it’s the little old lady from kijabekenya…

This is the sort of entry that needs an outline, otherwise it will go all over the place on us.

1.)    Introduction
2.)    Specific helpers.
3.)    A grandmothers tribe.


While avoiding being too emotional, I need to say that I’m fighting back tears as I write the following.

In Kenya, the majority of orphaned babies, kids, and high school students are raised by grandmothers.

On Saturday, Henry and I visited four homes in Mwiki.  Each one was run by a grandmother who has lost her immediate children.  One house was a single room and the woman we spoke to was holding her daughter’s daughter’s son.  She was a great-grandmother,  but all her children had died.  And her children’s children.  (please reread the last sentence if possible). Now she is taking care of her great grandchild, Marcos—age 2.

We asked the woman to tell us about Marcos: full name, what he likes to do, his exact age.  I knew he liked singing—as she carried him on her back, I could hear a tiny voice singing in her ear.  Like a big ipod that only knows one song.

She showed us (probably thought we needed proof?) a permit for burial (for Marcos’ mother.)  She had died right before Christmas (2 months ago).  I told her we did not need to see the permit, (fighting tears) but we wanted to help Marcos so everybody could eat on a daily basis.  Even though this woman works for other people and breaks rocks to sell from the quarry, (at 90 something years old I imagine) there are plenty of times that she cannot get enough for them to eat on a daily basis.

Specific Helpers/givers?
Marcos, James, Sharon and Loise will be the four orphans we sponsor through Family Focus Foundation (the chicken project/field/Mwiki/jewelry/soaps etc. community group I started with Henry last year).

Without taking anyone away to a new home, (they and their grandmas love each other deeply) we’ve always wanted to provide food, clothes and books (medical care if possible too) in their own communities.  I’ve tried to help them start things that will support the families without just monetary donations, but many projects have failed—and the kids with no mom (just a grandparent or no one) cannot gain from the projects the moms are undertaking.

The chicken project has been a blessing to the grandmas.  They can feed the chickens—one woman carried 10 of them back to our new coop on Saturday—(had her hands full and only took one trip, so you can imagine!)…the kids like to help get food and watch the chickens peck at the other chickens..

Now—most of the kids can make it by with their single moms and the program on Saturdays benefits the spiritual/social lives of the attendees.  But the orphans are really struggling as food prices are shooting up (there’s no rain).

I still need sponsors for three kids.  It’ll be about 12 bucks a month to feed, clothe, buy books for and (MAYBE) do dental/medical checkups—not sure what those cost us yet.  Henry will help facilitate communication so if you sponsor one, he/she can send you a letter.  He will also take food and books and clothes to their homes (not money because it can be a temptation).  This was Henry’s idea from the beginning and he and Eunice (his lovely bride) are extraordinarily trustworthy and giving.

A Grandmother’s Tribe
There was a DVD a ken and jo’s that hadn’t been opened and caught my eye.  It was called a Grandmothers Tribe and had won awards in New Zealand.  I watched 20 minutes of it (it’s 60 minutes).  It walks the viewer through the life of a grandmother in Kibera (the largest slum in Africa) and a grandmother in Busia province (rural).  Each has several (up to 17) grandchildren.  A surprisingly un-boring documentary, the film is the most heartbreaking video I’ve encountered, because I meet these people daily in Mwiki/Kware.

They explain things like this: “On april 11th, 2006, my first son, Matthew, died.  His wife died a year later.  Then my second son, Joseph, died in August 2007.   My daughter passed away last year…”  Now, the grandmother goes through 5 or more deaths and doesn’t cry at all.  The whole time she talks, she is working.  Plowing or stirring, etc.  She says, “Christmas can be a problem.  If we are lucky I have 20 shillings (about 25 cents) and I can go and purchase a tin of fish.”

The grandmother in kibera is dying and her grandson is running the household.  He cleans, cooks, changes her clothes and washes his grandmother. He considers her a mother and dearly, dearly adores her and her sacrifice.  I’ve never watched anything so real or so terrible, because it’s not just one or two stories.  There are thousands and thousands of stories with the same exact scenario.  The rural woman loses her house in a fire (it’s not fiction) and everything is burnt up.

I think about Loise, James, Sharon and Marcos and am sorry they lost their mom and dad.  But more so, I think of these grandmothers—they never stop working and they make in 2 months what I can make in a day.  They work harder than we do. Imagine your grandmother at 90 banging rocks together to sell them along the roadsides.  Imagine digging, planting, weaving, etc…and working harder than you’ve imagined working could be.

The point is—

(1) Please get the DVD I mentioned.  Shows the places I go, the strongest kids on earth, and the beautiful women I meet in kenya often.  I think the movie might be 30 bucks. If it is, it’s worth having a movie night, raising awareness.  If you’ll show it to people, I’ll buy the movie (when I get to the USA ill pay you for it!).  I do not have a copy of it yet.

(2)    Today I talked to one of our Kenyan workers on campus, who comes 2 days a week to clean, etc…  She sounded sick.  Today we talked about her family.  She has six kids (!!!) and the youngest is in nursery school.  Her husband was killed by a matatu 5 years ago.  She says she still sees him sometimes in her dreams “coming and going in our bedroom” and she misses his so badly.  Her brother died 5 years ago too.  She told me about everything not nonchalantly, but carefully and slowly.  She’s Christian, but is very worried about the rain. There’s no food, and working 2 days a week isn’t enough.  She needs to go to the hospital for a reoccurring migraine and doesn’t know what to do..

I realized I had nothing to say and that daily I meet people who tell me “we were 6 but I am the only one left” or “I had 9 children but 6 have now passed”.

Death is something that happens worldwide, but I don’t see why because there’s more of it here, we (or at least I) as Americans often think it’s somehow more manageable for African people.

Newsflash: it’s NOT more manageable.  I do not understand how people keep going after losing one child—let alone several.  No one should outlive their kids.  I’ll never grasp how a grandmother can lose her lover, her siblings, her children and keep on going.  When we hear about it we think it’s somehow more normal in Africa.  When a highschool student is tragically injured or a small child in the USA has cancer, it’s terrifyingly sad and communities come together to mourn.  The support and complete stand still is important and beautiful and prayers are offered there.

I’m saying that here, people lose people constantly and keep on going.  And I cannot believe what I’m seeing.  Last year I saw poverty but I do not think I really got it.  Now my heart’s breaking and I don’t know what to do.  And I’m starting to think no one is stronger than these women.  I’m considering Google Nairobi vs. PH.D in California vs. urban ministry vs. traveling worldwide vs. working in Rochester.  As always, I’m humbled through their work that is much more difficult than my own, and by their diligence that is rarely or never rewarded with money or acclaim.



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5 responses to “it’s the little old lady from kijabekenya…

  1. Kiandra

    Just dropping by.Btw, you website have great content!

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  2. Joe Eckstein

    Sounds like in Africa that offering a prayer or telling people that you will pray for their family really means a lot more than to the casual folks here in the US.

  3. Robert Chandler

    This is an excellent post – full of information, passionate caring and a depiction we normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to hear in the states. My one question is; what about the men in Kenya? Why do you only speak of the women? Is it that most of the men are dead by a certain age, or do they have such responsibilities that they are never around the homes? Or do they not play much of a role in the household or in child-rearing? Regardless, they must deserve some sympathy and aid as well, or am I naive about some aspect? I’m just curious, because it feels as though they either don’t matter – or don’t exist and I’m trying to understand why. Maybe you can enlighten me?

  4. Bec

    Statistics from HelpAge International indicate that world-wide, 56 out of every 100 people aged 65 and above are women.

  5. Hey Bec, loved the post. And that DVD sounds like something I’d like to see as well. We should watch it together when you get back.

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