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Praising the Lord in Kenya, as dirt is shovelled over a dead 12 year old boy…

Copstick is in Kenya

Journalist, comedy critic and charity-founder Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya.

She is, once again, working there with her charity Mama Biashara.

Here are the latest extracts from her journal.

Fuller versions are posted on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Moses (left) enjoying his favourite nyama choma (roast meat)

Friday 26th April

We head for Mutalia, near Ruai, to visit the family of Moses who died of meningitis last Monday, aged 12. Mama Biashara buys him a coffin. And coffins are important in Kenya. 

We were with Moses in 2010, when he arrived at Felista’s suffering from extreme malnutrition. His baby brother had a serious chest infection, his sisters had infections in liver and spleen and his big brother had a growth on his back. 

Their ‘father’ had abandoned them after their mother died. That was 2010. Their great uncle took them in when they left Felista and Mama Biashara paid school fees and bills. Now the children are with their great aunt. ‘Great’ both in the sense of being their great uncle’s wife and ‘great’ in looking after them when she herself has very little and four children of her own. They call her mum.

All the children flourished. But Moses was the little academic star. He was always No 1 or No 2 in his class. He wanted to be an engineer. He was so much fun. Lively and lovely. And now he is dead. Science tells us we are all stardust, but Moses, more than most. I hope that wherever he is, whatever he is, he is shining brightly.

President Uhuru Kenyatta was seeking a loan from China

Saturday 27th

The market is full of people worrying about the Chinese invasion, new taxes and getting angrier by the second at a government that borrows vast fortunes to build roads while people starve. Everyone – even the Kikkuyu – is finding some happiness in the fact that the president has just come from a trip to China without the extra extra extra loan he went asking for. 

“The Chinas say No. I am very happy,” says one of my pals and we all nod vigorously. 

The personal debt of each individual Kenyan is calculated to be just over £1,000. Much more than a huge percentage of them see in a year. 

Now, do not get me wrong. I am a HUGE fan of their cuisine, the noodle is my staple food. I am in awe of their State Circus and their religion seems lovely. I personally do not have a phone made there, but many of my best friends do. However, the Chinese have all but destroyed the Kenyan fishing people in Lake Victoria. 

Our ladies (and men) who were doing SO well for many years have now returned to prostitution, Doris says.

What happened was this. 

The Chinese came, at the invitation of the Kenyan Government, they saw, they liked the tilapia and the tilapia business. They bought entire boatloads of fish, removed the eggs, shipped them back to China and now China farms Lake Victoria tilapia and sells it back to Kenya where it is bought, frozen, sold in supermarkets, because it is much cheaper than the fresh stuff which comes from Lake Victoria. And the Kenyan Government allows this to happen. The Kenyan fishing people of Lake Victoria are collateral damage. 

Moses: “He was so much fun. Lively and lovely. And now he is dead. Meningitis”

Tuesday 30th April

Today is Moses’ burial. 

Langata Cemetary is huge and we are over at the back amongst what Felista tells me are temporary graves for those who cannot afford permanent resting places. 

There is a huge crowd. People from the school, people from churches and I have no idea who else. Also a couple renting out chairs, a bloke selling peanuts and someone setting up a little stall selling soft drinks and snacks just behind the seating area. 

We take our places and, as a tiny, shiny little man in a shiny suit welcomes us, there is much clanking as scaffolding for a gazebo tent is erected and the coffin placed underneath. 

I am invited to sit with the family which is very touching and a great honour. Dinah has pretty much arranged everything and I think it is due to her that so many have come. 

The proceedings start with the tiny, shiny man explaining that we should all be rejoicing because this was God’s plan for Moses. I am thinking that, if it was, it was a rubbish plan. 

We then sing for around ten minutes about how great the Lord is and how wonderful/excellent/glorious/powerful/great/amazing/fabulous is his name, clapping and doing that step-dig step so beloved of the Four Tops. 

Then there is a lovely, lovely bit where people come up and talk a little about Moses (including, in an unexpected turn of events, me). 

Dinah spoke wonderfully and some kids from the school sang. But, apart from that, it was like an extended episode of Nairobi’s Got Pastors. 

There were about six or seven of them, welcomed to the microphone by the tiny, shiny man who has missed his vocation as a comedy club MC because he really whipped up the applause for each pastor. And the pastors’ wives. And every church elder who was with us. And anyone who ran a youth group, church choir or had at any time had anything to do with any church. 

I understood about 60% of what each of the suited and booted septet was saying but no one really mentioned Moses.

They name-checked their churches and I wish I had counted the number of times the words Bwana Sifiwe (Praise be to God) were uttered because I think a record must have been broken. 

I am invited to view the body. I say goodbye and wipe dust off the window covering him. Then there is a scramble for others to see him. 

I have no idea who these people are. 

There is more extended praising of Jesus’ name in song.

The family (and I) are surrounded by the suited and booted ones and prayed over with still no mention of Moses. And then we go to the graveside, marching, as we do, over dozens of unmarked graves. 

Now things rachet up a notch with much howling. 

As Moses goes into the grave, a brightly-dressed woman flings herself to the ground and threshes around shrieking. Most ignore her, but she upsets the small children. 

It turns out that she is an aunt. The mother’s sister. It turns out there is actually a family who have ignored these kids for the nine years they have been with Mama Biashara. The shrieking one is a little late in her feelings for her nephew. 

We stand as the grave is filled-in, which is horrible.

It is made even more horrible by a weeny woman with a bad weave who bursts into enthusiastic song about rejoicing. 

She really goes for it. 

For a long long time. 

Praising the Lord, as dirt is shovelled over a dead twelve year old boy.


Mama Biashara works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. It gives grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. It offers training and employment in everything from phone repairs to manicures. It has built a children’s home, which it still supports. It has created water-harvesting solutions for drought-devastated areas. And it helps those fleeing female genital mutilation, forced marriage, sex slavery and child rape. It receives no grants and survives totally on personal donations (and sales at its shop in Shepherds Bush, London), 100% of which go to its work, none of which goes to Kate Copstick. She herself covers all her own personal expenses, including her accommodation costs and her travel costs.
www.mamabiashara.com

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How illegal detentions of the poor are continuing in Kenyan hospitals…

Last week’s meeting of the monthly Grouchy Club in London

British journalist Kate Copstick’s charity Mama Biashara was set up to give small start-up grants to disadvantaged people in Kenya to fund small self-sustaining businesses.

But it also gets involved in other social problems it encounters.

During her most recent visit to Kenya, I posted extracts from Copstick’s diary.

When last posted, there was an unresolved story about a penniless 14-year-old girl called Faith who had been raped by her father, recently given birth to his child and was being illegally held in an overcrowded ward (2 to a bed) at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi.

Copstick has now returned to the UK.

During last week’s meeting of Copstick’s Grouchy Club, held at Mama Biashara’s charity shop in London, I asked what had happened to Faith…


The administration block of Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi

COPSTICK: I spent many days in Kenyatta trying to organise her release. It’s horrific. Kafka could never write anything to compare.

A couple of days before I was leaving Kenya I thought we had done it and then we just lost grip. I had been about to go to the press…

JOHN: I thought you had already gone to the press.

COPSTICK: Well, the Standard ran an article. But I think that was just because they picked up on all the stuff I’d been venting and then what they had were stories of the same thing happening in other hospitals.

But Faith is out of Kenyatta now and so is the baby. We got the Children’s Services involved and they went to court and they got a court order for Faith to be released… Imagine having to get a court order to get a little girl out of hospital…!

I left Kenya on the Sunday. She was released with the court order on the Tuesday.

She’s out but, unfortunately, because she had been detained illegally in the hospital for so long, by the time she was released her newborn baby had got an infection. So the baby is not well and now Faith has developed an infection and they are too terrified to let her go back to Kenyatta in case it all starts again. 

JOHN: Do they know what the infection is?

COPSTICK: Well, just one of those ghastly I’ve been kicking around in a hospital for too long infections.

JOHN: At least Mama Biashara got her out, though.

COPSTICK: She is out but now we… There is a new problem with a girl who was gang raped by three men. Everyone is too terrified to take her to Kenyatta Hospital, because it will just all be a nightmare. So she has gone to Nairobi Women’s Hospital. She is going to have to have a full hysterectomy because… well, when you are 11 years old and you are gang raped by three men double-teaming you, your insides end up pretty much mush. 

That was about four weeks ago. And because there’s been no money, she’s just been there. She has to sleep on her front because there is too much pain and there is basically vast amounts of pus. There is no morphine; there is no anything. You might get paracetamol if you are lucky.

So she is now at Nairobi Women’s Hospital where they will do a full hysterectomy they’ve said… That will cost – by the time she has had the operation – probably £1,500.

JOHN: Presumably there is no equivalent to Britain’s National Health Service.

COPSTICK: There is no health service as such. There is a government hospital. But all they are really interested in is getting any money that they possibly can off of anyone. And nobody is prepared to take responsibility for anything at all ever.

What happens all the time in Kenya is that you go in, you have your operation or whatever you want and then they don’t let you out because you can’t pay your bill. And every day that you are kept in they charge you. So your bill goes up and up and up and up. 

What happens is that you get people living rough in the grounds of the big hospitals. So when you go there, people are being kept within the hospital grounds. They live rough within the hospital grounds sometimes with their children. In places like Kenyatta, there is actually a small like a kindergarten school which has grown up because there are children who spend so much of their young lives there that they go to school there forever.

JOHN: And because they are living in the grounds, they have to pay more…?

COPSTICK:  They are charged for everything and they are detaining people because they can’t pay their bill, so the bill just keeps rising. It’s pretty-much standard. Private hospitals, government hospitals, everything hospitals.

Last year, a guy brought a case against Nairobi Women’s Hospital because his father had gone in, had an operation, couldn’t pay the bill and they were detaining him and the bill just escalated and escalated and it was a like a million shillings which is about £10,000. And the guy took the hospital to court saying that it was an infringement of his father’s rights. In the Kenyan constitution as well as some of the U.N. rulings, you have the right to ‘freedom of person’ – freedom of movement. 

And he argued quite cleverly that detaining his father in the hospital was an infringement of his right to freedom of movement and freedom of person. And the judge agreed and this is massive –  humongous. It was all over the newspapers. 

But it doesn’t make that much difference because, in Kenya, nobody tells the little people about any of these things so they didn’t get to know about any of that which is why the leaflets that Mama Biashara sends out – showing what their rights are – are so important. We give everybody the knowledge. 

When I was in Kenyatta I said to one of the heads of one of the departments who don’t give a shit: “You know there is a High Court ruling…”

Kenya has a common law system because it’s based on the English legal system and that means that the last highest decision in a court is the law. 

I said: “So in this case, this is the decision and this is now the law.” 

And the woman turned around and said to me: “Not here.” 

Inside some place like Kenyatta Hospital, they are just a law unto themselves.


Copstick takes no money of any kind for herself from the Mama Biashara charity and covers none of her own costs in running the charity nor for travelling to and from and living in Kenya.

Mama Biashara itself gets no official funding of any kind and relies solely on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

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What Kate Copstick and her charity has to deal with on a daily basis in Kenya

Feared comedy critic,  outspoken journalist and former on-screen sidekick of the Chuckle Brothers, Kate Copstick has been in Kenya for the last two-and-a-half weeks. It is where her Mama Biashara charity works.  

She keeps a diary while she is there. Here are a few recent, brief, very, very highly edited excerpts which give a slight hint at some of what she has to face on a daily basis.


Sunday 27th January

I sleep in. I took my methotrexate injection yesterday evening and am beset by mild nausea and dizzy headachiness.

Tuesday 29th January

It promises to be a packed day. I have to go back to Kenyatta Hospital, this time to help the Mary Faith Home get a girl – Faith – who is being detained there (ILLEGALLY) because her bill has not been paid. She is 14 years old. 

She was raped by her father. She gave birth two weeks ago, since when she has been held there – in a ward where expectant or postpartum mothers sleep two to a single bed (or on the floor) with their newborns. A victim of incestuous rape, she is now sharing a bed with a stranger. 

I meet the matron of the maternity ward. 

The matron (if, indeed, this stone-faced, acrylic-haired person IS the matron) is completely disinterested in the fact that what they are doing is illegal. The girl, she intones, should have got medical insurance. 

The first thought, of course, of any 14 year old raped by her father, would be: Note To Self, get medical insurance just in case I am pregnant by my rapist father.

I can feel an unhelpful outburst bubbling and I stomp out. 

We go and see another lady who is Kenyatta’s One Good Person. She is not happy. She phones around. She speaks to the right people. And NHIF (Kenya’s fairly new National Insurance scheme) will pay the bill. And she will ‘have a word’ with the supposed matron of the maternity ward.

“I am very much like you,” she says to me. “Perhaps we are sisters.”

I am very flattered.

We go and deliver a pair of crutches (thank you Age UK (Hammersmith & Fulham)) to Kibe, who is delighted to be home from Kenyatta.

We hear more horror stories from inside Kenyatta. The number of people who go there and simply rot away is terrifying. And, once they have you in your 1,500 Kenyan Shillings per day bed, they will put every obstacle in the way of a transfer out. 

“It is hell,” says Kibe. “Hell”. 

I get back to Corner and get a call. The girl Faith is still in “hell”. 

I did not get the details but, when push came to shove, the hospital refused to let her go.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Thursday 31 January

We had another bomb in Nairobi earlier in the week. But it was hardly in the news at all. I think a couple of people were killed and about twenty injured. 

However, it was in quite a skanky part of town: Odeon Roundabout. The people around there are mainly hawkers and other people who are: 

  1. not rich 
  2. not involved in international politics 
  3. not white.

And so the rather big explosion was not reported. 

It worries me much more than the big internationally covered bomb at Westlands.

I spend quite a bit of time near the Odeon Roundabout and loads of people I know/have funded have workshops there. No idea what might be in it for Al-Shabaab to attack.

I have been feeling a bit odd – utterly exhausted (for no reason) to the point of not being able to get up stairs and bad headaches – and this morning is not a great morning.

We make for Jamibora. It is the weirdest of places. A sort of gated community of stone houses which was apparently funded by a white bloke so people from the slums could get a better life and a new home. 

People started saving with Jamibora Bank, very little by very little, to buy their new home. And then the houses were sold over their heads to people with ready cash. 

It took, says my friend Mwangi, years for them to get any money back. Oddly, most of the houses are empty but one is owned by another Mama Biashara lady who made the most of her grant and is yet another of our network of ‘safe houses’. 

Today’s groups looking for funding from Mama Biashara have come from Loitoktok and elsewhere in Kajiado County. Far away, basically. They did not feel safe meeting in Kitenhela or Sultan Hamud (our original plan) so we are out here in a safe house. 

The people’s problems are the same. These are all groups of other tribes living in Maasai communities. Now the Maasai want them out. They are physically and sexually assaulted. I get a list of attacks with spears, knives, rungus (big heavy stick with a knuckle on the end) and pangas (machetes). 

It is very hard for them to use the word rape. They will say “They hold the children” or “They take the children” or describe it as “bad behaviour” or “unsuitable behaviour” and I have to push and push to find out what any of this means. It means rape. 

I apologise to them and explain that it is important to know. And to use the words that tell the truth. I tell them (last resort) that Jesus said, “The truth will set you free”. They are very impressed and mutter “Amen”. I feel slightly dirty. However we do get some more details. 

In one group the main problem is that the Maasai men want to marry the daughters of the group. And this means enforcing female genital mutilation. They are becoming quite insistent and the mothers are terrified.

A call to the Mary Faith Home confirms that Faith is still being illegally detained by Kenyatta Hospital. With her newborn child. Mary herself was so stressed today that she had a bit of a moment and fainted. Her blood pressure is, she says, worryingly high. Mine is generally low but if anything could turn me hypertensive, the goings on in Kenyatta Hospital can.

Friday 1st February

I go to Milimani Law Courts. This is where Lady Justice Wilfreda Okwany sits. She is the judge who made the game changing ruling in October last year. That ruling states that it is illegal for a Kenyan hospital to detain a patient for non-payment of fees. Illegal. But the law of Kenya “does not apply here” according to the staff at Kenyatta. 

I am thinking the good Lady Justice might be able to help me help them see the error of their ways. A tailored jacket and an authoritative manner go a long way. As does a document file under the arm and a grasp of legalese. But people are very helpful and very quickly I get to meet her clerk. The Lady Justice is on holiday (confirmed by a couple of people and a quick look at the register) but I have her clerk’s email and I am putting together a document which I hope she might read. Fingers crossed, anyway.

On the way back, Facebook tells me the British comedian Jeremy Hardy is dead. This is just another example of the world being too unfair to be the project of any kind of thinking deity. Jeremy was a wholly, honestly, hilariously brilliant political comedian. And a totally decent human being. 

Just in case he is listening from The Place Where The Good Guys Go, he might be amused by the conversation I had with David as we reach Corner. 

“You are very silent,” says David. 

“I am sad,” I say. “A very good man has died.” 

There is a pause. 

“Cancer,” I say. 

David nods. 

“Which cancer was it ?” he asks. “Was it the prostitute cancer?”

I smile all the way the Mary Faith home to drop off the beads for more Happy Bags. 

Faith is still not out of Kenyatta Hospital. Still illegally detained. But now she has locked herself in a toilet because the court (The hearing was today but she could not go to identify her father as the man who raped her because Kenyatta will not release her) told her father she was in Kenyatta Hospital and he sent one of his goons (who have already tried to get rid of her once) round to the hospital. Luckily, Faith saw him before he saw her and locked herself in the loo. A 14 year old rape victim. 

I am going to try and find someone in the media who will help. And talk (if I can get a contact) to the BBC who have a MASSIVE place here. 

The monsters are among us. 

I think it is time we got among the monsters.

I can feel my old documentary making roots tingling.

… CONTINUED HERE


Mama Biashara exists totally on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

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Kate Copstick on Kenyan problems in a country changing fast for good or bad

Copstick at Mama Biashara’s shop in London

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

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

But changes in Kenya are currently causing major problems for Mama Biashara and the people it helps, as these latest extracts from Copstick’s diaries show.

The extracts have been edited by me for length. The uncut originals are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Hawkers at Mwariro Market, in Kariokor, Nairobi

MONDAY 

David arrives and we go off to Kariokor to get bag shells and beads so that the Mary Faith girls can start making the Happy Bags to sell in the Mama Biashara charity shop in London.

En route David helpfully points out buildings that have been demolished in the new wave of destruction. We also pass endless stretches of roadside where there used to be little kiosks and small Mama Biashara level businesses. Now there is nothing. I have absolutely no idea in what way this could be seen as an improvement. 

Kariokor is baking under the sun. David drops me at the British High Commission for my meeting with Geraint Double-Barrelled (not his real name). 

We sit in the High Commission’s garden and talk about: 

  1. the ‘Fast Track’ grant he had suggested I apply for but the application form for which absolutely defeated me with its demands for a log matrix and committees for every step of the way. Geraint is hugely sympathetic. He says that the guys who put these forms together have more or less lost the ability to speak ‘human being’. By the time we have gone through a few things, he has me convinced to try again, wade through the ghastly jargon and go for it for The Phoenix Project.
  2. my idea to bring a group of the Mama Biashara suppliers – the real artisans – over to the UK and do a sort of cultural/Mama Biashara business showcase is not feasible, he says. Apparently not with something so small. Although if we can find a sponsor… 
  3.  the ongoing problem of the sexual assaults being carried out by members of the British Army in Kenya on the young women of Nanyuki. We were alerted to this about a year ago. I could find no-one who would speak to me. This is nowhere near Geraint’s remit but he listened sympathetically and says he will flag it up to the Deputy High Commissioner. He is a genuinely decent bloke. 

We go back into town. Doris wants to eat at the Pork Place and, over delicious chunks of pork and a bottle of beer, I discover why she is feeling so ‘overwhelmed’. 

It is not only in Nairobi town that the City Councils have turned on the small businesses. Out in Kenol, where Doris lives, the bulldozers are sent in at night to destroy small kiosks and roadside stalls. She was awoken by the screaming and crying of the business people as they saw their livelihoods wiped out. 

She has been fielding calls from hysterical Mama Biashara people from Rongai where the same thing is happening. Anything and anyone not doing business inside private property is bulldozed, arrested and/or has their goods confiscated. Hundreds of small businesses have been ground into the dust in just a couple of days. Many are businesses that Mama Biashara started. 

All the ladies who used to sell in the huge traffic jams for which Rongai is famous have been arrested and beaten up or lost their stock when running away. 

Then Purity called from Limuru to say that it is happening there too. All Mama Biashara’s second hand book businesses have been demolished; there is now not a single small business to be seen. It is like a ghost town, says Purity. 

All of this on the orders of Kiambu Governor Waitoto in Limuru (who actually started out as a hawker himself) and Governor Mike Sonko in Nairobi. It is an absolute disaster. And utterly overwhelming. 

The same is, according to Vicky, happening in Mombasa and along the coast. It is as if the rich in Kenya have declared out-and-out war on the poor. There is no option for people at these levels. No social security, no benefits of any kind at all. Once the business is wiped out as comprehensively as is happening now, they have, literally, nothing. So desperate men turn to crime, women turn to prostitution and a lot of people just die. It may well be that this is the plan. 

In terms of what Mama Biashara does, we can no longer set up these tiny seed businesses that have grown so well over the years. No-one, it seems, can do any kind of anything on public land. 

TUESDAY

The Mama Biashara peeps I had told about the meeting with Mr Double-Barrelled are disappointed that I am not off buying their tickets to London but, I reassure them, I am not giving up. 

Land Securities – our longtime benefactors and landlords in London – might just be interested in sponsoring a sort of cultural thingy – to tour their many shopping malls maybe. We shall see.

They have been extraordinarily good to us.

We meet up with Doris and Purity and discuss the awfulness of the social cleansing pogrom the cities and towns are perpetrating.

The Powers That Be have the following reasons for these Clearances…

The President is obsessed with his ‘legacy’ (standing at 221 billion debt to the Chinese at the mo) of infrastructure. Roads are being built, forced through, widened and, in many cases, yes, massively improved all over the cities. 

But this has only a negative effect on the poorest of people. You can die by the side of a beautifully constructed superhighway going somewhere you will never see. 

There is a huge black economy here in Kenya and the hawkers are part of it. Pretty much all the starter Mama Biashara businesses are.

In Nairobi – and here I sympathise with the Powers That Be – you could walk along, say, River Road, and hawkers are elbow to elbow. 

But there are also shops there, frequently selling the same stuff as the hawkers, except paying massive rents and taxes and whatnot. So it seems fair that you cannot hawk outside a shop selling the same as you, or block its entrance. 

But, in true Mama Biashara fashion, Purity is already finding a way through the destruction for our ladies. FYI Purity got her starter grant about seven years ago and her businesses are doing really well, have expanded, moved and, wherever she is, she is our eyes and ears on the ground and she is SO helpful to the women. 

Most roadside shops are built on a concrete platform with a wee bit that pokes out the front. If our people are there, they are safe. So Purity has been going around asking shopkeepers – and frequently being asked by them because bodies on the stoop are good security – if our people can do their business on the stoop (no sniggering at the back, you know what I mean). 

This is our way forward. Our ladies who work inside buildings doing food etc are all OK and another way we are going forward is simply to make our stuff that is so popular (like the samosas) and the clients have to send a bike to the village to collect.

Nairobi – It is changing fast, but is it always for the better?

WEDNESDAY

The road building is evident everywhere. Massive structures have gone up in Kenol where, at some point, there will be a flyover. Miles of roadside are now just rubble, waiting for a road extension.

If they had any sense they would bang on an emissions tax and every lorry and matatu that belches out thick – bordering on solid – black gunk would either pay up, clean up, or get off the road. Revenue, ecology and easing traffic… But, of course, the lorries and matatus are owned by Big People so nothing bad happens to them. 

Suswa has become HUGE since last I was there. And all the way along the road across the Rift Valley there are huge new developments. Mainly Chinese, once you get close enough to read the writing. Or Somali. But the landscape is no longer flat. Suswa now has a big hotel, a hot springs spa thing and a tourist centre where you can go and watch the Parliament of Monkeys.

… CONTINUED HERE


Mama Biashara is totally financed from sales in its London charity shop and by individual donations. You can donate here.

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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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