I take a short trip down to Kangemi, a slum located in the outskirts of Nairobi City in Kenya. It’s a chilly morning but residents here are still determined to make a living. Shouts of men pushing their handcarts telling people to move out of the way lest they are run over, bus conductors asking customers to board their matatus to head out back to the Central Business District, then there is the market full of fresh fruits and vegetables. ‘Sister, do you want sukuma? I have bananas too.’ One of the sellers calls out to me. ‘We have chapatti and beans for early lunch, ugali too,’ yells one of the people selling food by the roadside.
At this point, I’m reflecting on Rachael Mwikali. How possible is it to undergo so many violations in your childhood and still manage to rise again? Where does one get the strength to rise every morning and ensure that they are doing their best to make sure no child is raped or misses school? How does one mobilize people to stop the injustices against women?
In the previous post, I told the story of Mwikali who is the convener of the Coalition for Grassroots Human Rights Defenders. Her take away was the fact that she is supported by a great team who work in solidarity to make sure that the people at the grassroots stay true to their values. They too have their own tales of fortitude. They have undergone immense challenges but they now say, ‘No more.’
I’m welcomed by Jamin Frank, one of the members of the organization. As He leads me to their office, I imagine it must be a small room, similar to the one in Mathare area. Perhaps a few seats and notebooks and a chart explaining the work they do. I see Gladys Ochuka, another member of the organization sitting on the side of the road. She is in the company of two men, one of them a cobbler, busy at work, the other seems to be giving them advice on their next course of action.
‘There is no office. It was brought down after we demonstrated against the corruption happening in our locality. Now we just meet on the side of the road, because if we stop, our children will not have safe spaces to grow up in and consequently, our grandchildren will suffer the same fate. Our resilience to convene on the side of the road despite everyone going to town and wondering what we are planning is what encourages the surrounding community,’ Frank explains.
Frank is very active when it comes to the activities of the organization. As a man who promotes the rights of women and girls, he is a role model to the young men growing up in the community. Conversations about the rights of women cannot happen without the support of men. Men must learn how to respect women. They must teach other men that it is wrong to beat up their wives or deny them a chance to go to work and also make a living. They need to know that their role as a father to the children is also important so their emotional presence should never be left behind besides them financially providing for the household.
‘There is a child who was raped by my uncle. I was very angry about the situation. I reported him to the police. When my mother heard of this, she tried to help him hide. He could have easily escaped. I informed the police of this and he was arrested together with my mother who was accused of being an accomplice. This was very difficult for me, doing the right thing is difficult especially if your family is involved. The family was very angry with me. They started threatening me and I was scared for my life. No one wanted to talk to me. Eventually, I had to withdraw the case,’ Frank narrates.
I’m an ardent reader of the Huffington post especially when it comes to articles on gender equality and human rights. In her article on ‘The Price of Speaking Up Against Inequality,’ Patricia Levy says it is a dangerous but beautiful lie to say that speaking on behalf of justice issues does not come with a price to pay. She continues to say that most people who do justice work do not become icons. Frank is a clear demonstration of this.
Besides being a human rights defender, Frank also uses sports to empower the youth in Kangemi. He is a professional boxer. He coaches people on boxing skills. This is a source of income for him. Aside from that, he has taken the initiative to train young men in Kangemi how to box. ‘Many youth in this area are frustrated. They don’t have jobs, they have been taken advantage of by people who were supposed to protect them and some of them don’t have the means to pursue their education. Consequently, they become angry and take it out by stealing and attacking people. Through imparting the art of boxing, I have the chance to divert the energy into something meaningful. Some of them eventually become professional boxers who compete in championships, I’m very proud of this milestone,’ explains Frank.
His call to action to investors, organizations and employers is to absorb the young people he trains in form of employment to eradicate poverty. One of the other challenges he faces is lack of equipment used in training the boxers. Thus, they miss out on participating in championships.
“Lastly, we participated in the Robert Wangila Boxing cup tournament on 31st August 2018 and emerged number three out of 26 clubs that participated. We also took the Welter Weight Championship. It is unfortunate that active clubs like Kangemi Boxing Club hardly get recognized by the Ministry of Sports. I’m hoping this will change,” he emphasizes.
“Of all the rights of women, the greatest is to be a mother,” Lin Yutang. Every woman has this choice, but do all of them have this chance? Gladys Ochuka is a mother in distress. Her own child was taken away from her.
‘I was married for four years but the relationship eventually became abusive. My husband used to beat me up and eventually, I just couldn’t handle it. I decided to walk away. One day when I got home, I found my husband had taken everything from the house and he left with my son. I was devastated. I was scared. My child was gone and I didn’t know what to do. He took my child to the village where he lives with my sister in law. I once tried to take him but my husband called his relatives. They beat me up and verbally abused me. I didn’t manage to take my child,’ Gladys narrates tearfully.
‘I reported the matter to the police but my husband’s family had an upper hand in the situation. They were friends with the police and up to now, I have never been assisted. My friend connected me to this social movement. I just used to see people gathering but I did not know why. When my friend brought me here, I became actively involved because my hope is that one day, I will be assisted to get my child back,’ she continues.
Gladys says that her husband told her the only way to have access to her child would be for her to go back to their marital home in the village. He would then return to Nairobi and get a second wife. She does not want to go back to an abusive marriage and now she is stuck. Many women suffer the same fate with no one to help them. Asking a mother to stay in an abusive relationship so as to have the right to hold her child in her arms is psychological and emotional abuse.
This is a call out to any lawyer or human rights activist…anyone who can come in to help Gladys. She cannot afford a lawyer and so far none has been willing to work with her pro bono. This shouldn’t go on. ‘I usually call to find out how my son is doing. They tell me sometimes he is not cleaned and he feels lonely. He does not feel loved. I just want to have him back because I do casual jobs and I know I can support him,’ she sighs.
Tales of fortitude are built out of ordinary lives. They show that you can be anything you want to be if you are willing to work for it. However, life is challenging and everyone needs a helping hand every now and then.