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What it is like for Kate Copstick living, working and running a charity in Kenya

Journalist Kate Copstick’s work with her Mama Biashara charity in Kenya has been covered in this blog over the last few years. 

Mama Biashara helps poor people (especially women) set up their own small self-supporting businesses which may give them a lift to a better life – a hand up, not a hand out. It also gets involved in educational and health care projects.

In the last blog here, rather than cover the charity’s work directly, I posted extracts from Copstick’s diary which give an impression of the things she encounters more generally in Kenya.

Here are some more brief, edited extracts starting more than a week ago. Fuller versions appear on the Mama Biashara Facebook page


THURSDAY

Faith (14-year-old, raped and impregnated by her father; mentioned in the last blog) is STILL being held by Kenyatta Hospital in Nairobi. The psychological and emotional toll of being imprisoned like this is unimaginable. I suspect the monsters of Kenyatta Hospital are responsible for destroying this girl’s ability to trust another human being forever.

FRIDAY

Arriving in Mombasa is like walking in front of an industrial hairdryer and it is fabulous. The Shiloh (our accommodation of choice) is full of Somalis who are here to unload cars at the docks, so we have to go upstairs where there are four more rooms. However they cost 7.50 a night instead of 4.00. And mine has no water. But there is no choice. 

Mombasa has got rid of the massive rubbish dump at the bridge that used to make the trip into town such a nightmare. The acres of mountains of rotting shit and unrotting plastic have gone. So has the smell. They have even put down some top soil and there are small palms and sunflowers growing. The water on the other side has lost its slick of disgustingness. It is a transformation. One has to wonder quite where it has all gone… but the ride to town no longer requires a facemask and a strong stomach.

I bloody love Mombasa.

“We end up having our little funding workshop on the beach…”

TUESDAY

Vicky is trying to find a safe place to meet the first groups who want funding.

Since the bombings came back, especially here on the coast, every meeting of people is suspected of being Al-Shabaab planning something nasty.

And stick a white woman in the mix and it is imagined nothing good could possibly be happening. The last time we were here we were arrested, if you remember, and spent six hours in Ukunda Police Station. Vicky was seriously traumatised by that and she is terrified of it happening again. 

Which is how we end up having our little funding workshop on the beach. 

We are on the beach till the sun goes down and then go to our usual place for pilau. Chef must be having an off day as mine tastes like grit and Doris ends up puking violently at the side of the road.

And while she is puking I find myself in the middle of a to-do. 

As Vicky and I are sitting, a scrawny boy comes up to the table and extends a hopeful hand. As he does so, an elderly man stomps past and absolutely whacks him with a rolled up newspaper. 

I can barely believe what I see but, as soon as I realise what has happened, I chase the man into the restaurant. He has disappeared.

As I come out, I see the same boy being manhandled by an extremely disagreeable type dressed in raggedy brown and looking like he is not entirely sober. I stomp across, get between him and the boy and demand that he leave him alone. He grabs, I grab and push the boy behind me. We then have what is best described as a stare-and-twitch-off. He has obviously never been confronted by a crazy old Scottish lady at full throttle and is at least 50% weirded-out. 

I give him the Copstickian Death Stare. He is not that impressed; he stays where he is and just glares back at me. Then he twitches as if to come forward and I twitch sideways, keeping the boy behind me. I shout at him to go away (sorry, not very Kill Bill but the best I could do at the time). He growls back. 

Then a bloke from the restaurant arrives. The dodgy raggedy bloke leaves and I release the boy who runs off in the opposite direction. The restaurant man says the boy is a thief. Raggedy bloke is there as a look out. He comes almost every night. 

I suggest that:

(a) getting some foul layabout from a nearby gutter to beat him up is not going to help the boy and

(b) if this is the case, then he is obviously being run by someone of whom he is more afraid than he is of getting beaten at the restaurant. Restaurant man shrugs and says: “He is just chokora” (a street child).

What with the gritty pilau, the food poisoning and the on-street fighting, I have enjoyed myself more.

WEDNESDAY

Sadly, no beach today. Vicky’s groups are coming from the other end of Mombasa. Two groups have become four but, again, I know how hard it is to triage people’s misery and need.

We meet in a little space at the end of the row of upstairs rooms at our place. It is really quiet and safe. As I sort out chairs, I am joined – no more than four feet away – by an incredibly handsome monkey. Grey fur and a black face.

I have nothing for him, but we sort of chat and tilt heads at each other. 

He then, as he crouches, opens his legs and I see he has: 

(a) the most beautiful cobalt blue testicles and

(b) a full-on monkey erection, which is sweetie pink.

Relatively speaking, this boy is most impressive. Every so often, he passes a little money paw over his tiny pink policeman’s helmet. The only people I have ever seen do this are male porn stars on set – just to ‘keep the engine running’. 

I am thrilled with my new friend. However, sensing no food in the offing, he goes and we start work. 

We see a group who are being abused and frequently drugged then gang-raped – a group whom Vicky describes as “funky Moslems” (non-strict Moslems living in a very conservative area). Again, like yesterday, the wives of the strict Moslem men hire thugs to sexually abuse the children to force the mothers out. Plus women from the Kokoto mines where sexual abuse is constant. And a group of reformed female prisoners who are being seriously abused in their community. A good variety of businesses, and everyone is relocated to somewhere safe. 48 adults and 176 children.

SUNDAY

Back in Nairobi.

Tonight we have electricity.

Today, I looked in a mirror for the first time in ten days because my cheeks felt sort-of scaley. Bloody forgot about my lupus not liking the sun and I have now got two crusty red cheeks. Slathering on the cortisone and hoping it will go away.

For some reason my right hip is giving me the most appalling gyp. Slathering on the diclofenac.

I took my methotrexate this morning and just met Felista but had to cut and run to the nearest space and puke and retch for ten minutes.

… CONTINUED HERE


The view from Copstick’s far from luxurious home window… She used to live in a metal container…

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 relies solely on donations and from sales of goods in its shop at Shepherds Bush, London. The website is HERE.

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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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