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Living with poverty: Kenya

Men and women describe a daily struggle against poor infrastructure, political indifference and inequality – not just of resources but also opportunity.

Living with poverty: Kenya testimonies

Alice: sleeping hungry

Disabled and suffering from TB, 35-year-old Alice, a Kikuyu who lives in Kibagare is forced to beg for a living. Survival is a real struggle. She had only four years of schooling and married young but her marriage was “a life of fighting” and didn’t last. An accident with a cooking stove left her with…

Deborah: widows have rights

Deborah is a Maasai widow in her 50s with eight children. She inherited her late husband’s share of the land on their group ranch but her existence is precarious. As well as growing food on her own shamba, she works on other people’s smallholdings. She believes people need to leave behind “backward culture that impedes…

Elias: cultural change

Born into a traditional Maasai family, 65 year-old Elias lives in Oloitokitok and is a pastor in the Charismatic Episcopal Church of Africa. He explains that the Maasai still “have a strong attachment to the cattle” and are reluctant to sell their animals to invest in other forms of income generation. Although the land is…

George: no jobs

George is a Luo from Nyanza province. Now living in Kibagare, he is 29 and still has no “real job”. He does casual work such as fetching water or charging batteries, and plays corrupt politicians at their own game, getting small ‘gifts’ of money from “councillors who are hungry [for votes]”.  He describes his life…

Helen: poverty of war

For 28-year-old Helen, education is a major concern. Three of her four children go to school but there are not enough teachers, and parents have to help pay for additional staff. A Maasai, she lives in Kimana village, Oloitokitok district, and grows maize. But her yields are low and there is no surplus to sell,…

Joseph: keeping optimistic

As a bright student, Joseph received sponsorship for his secondary school education but further sponsorship to study at a technical institute ran out and since then he has survived by “doing odd jobs like construction work”. Now 28, he talks candidly about the overcrowding, lack of sanitation and disease in the Kibagare slum where he…

Lemaron: challenging discrimination

Lemaron is 29 and runs a hair and beauty salon in Oloitokitok township. He has been disabled since he contracted polio at the age of three. After using a wheelchair for many years he underwent a series of operations and can now walk again: “I am on crutches and have calipers on my legs… ”…

Martha: battling corruption

Now aged 50, Martha came from Tanzania at the age of 15 to marry a Maasai in Oloitokitok. Since the death of their cattle from drought she and her three co-wives have been growing vegetables for family consumption and to sell. She has difficulty in making enough money. Credit schemes run by women’s groups are…

Mary: life of struggle

Mary is a Kikuyu single mother with three children who farms a small plot of land in Oloitokitok. She lives a subsistence existence – “You find little profit; you find food just for your stomach.” Her crops have been affected by drought and she is finding it hard to pay for her children’s secondary education….

Mercy: completely forgotten

Mercy, 25, is a Kamba from south-east Kenya. Her husband was “an excessive drunk” and violent, so she left to live alone with their two children. She is sometimes forced to resort to ukahaba: “taking up with any man and going with him as long as he can feed your children for the day, or…

Nyiva: cardboard homes

Nyiva is a Kamba. Brought up in Kitui in south-east Kenya by a stepmother who made her feel like “the maid of the house”, she received no education. Moving to Nairobi to do paid housework, she was cheated by her employer and ended up in Kibagare, where she lives in constant insecurity. She has six…

Peter: search for work

The struggle to find employment is 28-year-old Peter’s biggest problem. He has even left Oloitokitok at times to go to Tanzania to do “just manual work… not work that was permanent”. His wife and two children are “fed and clothed by the strength of the Lord”. He is frustrated at “wasting time” without work, yet…

Testimonies

Alice: sleeping hungry

Deborah: widows have rights

Elias: cultural change

George: no jobs

Helen: poverty of war

Joseph: keeping optimistic

Lemaron: challenging discrimination

Martha: battling corruption

Mary: life of struggle

Mercy: completely forgotten

Nyiva: cardboard homes

Peter: search for work

Key themes

Introduction

Employment

Education

Powerlessness

Development

Self-help initiatives

Sanitation and health

Political representation

Gender

Crime and unrest

HIV and AIDS

Water

Homelessness and insecurity

Pastoralism and agriculture

Poverty