never had to be answerable to anything except the sheer bitter slog of standing in the shop every day.

But that money is just not enough.

And we have no big money coming in from individual donors (with the exception of my friends Andrew and Paul who donate 5,000 and 1,000 most years). We also have a wonderful loyal donor in Flame Haired Janet and marvellous people who help out incredibly if there is a panic on.

But we need more if we are to run with the Phoenix Project.

And that means form filling and information stockpiling and question answering and not just doing the Kenyan thing which is to say “probably… this is what happened” and then go ahead as if your personal suppositions about someone you know nothing about are fact.

Pinning Doris down (metaphorically) on the information she has got from the people in the Phoenix Project Groups is like catching frogspawn with chopsticks. To be fair, getting any information of a personal – much less sexual – nature out of a poor Kenyan is a Sysiphian task.

But it seems that the rape starts as early as three years old. The abuse of the first children tends to go unnoticed. Given that these girls in the Namanga were all married off aged 11 or 12 and pregnant a few months later, they are so traumatised themselves that they do not know what to think.

In the Maasai villages, when the women (and they all tell exactly the same story) report their husbands to the elders, the elders summon the husband, the husband is told to buy meat for the elders, he spits on the ground and then everything is fine. Except the woman is generally beaten severely by the husband.

The women report bleeding and incontinence in the children. The older children usually tell their mum “people have been doing bad manners to me”. And then, of course, culture dictates that the raped child is kept secret.

So no doctors, no hospitals. Just local, herbal medicine.

And this is before the question of female genital mutilation rears its ugly head.

Filling in the information about each person on the laptop is taking forever.

I say I will go and print out the forms and we can fill in by hand. En route I meet Kibe. We get it downloaded and printed out in a sweet cyber where everything lurks under about an inch of masonry dust – there is work going on outside.

Back at Casa Copi, Doris wants to go.

“I will do the paperwork my way,” she says.

“No” I say. “Because your way is not to do it at all.”

Harsh, I know, but fair.

I am just too tired and frazzled to do any more.

Doris goes and Kibe and I go and eat griddled goat’s heart in the street.


As well as the existing Mama Biashara donation page, Copstick has set up a specific Phoenix Projects donation page.

Copstick receives no money for her work and covers all her own travel and accommodation. 100% of all donations go to the Mama Biashara charity’s work.

EXTRACTS FROM COPSTICK’S DIARY CONTINUE HERE

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