The next instalment of Kathy McKay’s blog takes us to the township of Emali (a rural area south of Nairobi, Kenya), where an ongoing drought is pushing children and mothers in an already impoverished community to the limits of human endurance.
Karibu (welcome) to Emali
Situated on the main highway between Nairobi and Mombassa, Emali Town is about three hours drive south of Nairobi. As we get closer to Emali we pass field after field of withered, brown and useless maize. The impact of the drought has been severe in this area of Kenya. Ninety per cent of the livestock have died and the latest crops have failed. Everyone here is worried about their future.
Supplementary feeding saves lives
Emali is the focal point for the large rural surrounding area. Market stalls are selling some food; cabbage, potatoes, red onion and mangos. But this is food only for those who can afford it – most can’t. Work is scarce and food is very expensive to buy. For instance, a day labourer will earn about $1.90 NZD a day but a small carton of milk costs over a $1!
We leave Emali and travel on red and dusty roads to talk to mums with young babies about their experiences. Very quickly the devastating effect of the drought becomes even more obvious. The babies are tiny. One 13-month-old child can barely sit up let alone crawl.
ChildFund is providing supplementary feeding to the most vulnerable including pregnant and breast feeding woman as well as children under the age of five years old. This vital support is saving children’s lives.
A porridge lunch
At an Early Childhood Development Centre I watch the younger children line up to receive their porridge lunch. It is very nutritious and they seem to really enjoy it. In reality this is breakfast, lunch and dinner for these children. I play “What’s the time Mr Wolf” (without the words) with the older children – they run and laugh.
The story of Nakai and her children
We drive for a long time on a track through the grasslands to visit a Maasai family. As we arrive the children come forward to have their heads touched – this is their way of saying hello.
Traditional mamyata hut
The Maasi mamyata (traditional house) is made of sticks and cow dung – two families of ten people live in two mamyata. I am invited in and have to bend to get through the doorway. There is a narrow hall and one room. It is very dark and very very hot inside. There is a small cooking fire burning. On the fire is a single pot with some brown liquid bubbling away.
This family eat once a day. The family had 10 cows but they have all died. They still have some goats which are sold to enable the family to buy food. What will happen when there are no goats left?
Nakai is beautiful and articulate young woman. She tells me she had a normal pregnancy but she was in labour for 3 days and was in a lot of pain. Nakai delivered her baby at home. Of course there was no pain relief and with the nearest hospital 50 km away and no transport and no way to pay for hospital there were very few options for Nakai.
Thankfully the baby was healthy when he was born. When the baby was one month old they held a naming ceremony for him. Disease kills babies so often in their first few weeks of life the Maasi wait to name their children. When babies are a month old they are more confident they will survive.
Nakai says: “Education is the future for my children.” She knows they can no longer depend on farming and believes education will help her children to have a better future.
Nakai’s oldest child is Nassanta. She is a gorgeous little girl who cuddles in close to me and takes my little finger in her hand. She simply won’t let go. She smiles and looks up at me and I instantly fall in love with her wonderful smile.
Nakai says: “I am thankful to the people of New Zealand for their care and for the relief food. But please help me to do more for my children.”
It is difficult to leave this family behind – I wish them well but am unsure what the future will hold for them if the drought continues. I know I won’t ever see Nakai or Nassanta again.
“Many are dead and now it’s our turn”
We end the day by visiting the Bhaiti women support group. Established by ChildFund, the group of 27 HIV positive women gather once a week to support each other. About half of the women have children with HIV. The benefit of the group is enormous- they feel like sisters and care for one another. They also encourage others to come forward for testing and support.
My colleague Kathrine and I are given a traditional welcome – singing and dancing. Each of the women line up to hug us. This is the second time they have met Kathrine and they are clearly thrilled she is back to see them.
The women sing about living with HIV. Their songs help to create awareness and educate the community about HIV. The songs are powerful and I feel my eyes well up with tears. I don’t want to cry so I fight them back. These women deserve more than tears but their songs say: “The journey is too long – God have mercy on us.” It is very emotional as many of them now want to die because there is no relief to their suffering.
The drought is having devastating effect on children and women with HIV. ARVs (antiretrovirals) – the drugs you need to stay healthy – taken without food cause vomiting. The drugs are thrown up before they can have any effect. Naturally when mothers have food they will feed their children before themselves so some women end up eating only a few times a week. The women are desperate to work to earn an income. When they can they take on casual labour – washing clothes, digging roads, etc. But it is hard physical labour – especially for anyone sick and hungry. Many of the women look very thin and very very sick.
The women ask us: “Will you find a sponsor for this group or will you let us die?” I feel determined to do something to help these women and children. We can’t stand by and let them die.