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Kate Copstick in Kenya: more child rape, corruption and struggling charity

Kate Copstick working in Kenya this week

Comedy critic Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya working for her Mama Biashara charity which gives small grants to help poor people start their own self-sustaining businesses.

The Mama Biashara slogan is “Giving a hand up not a hand out”.

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

Three recent blogs had edited extracts from Copstick’s diary.

Now we catch up with what happened last weekend…


Two of the women the Mama Biashara charity is helping

SATURDAY

My boggled mind forgot to mention yesterday that the women at the workshop in Kitengela – the ones whose husbands were raping their children – were themselves the victims of child rape, having been married off at ages from 11 to 14 (only one was as ancient as 14).

I hate the way the white conqueror always rides not just roughshod but with spiked soles over anyone else’s culture. But this aspect of Maasai culture is an abomination.

Today there is another workshop with another group of young women. But first back to see Vikram Dave and change the rest of the money I brought.

Dave has not yet read my email asking for school fees for the Ruai children. I tell him about the need for shoes in Western to help stop the jiggers infestations and he nods sagely.

I leave and hurtle round the market and then get back to Corner to the meet the girls. They look so young. They ARE so young. All just in their mid teens.

They are so terrified that I do not ask to take a picture.

These girls are from families in rural areas. When they get to about 12, their families get rid of them by sending them to relatives in the city as, more or less, house slaves. And the uncles and the cousins use them for sex. These girls have been sex slaves since they came to Nairobi. About five of them have children by their uncles. They are so lost.

But we drink tea and eat mandazi and talk and they slightly relax. We talk about rising from being no-one to being a businesswoman; we talk about the powers that money will give them. They are all going to get counselling and are very up for that.

They have been taught how to make rugs (the woolly ones for bathrooms and whatnot) by a woman Doris put them in touch with. The woman turned out just to be using them too – she sold the rugs and paid them almost nothing. But they have the skills. So we start a rug business. The profit is excellent and the girls really know their stuff. When I say Mama Biashara will be paying to set up this business some of them start to cry.

Mama Biashara’s Phoenix Project compound in Rombo, Kenya

SUNDAY

We head for Rombo.

OK, we are not exactly sure where Rombo is but we head for Loitoktok in the knowledge that there will be signage from there.

Just past Machakos Junction, we are stopped at a roadblock. The fat policeman toting the AK47 pokes at the bonnet, wiggles the wing mirror and gets David out of the car for a ‘chat’. He takes David’s licence. Now we will have to pay something or he will not get it back. He is obviously not happy with what David is saying as he comes and talks to me. He is taking the car to Loitoktok for impounding, he says, and I will have to get it released on bond. This will be very much money. And David will have to go to court. This will also end in ‘very much money’. He rests his aK47 on the window and looks in at me.

The ball is in my court.

I could play tough, but there are three of them now circling the David mobile.

“Is there some way to avoid all this trouble?” I ask, as charmingly as I can.

“You tell me,” says the fat policeman.

“Perhaps I could buy you lunch,” I murmer through gritted teeth.

He nods. Lunch is acceptable.

I offer 300 shillings through the window.

He turns into a parody Big Black Laughing Policeman, holding his stomach (no mean feat) and rocking backwards and forwards. This makes his gun sway alarmingly.

“Now you are making me to laugh,” he says.

“Then how much?” I ask.

“It is for you to say,” says Tubby the Extortionist.

“Five hundred is what I have,” I say, doing a pantomime pocket search. He comes around my side of the vehicle and grabs it.

David says, as we go, “I would have driven past but, when there are three and you go past, they shoot at your wheels.”

After leaving tarmac roads at Illasit we hit a road worthy of a stage in the Dakar Rally. Dust is chokingly thick and swirls around inside the car coating everything. Slightly alarmingly, my phone welcomes me to Tanzania and I worry we are on the wrong road… but this is border country and borders are porous here.

30 kilometres later we are at Rombo, met by my amazing new contact Zaida. A glass of water and a plate of fresh mango later, I am handing out de-wormers and diclofenac gel in her lovely little house like the journey had never happened.

Our little medical afternoon goes on until 8.30pm and the ailments are exactly what you would expect: muscle and joint aches and strains, headaches, massive congestions and coughs from cooking over wood indoors with no ventilation, an ocean of snot, quite a lot of constipation and some UTIs.

These ladies carry massive bundles of firewood almost every day and they all complain of the same pains in the same places. My diclofenac gel is soon done. I will send more. The marvellous Glucosamine bombs from HTC take a battering, as does their miraculous Cod Liver Oil both for adults and children. And everyone gets de-wormed – adults and children. Some of the kids are eight or nine and have never been de-wormed before.

Mama Biashara reaches out to raped mothers

There is one sweet girl who is epileptic and quite severely mentally challenged. She is breastfeeding a baby.

“She was raped,” explains her mother.

She has, I learn, three children (the eldest is nine years old) and all three are the product of rape. Her mother wants more of ‘the white pills’ the pharmacy gives her for her epilepsy. We try to find out what ‘the white pills’ are but the pharmacy has closed and the (unlicensed) pharmacist is in hiding after a raid by the Ministry of Health.

Now we are heading (in the PITCH dark) out to visit a young wife who has been so badly beaten by her husband that she cannot come to the house.

The Davidmobile is packed with me and Maasai ladies and off we go.

Cross country. Pitch black and the only sound is the acacia bushes gouging bits out of the Davidmobile’s paintwork. Through troughs of water, over stones… as a feat of driving it is very impressive.

“We are here,” says a lady.

There is absolutely nothing to see but we get out, spark up torches, and, sure enough, we are in a collection of manyattas – Maasai houses built from mud and cow dung and wood. There is great excitement from the locals at the glow-in-the-dark granny in their midst. The manyatta is thick with smoke and the girl is bruised, battered and bewildered. Her earlobe has been torn apart and I clean and dress it and leave antiseptic and painkillers. That is about all I can do.

In the car back there is a LOT of talk about the problems of girls being sold into marriage with old men when they are about eleven. They undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) and get sold off ASAP. No school for girls. No school for most of the kids, but definitely none for girls. The ladies in the back seat talk of one girl currently who is heavily pregnant but so young she has no breasts.

One girl is mentioned who was sold off and ran away, sold off again and ran away again and took herself to school. She has been beaten repeatedly and ostracised and is now living in Rombo at a place the women (led by Zaida and some of the Maasai Mamas) hope will become a refuge and a school for girls running away from FGM and forced marriage at twelve years old. There is one other girl at the house whom they were unable to save from ‘the cut’ but who was rescued before being sold to an old man.

The cut, I learn, is treated with goat fat and cow dung when fresh. And the girls are made to drink cows’ blood to replenish what they lose.

Tomorrow we are going to see this refuge house, and the compound which could be the start of something massive here.

CONTINUED HERE

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Multiple rape and desperation in Kenya and an appeal from critic Kate Copstick

Following on from my previous blog – more extracts from comedy critic Kate Copstick’s diary, slightly edited. Full versions on her Facebook page. She is in Kenya where her Mama Biashara charity is based.

Mama Biashara (‘Business Mother’) gives small sums to impoverished individuals and small groups to help them start self-supporting small businesses.

Their slogan is that it is a hand up not a hand out.


Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

Saturday 4th November

I get a call from Doris who has had a call from Vicky to say that the farmers who own the land in Kisii, where the refugees are huddled, have let it be known that, if anyone brings any form of help to the refugee community, all hell will break loose (I loosely translate from the angry Kisii).

So we are holding off on our mercy mission. David and I cancel our trip to the Indian Blanket Supremo and the medical supplies wholesaler. I head straight to the market.

Doris also tells me that, overnight, the government has pulled a U-turn on the NHIF restriction (mentioned in the previous blog). It will now continue unrestricted. I am saying nothing. But am impressed with the swiftness of the reaction. It is the right decision.

Doris has gone out to Limuru to see a group of people she is desperate to help. They are currently working for £1 per day on a big tea farm. They are wholly uneducated, helpless, hopeless people. Too frightened even to try starting a business in case they are thrown out and lose their £1 per day. They want us “to empower them” says Doris.

The Mama Biashara method of a brisk talking-to, a decent business plan, a good chain of supply and a useful choice of business location, topped off with start up grant and a hearty hug is obviously not going to work here. Doris says she will update me.

I get round the market in about four hours. I am knackered and sore and my tiny ears are ringing to the cries of “Mama Biashara! You are my Mother! Promote me!” I can only disappoint so many people in a day without breaking.


Felista needs money for a non-underwater kitchen in Nairobi

Sunday 5th November

I am going to DECIP (the home for children that Mama Biashara built) to make some little videos to put up on Facebook in the hope of getting some money for Felista. She is a woman with a heart the size of Kenya and has been rescuing kids from abandonment, abuse, rape and destitution for a decade.

Mama Biashara sends her about £170 per month. She gets nothing from the government, although the Children’s Department are very supportive. She is the reason I am in Kenya and I often feel bad, as I hare off all over the country setting up businesses for the desperate poor, that I do not do more for her.

So we are going to put out some pleas for help for her and I will set up a MyDonate page for her. She is someone who infuriates me but whom I am so very proud to know.

I have brought her some shoes, a bag, a skirt and two tops. Felista almost never gets anything for herself. Even the one room in the home that should be hers is always full of the youngest children playing and looking for a cuddle.

DECIP has had improvements. A marvellous lady paid for the dormitories to be re-floored so the water doesn’t flood them any more, the passageway from dorm to dorm is now covered over and the water from the roof harvested, many places have new roofing, and a nice rich Chinese man is going to build a big hall for them to use for exams and recreation.

At this time it is proving really difficult to help people – because of the numbers of weapon-wielding other people in the way. So I am going to concentrate more on DECIP this trip. And see what we can do there.


Some of the needy children at DECIP in Nairobi

Monday 6th November

I suddenly start to feel decidedly not OK. Just the usual crap, but that tends to mean getting horizontal and trying to sleep it out.

That not being possible, I turn to the small packet of gifts from our newest volunteer Chris.

There are few things that can go wrong with the human body that have not gone wrong with Chris.

There is absolutely no upside for her. But for me, it means that any painkiller is available. And I have with me a selection of the finest. I curl up till all is made chemically well.

Now I have a meeting with Joan. Through her we have worked quite extensively with the albino community and with groups of women with badly disabled kids. The businesses we started with the mothers are doing really well in Kibera, apparently. I will go and visit. Joan’s main work is with child victims of sexual violence.

When we last met she was in a little house in Kabira with six small girls who had been raped and one older girl, mentally and physically challenged, and also a victim of rape. I wrote about them on my last trip.

During the endless, tit for tat, post and para election violences here, a group of militant kikkuyu took it upon themselves to attack the compound where Joan was sheltering the girls. All of them were beaten – from the two-and-a-half year old rape victim to Joan herself. Everyone ran. But Susan, the big girl, was too frightened and she hid. And was discovered. And was beaten and raped again. Everything was stolen from inside Joan’s house.

The men from the compound caught the rapist. They took him to the local police station (well, the one that had not been burned down). Where he was released because the police did not want the militants to come and burn down their police station too.

The girls are now with Joan’s aunt but that cannot continue. She is looking at places in Ngando and has been offered a four bedroom, stone built, self-contained house beside the Catholic church. Great security.

What I am thinking is that Mama Biashara can help pay the rent here, we will help set it up as soon as we can and we will support it as a Mama Biashara project for victims of child rape and sexual abuse.

All of the current group of victims are the children of women who do low-rent commercial sex work. The girls are locked in the house while the mothers go out at night. Which is why they are so vulnerable to passing rapists. Mama Biashara would – as part of this project – work with the mums and set them up in a decent small business so they can give their daughters a proper secure home.

I am hugely enthused about this and we are going to see the house tomorrow.

Anyone fancy taking money out of their offshore tax haven and using it to help these kids?

You can now uncross your fingers about the money from the lovely trust who helped us before. We did not get anything. They are concentrating on more formal, UK-based charities. Pretty devastating for Mama Biashara. And it means, short of a miracle, I will be cutting my trip here a bit short.

Going to my tent now.


Mama Biashara subsists solely on donations and from sales at its London shop. Copstick covers 100% of her own costs, including flights and accommodation and takes zero. 100% of all donations go to the charity’s work. You can donate HERE

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick in Kenya: charity, child rape, schools, tribalism

Continuing on from yesterday’s blog, more edited diary extracts from Kate Copstick in Kenya, working for her Mama Biashara charity… The full diaries are on her Facebook page.


Doris, one of Mama Bishara’s main workers

WEDNESDAY

Doris is in the High Court this morning, taking her rat of an ex-husband for some support for the kids. He has never given a penny. David is both disapproving and skeptical: “This is Kenya. This cannot happen.”

I have finally reached Jayne in Awendo. I get a texted wish list that includes nail polishes, sanitary pads, perm curlers, school shoes and sundry other needs. She also, she says, ‘needs to talk’ about my finding her a sponsor for the school. This is such old ground. She knows I was against the school in the first place.

Schools are simply unsustainable without a hugely and eternally generous donor. She educates the poorest and the neediest in mud huts her husband built and it is all great but then she also insists on a Graduation Day for the tinies where they spend money they do not have on bloody mini mortarboards and diddy gowns.

Mama Biashara just cannot get involved in schooling.

However anyone out there who would like to take one on…

I get the same from Felista.

Actually my very dear old (not that old) school friend Rachel has just sent Felista a wedge of money to help pay for the teachers in her school at DECIP. Felista was ecstatic. I don’t think either Jayne or Felista has ever met a child she couldn’t love. Having said which, Felista is currently struggling with some of the kids brought to her from Awendo.

“Eh, the Ruos!” she says. “Crazy people!”

The Luo tribe and the Kikkuyu are a bit like Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs in Glasgow.

“We have a beeeeeg girl at DECIP, and she is a Rrrruo and she dances nikid. NIKID! And she is beeeeeg!”

Felista, stalwart Mama Biashara co-worker with Copstick

Felista doing an impression of a naked, plump, large-breasted Luo sixteen year old “dancing nikid” is something that will live with me for a long time.

“She says it is her culture,” Felista tells me, screwing up her face. “THIS is not culture. To dance nikid.”

We head out and plunge into the gooey, smelly, crazy mess that is Gikomba market. I get a load of sanitary towels at a wee wholesalers and we decide to make for River Road to get started on Jayne’s list. It does not go particularly well. The traffic is solid. When the jams are like this, there are small crashes and broken down cars and trucks every few hundred yards, creating a jam within a jam. It takes an hour and a quarter to make what should be a ten minute journey.

I hurtle up and down River Road (on foot. There is no hurtling anywhere in a car). The big cosmetic wholesaler is rammed. I am all for physical contact but this is crazy. Sweaty. And deeply unpleasant.

As I fight my way up to the back where the nail polishes are stacked I am horrified to see two fully armed soldiers: flack jackets, helmets and AK47s. It is a bloody cosmetic shop!! Maybe they are expecting a jihad against vain, non-burka-wearing women? But with the push and pull of the crowd we are one wrong finger away from nastiness.

I get Jayne’s stuff and leave. Next, I search for wool. Nada. I give up and we go back to Gikomba where, as darkness falls, we get school shoes for Jayne’s orphans, some great scarves, I have a spirited conversation in German with a Kenyan lady ‘ho’ who had lived in Stuttgart for fifteen years. We drew quite the crowd. My giving her my phone number in German practically gets an applause break.

I buy a great watch for £1 and we eat absolutely the finest and most delicious chicken innards ever, grilled to crispy on the outside and served with a red hot salsa from some boys with a grill in the middle of the mud patch that is now New Pumwani Road.

Sorry veggies and vegans, the sight would have appalled you, but at least the Kenyans eat everything from a dead animal. On the grill were liver and heart combos, neck, gizzard, wiggly intestiney bits, feet…

The man from the little kiosk where I sometimes buy milk greets me like a long lost friend. I told him my Kikkuyu name (Nyaguthie, whch means ‘Let’s go’ or ‘Keep going’) and he uses it at every opportunity. He introduces me to his mates and I am almost immediately proposed to. I politely decline. They want to know if I have a husband at home.

“No,” I say. “No husband.”

“Eh! Unachelewa!” exclaims my wannabe hubby. “You are late !!”

Copstick (left) working for her Mama Biashara in Kenya

THURSDAY

I may have mentioned that the ‘roadworks’ have made the journey to and from home an absolute nightmare. With a vast detour necessary through the grimier parts of Gikomba and surrounding areas.

I had noticed, as we squeezed the car through a gap, a young girl selling sugar cane juice so, as we pass this morning, I tell David to stop while I buy some.

As I leave the car I feel the front wheel of a pikipiki collide with my leg. This particular tiny rat run is beloved of the pikipiki boys.

I turn and rip into him, channeling Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, I roar: “I’m walking here!!”

The pikipiki boy is so gobsmacked he apologises while his colleagues hoot with laughter.

I am meeting Joan to give her a bag of sunscreen for her albino group in Kibera and a load of HTC’s Cod Liver Oil and Kids’ Fish Oil.

“This is life” nods Felista, who has joined us for lunch.

“It is” agrees Joan.

The little hut we built for Dan and Joan’s disabled therapy group has been demolished to make way for more soldiers to camp out at the Kibera DC’s office. There is an election looming and Kibera is always a hotspot. But Joan has all the stuff with her at her new house. So it will be built again. She had to move because a lot of the work she and Dan do is with sexually abused children.

The men, generally, are immediately released on police bail (if caught). And the Kibera courts are notorious for saying “Men will be men” and letting perpetrators off with a small fine to rape again.

So Joan and Dan get a LOT of threats.

Dan gives me their current file which includes a girl, now in Nairobi Women’s Hospital with seventeen stitches holding her together, raped by her stepfather… a trio of three and four year olds, one of whom cannot leave her room because, if she sees a man, she just starts screaming “No! No! No! No! No!”… some six and seven year olds raped by uncles… and a girl of twelve who is six months pregnant by her next door neighbour.

Child rape is endemic here, with Kibera and Kawangware seeming to be particularly bad.

“Luhya and Kisii men,” says Joan.

“Luo men,” says Felista.

Joan says nothing, Joan is Luo. She currently has four raped girls staying with her because they are not safe around their own families and there is nowhere else for them to go.

At Corner we meet Andy again. He has been chasing green stone for building and has just returned from Juja. We drink beer, eat stewed goat and then politics rears its ugly head.

David is 100% Kikkuyu. If a pile of shit in a bag stood for president, as long as it was Kikkuyu shit, he would vote for it.

Andy is so horrified by David’s refusal to acknowledge that President Uhuru Kenyatta has basically sold Kenya to the Chinese to get a railway and some decent roads to his credit that he will not even shake hands with him as we part.

David hoots with laughter.

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