Writer and critic Kate Copstick is in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity helps people out of abject poverty by giving them small grants to start small, self-sustaining businesses. They help set up businesses that will give them a life. Where necessary, Mama Biashara gives training and helps with creating a customer base.
The Mama Biashara slogan is: A HAND UP, NOT A HANDOUT. Copstick receives no salary and no money to cover her own personal costs. She pays for her own overheads, flights and accommodation.
100% of all monies donated are spent on the charity’s work.
Below are a couple of edited extracts from Copstick’s diary this week. Full versions are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.
The farm we are visiting today. Wheat as far as the eye can see
Off to check on a Mama Biashara farming business and do some funding.
The farm is amazing. The quarry business I posted pictures of last trip has spawned so many offshoot businesses. Once people get money, they think about creating their own group and starting afresh.
The quarry begat a potato farm. That farm begat another farm. It did so well it begat a hotel and yet another farm. This is the farm we are visiting today.
Wheat (as far as the eye can see) is planted alongside maize, a fabulous field of carrots and a big field that has already been harvested, dug over, and is now being planted with potatoes. There is water, which comes from the Mau Forest, and the crops are huge.
The first wheat group has taken the profit from their harvest and are already away discussing taking over another field with the Maasai who owns it. Over the various plots here, there are about fifty Mama Biashara business people.
We go to our local ‘safe’ house for a funding.
There are five groups: all of them battered, abused women with children who are being abused as a way of forcing the mothers out of the community.
Once upon a Kenyan election, it used to be the thing for MPs to give out parcels of land in the Mau Forest – mainly to Maasai – in exchange for their people’s votes. Huge tracts of land disappeared into the political maw.
Now these people are being evicted and are going back to where they came from. A lot of them came from around here. And now they want their lands back from the people they rented to and do pretty much what it takes to get them out. These women are caught up in this.
Many came here as farmhands and dairy workers. Now the returning Maasai just want them gone.
The women put up with outrageous levels of abuse.
One group, when I ask if the women are being abused as well as the children, tell me: “Only what is normal”.
And being beaten is normal.
The groups are bigger than normal – 15 women in each – but, then, the levels of violence have escalated. The women are mainly going back to their own areas, where they will be welcome and looked after.
We set up businesses selling boiled maize, washing powder, porridge, carrier bags, chapatis and boiled sweet potato. One woman from the chapati group has her tiny, sodomised child with her.
The child has not been taken to hospital because a hospital will demand a police report for a child with these injuries. And the women cannot report anything to the police in their own area because the police will do nothing but report the woman to the rapist who will beat her at best, kill them both at worst. So no police report.
The child is being, I am reassured, “cured with leaves”.
By the time you read this, 88 woman and 177 kids will be in a safe place and starting a new life. Not bad for about £750. Although I must stress that the grants are cut to the absolute bone in order to help as many as possible.
Mama B gives small grants – A HAND UP, NOT A HANDOUT.
First up is another Mama Biashara farm. This one is massive. And it has pretty much everything.
The big advantage here is that the land has an irrigation system fed by a borehole. The rent is 80 a year. There are several groups working the many many crops here: potatoes and carrots, coriander and some other herbs, tomatoes, arrowroot, watermelon and sweet potatoes, cassava, cucumber, butternut squash, onions, passion fruit, pawpaw, mango, lemon and oranges. I am sure I have forgotten some. Also, there is a chicken project and a huge swathe of land growing silage.
All in all, about 80 Mama Biashara people farm this land, splinter groups either from our other farms or, in the case of the silage and chicken, splinter groups from one of our fumigation groups, themselves started as part of Vicky’s Cleaners.
Splinter groups are usually three or four from a successful group who take their profit and set themselves up in a new venture. The original group then adds some new people and the splinter group adds about ten in starting their new business. This entire farm is financially self-seeded. Some of the women who run it, who were meant to come and meet us, have disappeared.
They disappeared, apparently, because they were worried that, because they are doing so well, I had come to demand a cut.
We stride off across a field to where today’s funding groups are sitting.
First is a group headed by four grannies who are fed up with their daughters and grandchildren being molested and beaten by the local men. Fair dos.
They have identified a good farm with a stable water supply back in their own tribal area and, as they know farming well, they want to take their group there and grow potatoes. Seems like a plan – so 14 adults and 54 children will be setting off tomorrow morning.
The next group is big – 20 adults with 73 children between them. This group have been flagged-up by our people at the quarry. They are already doing casual labouring at another quarry, but this comes with a lot of typical Kenyan shit – like the women being used as unpaid sex workers for the supervisors.
If they want their job for the next day, they keep the supervisors and their friends happy at night.
Our quarry boys have identified a rich-looking piece of land in the same area as themselves and negotiated the right to quarry it. Mama Biashara has to pay the £80 licence (City Council, of course) to ensure that the workers are not harassed and set them up with the tools of the quarrying trade.
It is a big amount of money for Mama Biashara but our original quarry has helped hundreds (maybe 500) people over the three years since it was started, as well as kicking off countless splinter groups.
Of course, there are more groups that there were supposed to be – seven instead of four – but, when there are women explaining to you that out of their group, eight women and six children have already been raped (they don’t bother to complain about beatings unless I ask… it is ‘normal’), I find it hard to say: “Well, you weren’t on the list, so tough”.
The constraint is money.
Did I mention we need more?
So we sit for a few hours under a tree in the grass and juggle the finances of saving 75 women and 185 children from certain abuse.
I dazzle with what has become known as “your mathematics”. And we do it.
Businesses for paraffin and petrol, maize and pease, arrowroot and a cleaning contractors are now set up and (most importantly) money is there to pay for transporting the women away to their new lives. Sometimes that can double the grant, but it is rather of the essence of the whole thing. Vicky has a fleet of lorries on speed dial and we save SO much money transporting large groups of people by truck rather than bus. It is mildly not exactly kosher so to do but needs must. And Vicky’s lorrymen are decent blokes.
All in all, not a bad day, as days go.
You can donate to Mama Biashara via Wonderful.org
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