Westgate – one year on

Memories of heavy smoke billow-on a year after the Westgate Mall attack in Kenya:

Of how Kenyans, and the world helplessly watched, clueless as to what exactly was going on inside the mall; a swing of relief each time a message of hope came, then another pendulum swing into gloom and tension as the hope faded. We remember the country was paralyzed for days.

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Photo credit | The Daily Nation

The photo above and minimal words would probably have been ideal to commemorate this day, but leafing through ordeals published on Kenya’s dailies today, some accounts beg to be written, especially remarks from parents of Former Bidco Sales & Marketing Director, 38 year old Mitul Shah.

The late Mitul passed on after he offered himself as a hostage to save lives of a group of children at the mall. Only pain can so vividly express pain, his elderly parents know this:

He was the best son any parent could have asked for. He was the life and strength of this family, the glue that held everything together. With my son by my side I had the motivation for life, I could take risks even with my business because I knew that he had my back. Now, I am much weaker and take no joy in anything – Amu Shah (Father)

We know it is a year since Mitul died, and we know we are supposed to feel better, but to us he might as well have died yesterday because the wound is as raw as the day we found out about his death. No pain compares to that of losing a child – Sudha Shah (Mother)

Even deeper scars from families of the 67 lives lost in this ordeal live on, and today, as more chilling stories emerge, we grieve with families, friends who lost loved ones, and the tens of survivors who remain maimed for life. May God comfort and give you strength.

A year on, #Westgate

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5 admirable qualities in a church

The meteoric growth of a church in Narok made me reflect about my own; the more members discussed, the more I drew parallels between them and the early church. Today I want nothing more for my church. . .

Below, members of the African Gospel Church share five things that the Church Community Mobilization Process (CCMP) has done in helping them turn-around. I juxtapose each with scripture from Acts 2:38-47 (NIV):

Reaching out
Acts 2:39: The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off
“The facilitator challenged us to start visiting people who stopped coming to church. We rarely thought about them but we started.  . . For instance, we visited a couple who had been involved in an accident and whose mother had became ill shortly after. They were so happy to see us. After that, they rejoined the church” – Irene Limo.

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“We started constructing a new large church, but we have realized that if we invite (and care about) people as we have been taught, we might need a larger church” – Pst Jonathan Limo

Having joy and compassion
46: they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts
“We have learnt to take keener notice of our neighbors too, and visit them from time to time. Whenever we do, we purchase something we know they might need for their house” – Irene Limo

45: …selling to give to anyone who has need
“There is a church/ group member who was sickly. Although she recovered, she really desires to own a cow that she can milk some¬day, and maybe even have some extra to sell. We are all contributing monies to purchase one for one her.”

38: Repenting . .
“Patricia (World Concern facilitator) helped us to repent, and be true Christians. After showing us the characteristics of a succeeding and the failing church, I decided that I am not going to be the one to pull the church downwards. . . We’re fighting for this vision” – Chepchirchir Sang.

At the start of the course, participants are asked to reflect on what they want to see in the church in 5 years; what is preventing them from getting there; and what do you need to do in order to get there. Then together with the facilitator, the group analyzes characteristics of a growing church and those of a dying church and members place themselves in one of the grids.

47: . . .the Lord added to their number daily
“There is a woman who is not a believer, but whenever her husband who works far away visits home, he comes to church. After visiting her, she started coming to church every Sunday together with her children” – Irene Limo.
Through the CCMP, members have also realized that small things matter, for instance decorating the church, being punctual, and making the church lively when it’s worship time. This marks new beginnings for them.

The CCMP empowers communities to meet their own issues through better understanding of their contexts. It focuses on the process rather than the product. World Concern has added the CCMP as a component to savings groups training curriculum in Narok. “If you want to initiate meaningful development, start in the church and it will stand,” facilitator Patricia believes, before outlining the whole curriculum off-head during this interview!

Which of these aspects is common in your church?

Through the eyes of children

We asked pupils aged 8-15 years the question: What work has World Concern done around you, has it impacted your life in any way?

Their responses . .

ASCA_Group
Availability of business capital for mum from her loans from savings group

Livestock_upgrading_project

Bigger and improved sheep breed for more milk at home

Solar_lantern_project
Bright solar lantern so I am able to study comfortably at night
New_church
We now have a new church building to worship in
Clearing_compound
Hygiene club lessons in action which have improved our general cleanliness. Also there is a flourishing school garden
School_garden_project
Our nutrition is improved due to well maintained school garden
school _sanitation
Improved water and sanitation in our school due to new toilets and water facilities
water_pan
My father’s cows drink from a nearby water pan

Well, what more! 🙂

Conspiring to succeed [Part I]

There are things that make my eyes moist:

  1. An infant’s smile, giggle or mispronunciation of a name they are fond of.
  2. An artist in their full expression
  3. People so tightly knit by their aspirations that they give themselves unreservedly in the quest.  

I met such people, a week ago when I visited Narok – tightly knit and working towards a goal together.

Individuals, one-after-another, could tell what their group goals are, and what they are parting with daily, to achieve. Especially seeing how concerned members are, to each other made my heart tender through and through.

From the Latin “conspirare” – which means “to breathe together,” I would say they are conspiring to succeed.

Through World Concern’s ASCA’s (chamas), groups are facilitated to make financial and social goals and then individuals work towards them, all the while monitoring each other’s progress.

It’s amazing.

One such group (Dupoto Self Help Group), set a financial goal to save Kshs. 300,000 by November, 2014. This saw each member increase their weekly sav­ings from Kshs. 100 to Ksh 315. This September, the group will hold a party to celebrate attaining the Ksh 225,000 milestone.

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Dupoto Self Help Group

Social goal: ‘Each member will replace their house mud-roof with iron sheets by November 2014.’ To do this, member are making individual savings from their businesses.  “At the end of year, we shall visit each other’s houses to see if this has been attained,” said group secretary Regina Koinag.

They have become families, ‘breathing together’ as it were, as members get involved in each other’s lives in a way they had never done before.

Below, a few people I met. . .   

Alice has also expanded business from loan borrowed from group
Expanding her business from a group loan she borrowed, Alice is saving part of the business proceeds to meet her social goal. She has so far purchased 8 iron sheets out of her planned 20

I was ill in December 2013. Since it was on a Monday, I was waiting for my husband to sell a sheep on market day (Wednes­day) in order to raise my transport money to the hospital.
However, the Dupoto group quickly mobilized funds on that very day and I was rushed to hospital. I returned on Tuesday. That action really motivated me, and reignited my commitment to the group – Alice Meegisho

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We voluntari­ly decided to raise separate monies to purchase 20 ewes, one for each member, every week. Yesterday, we completed the round, and 8 members have reported that their sheep have given birth already. We will now decide on whether to purchase calves for each member as the sheep project is now complete – Regina Koinag.

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Jonathan borrowed money for compost, while his wife Irene used her’s to purchase maize seeds. Their harvest is soon calling

I have learnt that poverty diminishes the mind, but where there is hope, the mind expands. World Concern training on saving and businesses management has expanded our minds – Jonathan Limo.

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  • Accumulated Savings and Credit Associations (ASCAs) by World Concern initially consist of around 12 self-selecting members (though will often grow spontaneously to 20-25 members)
  • Our training includes setting up group governance structures, business management and new investment opportunities.
  • ASCAs allow savings to accumulate into an increasingly large pool from which members may draw loans. Eventually, the group may even offer loans to people outside of the group.
  • Interest earned on loans devolves to the group as wealth is created and redistributed within the community.
  • According to Trainer Evans Nyaga, members have been able to settle medical expenses, school fees and even start businesses.

Group unlocks diverse income for Anne

8 months ago, Anne Turgut joined an Accumulated Savings and Credit Associations (ASCAs) group that had settled on a weekly contribution of Ksh 200 ($2), but she didn’t have enough to even make a first contribution.

Quick thinking saved her as she quickly offloaded bananas, enroute to the market, to group members therefore raising required monies, plus some extra. Since then she hasn’t looked back.

Through ASCAs, World Concern has provided  practical financial springboard to residents in Narok, Kenya. In the program, capital generated by members remains under their ownership and control, with World Concern providing training and facilitation in business growth.

Anne_Turgut_World_Concern_ASCA_Chicken

“When I joined the ASCA (Hekima Self Help Group), I thought I was too old, but now my mind has become renewed. I have acquired new strength,” she said, “my problem was not that I was not getting money, but that I didn’t know how to manage it.”

The 58 year old said that she learnt how to save money upon joining Hekima, which was something completely foreign to her.

Anne_Turgut_World_Concern_ ASCA

“I bought 7 chicken with my first loan of Ksh 2400 ($ 28),” she said. Now that the chicken have multiplied by tens, she waits for their eggs to accumulate before selling and storing the money in her mobile phone (MPESA) account. When it is time to pay the group contribution, Anne withdraws from this kitty.

She said being also able to settle her loan from the chicken venture is something she really thanks God for. “I never knew I could plan my money this way,” she said, adding that the knowledge acquired through World Concern has become ‘a key that has unlocked my other sources of income.’

The mother of 8 now manages yields from family dairy cows and banana farm in the same fashion. For her, farming is no longer a hobby. It has become a business.

Anne_Turgut_World_Concern_ASCA_BananaFrom her second loan of Ksh 3,200 ($38), Anne purchased cabbage seeds which were ready to be transplanted from a nursery a day after this interview.

Heroes – Why We Need More

As we celebrate humanitarian heroes on this year’s World Humanitarian Day (WHD), some heroes who saved an infant’s life, come to mind. They risked the wrath of a community by calling off a day-long mobile health clinic at midday, in order to save the life of a boy who might never know their names

During the fast paced horn of Africa drought, the health situation was dire and together with partners Medical Teams International (MTI), World Concern ran weekly mobile clinics across half a dozen villages.

These villages were located on both sides of the Kenya-Somalia borderline, and reaching them often involved long distance travels on bumpy, risky and sometimes impassable roads. One particularly difficult journey still sits in my mind.

It involved an infant whose life was on the edge. Although treatment had been administered, he got worse. To rescue his life, we’d have to take him to a hospital about 3 hours away.

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IMG_12121Driving on top speed was crucial, but bumps on the rough terrain compromised an intravenous drip running from the ceiling of the car to his veins. This was his lifeline.

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We winced at each bump on the road, and agonized watching his mother desperately trying to keep him still. He had only a few hours to live, the medics warned, and the possibility of losing a precious child, right before our eyes was disturbing.

4

Being largely remote, villagers had either walked or been carried for long distances in order to arrive for the weekly mobile clinic but with their situations stabler, these medics gambled on helping save his life.

Fortunately, relief came at some point in the journey when he finally became strong enough to bite something. He smiled.  Photo credit | Ashley Johansen
Fortunately, relief came at some point in the journey when he finally became strong enough to bite something. He smiled.

It paid off as the boy eventually recovered.  He might never know, but some heroes helped save his life.

IMG_0939
Andrew, Bruce, Ashley and Bonnie pose

On this year’s World Humanitarian Day, I toast to you!

The world needs more heroes.

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Photo credit – Ashley Johansen

 

 

 

Through the eyes of a writer

I am a communicator. I enjoy telling stories.

Sometimes I get to stare into the souls of people I talk to, when they let me; and each time I revisit a community, our connections rekindle again, no matter our language barriers.

Visiting Lamu again this time, brought a mixture of anger and confusion.

Anger because Lamu had been one of the most peaceful areas that World Concern operated in. Now the innocence gone, and with it lives of some of our partners.

Confusion because I couldn’t understand how the scale of grisly attacks was rising each day, and yet no one seemed able to contain it by week three when we visited. Frankly, I felt like a jilted lover. By who? I couldn’t tell.

Mpeketoni_shopping_centre
A section of Mpeketoni shopping centre

Our first day in Mpeketoni was bad; our second day in Hindi was terrible. I remember my colleague saying,

“You should see a psychiatrist.”
“No, YOU should see a psychiatrist!”

We half-joked, knowing well that we badly needed closure.

motorbike_Hindi_Lamu
Source of income gone

Listening to grim real life stories was sobering, especially seeing powerful emotions roll off adults so effortlessly. Men the age of my father told me that they were afraid. I saw families eat just plain rice as the only day meal, because they had no alternative. In fact many would go for days without a meal (and still are).

A teenager, barely 16 years old shared photos of such gruesome murders to an extent that my colleague stayed awake for nights, yet this boy was living with them in his phone; in his mind.

Although I got to capture stories with some level of success on the first day, the second became extremely difficult.

I had trouble concentrating on any more testimonies of human agony. The photos I took that day were either too exposed or too dark, too out of focus or too poorly composed. After each session I would ask myself, “what is happening with me today?”

Burnt_house_in_Hindi_Lamu
Karisa, where his house stood. Hindi.

Knowing that our resources were limited, and that the people in so much agony were ordinary people like me, was disturbing.

Bneficiaries

We ended our first phase of emergency response hearing the voices of hundreds of grateful vulnerable women and children whom we assisted. But we also left tens of residents trying to raise just bus-ticket monies to flee a place that reminded them daily of unimaginable horrors that had befallen them, yet they couldn’t. Also, many were hungry, and their mental health delicately unsteady.

Today, as I document each story, their voices of anguish and hope urge me on. I write silently hoping that my words sit uncomfortably in the heart of my reader to make them want to do something!

A Case of Instinct

“Am not feeling well today, something is ailing me.”

“What is wrong?”

“I don’t know, am just not happy.”

Although my neighbor offered me supper later on, I declined. At around 8pm when she (my neighbor) was having her meal, an impatient thought came: ‘Where would I hide if someone came to attack us?’ And I was suddenly overcome by fear.

I took a torch and went around the house. When I checked my goat pen, I thought, here is just a perfect spot to hide.

Monkeys congregate

Earlier that day, droves of monkeys had run towards our direction. They were chattering in groups. Loudly. ’What if they are trying to tell us something?’ I remember one of them was especially brave, as he ran right past us, then the rest followed.

But now it all makes sense because not one of them returned to the direction of the forest.

‘Why did I not I run away even after such clear signs?’

‘Don’t let these men shoot me’

As soon as I returned to the house, about 50 rough looking militia emerged. They ordered us to lie down and disassembled our phones.

“Dear God, please do not let these men shoot me.” 

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IMG_2818b

Miriam Mwenje’s life and those at the compound were spared, but she prays that by the grace of God, she can forget it all. At the time of the interview, she was making rounds in town, exhausted, a large brown leather bag on her shoulder. This has become her routine, before heading to Hindi Prison for the night. She tethers a handful goats here.

Due to lack of privacy at the compound, simple things like finding a place to change her clothes have been difficult.

World Concern has assisted to shield her from cold nights by providing a mat and blanket for her, together with other vulnerable women. 400 of them.

The biggest challenge for residents at the small Hindi village at the moment is in finding sources of income as there are little or no opportunities for labor. We are assisting, and the march is far from over.

3 Lessons on Fatherhood

June 15th,

Probably the most inconvenient night to be born. Instead of fireworks, live ammunition rocked her first few hours on earth. Besides, she was born right inside her young parents’ house, because going to hospital that night would have amounted to suicide.  

Doing their best now, they can hopefully reassure little Christine Mapenzi that it’s not such a bad place after all.

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Little Christine with her mum at Hindi Prison hall

As I interviewed her dad, Charo Safari, it struck me that, although just in his late twenties, he is walking a tight rope  – leading his young family right after the gruesome Mpeketoni Attack . Yet with a calm, confident voice, he detailed his daily routine, never realizing how deep his words sunk. . .

1. A man/ father is punctual

Charo rides his wife and 3 children on a bicycle to Hindi Prison every day. Despite the fact that he spends his day keeping his farm secure from wild animals, he ensures that his family arrives at Hindi Prison by 4:30pm, making them among the first every day.

Their motivation is to book an old cage-like piece of furniture, IMG_2585which serves as a perfect cot for Christine. It not only provides a more comfortable padding at night by keeping her from sleeping on cold cement floor, but it also enables her parents to hang a mosquito net on it. With high ceilings at the prison hall, mosquito nets are difficult to prop up leaving many infants unprotected at night. Charo knows this.

2A father sacrifices

On the day of the interview, Charo had sold a valuable item: his phone, in order to support his family of five because his income streams had run out. “This money (Ksh 1000/ $12) will keep us going for the next two weeks,” he said.

Among his daily expenses include a loaf and packet of milk for Catherine’s dinner and his two sons, aged 3 and 7 years old. “Today I didn’t manage to purchase any milk for her,” he said, fishing out the loaf and margarine from a black polythene bag. Further, he also opts out of supper, preferring to use their coffers sparingly.

 3. A father protects

The reason Charo spends daytime at his farm located at a potentially dangerous zone, about two hours away (on a bicycle) is to guard it against destructive monkeys. He hopes to salvage some during harvest season and put some money back into his pockets again, soon.

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World Concern has partnered with the displaced to provide mats and blankets to assist vulnerable mothers like Catherine (Christine’s mum) at Hindi Prison. Together with their infants, they can now shield themselves from the cold, drizzly nights at the hall.

‘Two minutes saved my life’

Lawrence King'ori

After a crisis, life changes in incredible ways.

Like I found Lawrence King’ori casually seated inside a police station, something few would do in an ordinary world. But this is no ordinary world. This is Hindi town in Lamu, Kenya. For nights the 60 year old would rather book himself inside the cold gates of Hindi Prison than sleep in his house.

It’s twisted I tell you. In fact, Lawrence has not been to his house since July 5th, the fateful night. On that night a gang of about 50 men was marching towards his house when his neighbor alerted him. He ran, ran and ran.

“Two minutes saved my life,” says Lawrence.

I would say he’s been running since, as gory images haunt him every day. He wanders around the town as if to try and feel normal again.

What-remains-Lawrence-Hindi
What remains of Lawrence’s possessions – a set of clothes that he stores at a relative’s house near the town centre

Lawrence previously lived on the fringes of Hindi, where a dozen residents were razed.

He reveals how life is shaping up now. . .

How are nights like at the prison compound?
Children cry at night and there are many disruptions, but we’re slowly getting used to it. You talk to the one next to you, until you drift off.

Why won’t you sleep in your house?
I cannot. The few times I tried to go back, I got a sickening feeling and my legs refused to carry me any further. I had to turn back. My neighbors who attempted, say that they saw fresh footprints in the area.

Would you return when your attackers are freely roaming about?

Describe the emotions you are going through
After what I saw . . . The things that happened to people I knew. .  It’s a mixture of anger and fear.  But you have to suck it all in, as a man, what else can you do?

Lawrence King'ori

What is your most urgent need now?
Food. In the morning we drink some black tea as we walk out of the prison gates. On some days, that is all we have for the day.

What happens to your farm now?
Even with a lot of food, it cannot help me. I have left it for the wild animals. I cannot return.

Lawrence is among 3,000 residents spending nights at Hindi Prison who bare cold nights, and though they have farms with ready produce, they now have to depend on relief food to survive.World Concern is currently assisting the most vulnerable groups. 

We need you, reach out. Please get in touch with wconcern@wcdro.org.