By Juliett Otieno
Nairobi, Kenya, September 2008 - Kibera is still home to almost a million of Kenya’s population. It remains the site of numerous incidences, and even when we spoke to these families, the air was filled with remnants of tear gas shot into the air earlier in the day as Kibera residents took to the streets to demand that the minister for finance reduce the cost of food in this year’s budget, which he was set to read that afternoon.
Yet in the midst of this, there are families that are trying to live lives as normal as possible, struggling to go from one day to another. They are doing what they can to ensure their children go to school and come home to find food and water, and a warm place to sleep.
Akiya Ahmed, 49, is one such woman. She is a widow, and lives in a single room in Kibera. She lives in there with her last born daughter who is 19, her five grandchildren, two of whom are orphans, and her mother, Kadara Suleiman.
In their tiny house, food, water and beddings are a problem. Her orphaned grandchildren, Malaasen, 18 and Husna, 14, are children of Akiya’s deceased daughter, who passed on in 2004. At the time of her death she had been long divorced from her husband; therefore her children had not been in contact with their father for a long time. To this day they are not aware of his whereabouts.
Malaasen is in her third year of secondary school at Lang’ata High School and Husna is in grade 4 at Kibera Primary school. The two have been benefiting from the Cash Transfer programme since 2007. Akiya has four children who live on their own in Makina, a nearby village. They decided to get their own place as their present home had become overcrowded. Akiya is still expected to foot their bills since they do not have any source of income.
Akiya gets Ksh 3000 every two months for her grandchildren, and says the bulk of it goes to clearing school fees arrears and paying rent to keep the roof over their head.
“Malaasen pays Ksh 19, 000 a year, I do not have that kind of money. The cash transfer money helps me to pay this money in little deposits at a time, and ensures she stays in school,” says Akiya.
Since she has never been able to pay the full fees, she sends Malaasen to school with small amounts to ensure she does not get sent home from school for failure to pay arrears. Small deposits give Malaasen some grace period until the accountants come calling again.
On the day of the interview, Malaasen had been home for two weeks for the same reason, and that morning Akiya had sent her to school to ‘try and talk to the teachers to let her stay’. By that afternoon Malaasen had not come back so Akiya was confident it had worked out.
Akiya is unemployed. She used to have a business selling samosas at nearby Makina market, and this fell through the cracks three months ago. From it she used to make between Ksh 50-70 a day, from which she would buy food, kerosene for cooking and lighting the house, water, which she pays ksh 3 for every 10liters.
“Now that my business went down, sometimes we still go to sleep hungry, or we just depend on neighbours, friends and well wishers or if by some luck our friends can pass by with something to share with us or some money,” she says.
Her older kids do not work, and she gets no support from her siblings or relatives as they have their own children to support.
She gets ksh 3000 every two months in the Cash Transfer programme. The last time was in April this year, and is looking forward to getting in July. Her family lives on ugali (maize meal) and vegetables as their daily meal. If that diet changes, Akiya says, it is purely by luck.
“Even when we get sick, we cannot just go to any hospital. We can only afford the clinics that are here in Kibera, and there many times we do not know if we are getting the correct care. But we have no choice, t is what we can afford,” she says.
“Before Cash transfer, I had both children at home from school almost every week alternatively. But now, I worry more about just one of the two. Without this money, it would still be as it used to be. Atleast now we can look forward to having a few easy days every two months, until the next time. When it is all spent, we just take it a day at a time as we wait. If it was to be increased, it would be even better. Of course most of it would go to school fees, rent and food,” she says
Farther down the road from Akiya is another family, headed by Hawa Shaban, a 65 year old grandmother who lives with her children and six grandchildren. Her daughter, 34 year old Asha, has been twice married and widowed. Asha’s children, Ibrahim, 14 and Sharifa, 9 are both benefiting from the programme. Ibrahim attends Madrasa in Mwea and Sharifa goes to Mbagathi Primary School.
“As soon as we get the money we buy shoes, replace torn uniform and buy more school books and whatever else may be required. That money is mainly for educating my children; I use it to get whatever they need to stay in school. After paying fees, which is ksh 1700 a term, which I still pay in installments, then we can plan for what is left.” she says.
For the last two months Asha has been running a small scale business by the roadside selling viazi vya karai, a delicacy made of potatoes fried in spices and food colour. From this she makes between ksh 100-150 a day, which she uses to buy food and pay the rent and to cater for her family’s medical care.
“Here we live a simple life. We eat ugali (maizemeal) and vegetables daily, if we see rice, it is maybe once a month. The rest of the time, we are grateful for the little that we have and what we can do with that money,” she says.