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.
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
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
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.”
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
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