A Kenyan Journalist Writing About Health

Archive for the month “July, 2014”

Former Female Prisoner Helping Society Accept Ex-Convicts

By Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama

For more than seven years, Elizabeth Ndunge engaged in a lucrative business at Gikomba market in Nairobi, where she traded in second-hand clothes. As the business grew, she partnered with two friends and they would buy clothes in bales and then sell them in Juba – South Sudan, where they had established a new market. Each week, the ladies would take turns to travel to Juba, sell the clothes then return after three or four days when the stock was sold out.

Elizabeth Ndunge

Photo: Elizabeth Ndunge during  the interview

“Business was very good, and we were all happy with the huge profits we were making,” remembers the 42 year-old mother of two.

“We would buy about five bales, and then hire one of our regular taxi drivers to take us to the town center from where one of us would board a bus to Juba,” she remembers.

This arrangement went on smoothly for three years, until one day, an unexpected event altered the course of Ndunge’s life forever.

“It was a morning February 2008, and it happened to be my turn to travel to Juba. After purchasing the bales at Gikomba, I waited for my regular taxi driver to take me to the town center. Unfortunately, he delayed, and fearing I would miss my bus, I decided to take the first taxi that came my way.”

And that was to be the decision that would cost her dearly.

“I negotiated the fare with the driver, and after reaching an agreement, I boarded the taxi. The drive was smooth, but just as we were about to get into the town center at the Muthurwa market roundabout, I heard the taxi driver murmur some words before suddenly changing routes. When I asked him why, yet we were almost at our destination, he said he was avoiding traffic. However, I noticed there were policemen ahead of us, and I thought he could have been avoiding them perhaps because he didn’t have a driving licence,” Ndunge recalls.

But she became worried when the car began heading further away from the town center. The taxi driver kept going on, ignoring her pleas to drop her off at the next bus stop. She sensed danger when they got onto Mombasa road.

“Each time I asked him where we were going, he ignored me. Frightened, I even wet my pants, believing I had been kidnapped,” she remembers.

Shortly thereafter, Ndunge suddenly heard loud bangs coming from behind. Instinctively, she ducked down to the floor of the car, realising that the sounds were gunshots.

“I then heard the taxi driver open his door and jump out, leaving the car on its own motion. I felt the car enter a ditch and come to a halt.”

Ndunge recalls struggling to get out of the car, and when she finally did so, she raised her hands in the air screaming out for help. She was grateful when she saw policemen rushing towards her, glad that they would rescue her from her kidnapper. But she was in for a rude shock when the same policemen immediately pounced on her with slaps, kicks and blows.

“As they rained punches on me, asking me to name my accomplice (the taxi driver), it was only then that I realised that the car had been stolen! The policemen stripped me naked by the roadside and tortured me for about three hours, asking me to reveal other members of the car theft syndicate. I was saved from death by the crowd of onlookers who begged for the policemen to spare my life,” she remembers.

At the Langata police station, Ndunge was booked, and there began her court case where she stood trial for the capital offence of armed robbery. The prolonged court case would see her stay in remand for three years. Eventually, she was found not guilty of the robbery with violence charges. However, the judge ordered her to serve 12 months in jail for the offense of being found in a stolen vehicle.

“The judge ruled that it was wrong for me to have boarded a ‘taxi’ that bore no yellow-line, or which was not branded a taxi company’s name. She explained that anybody found in a car that has been reported stolen must answer to charges of theft of the vehicle. She said my sentence would serve as a warning to me and others who board unbranded taxis.”

Having already served slightly over three years in remand, Ndunge decided to make the best of her remaining time behind bars. During the course of her year-long jail term, she began composing gospel songs which she would later record.

While incarcerated, she began noticing that many prisoners, once released, would after a short while return to prison.

“We would spend the eve of her release singing, dancing and praying together, wishing our sister a good life outside the prison walls. But less than a month later, we would see the same woman return. It happened to so many times, and it became an issue that deeply troubled me. One day I gathered courage to inquire about the disturbing trend.”

All the returnees Ndunge talked to all said the same thing.

“They said that once freed, they faced so much stigma and rejection by society that they longed to return to prison. Rejected by their families, friends, neighbours and former colleagues, they found it hard to settle down and make a decent living. Distraught, they would deliberately commit a crime so that they would return to prison –the only home they had come to know. In prison, they were guaranteed of acceptance, friends, food, shelter and clothing.”

As she listened to their experiences, Ndunge hoped that her family would not reject her. She could not fathom the idea of returning to prison no matter the challenges out there.

Finally, her release day arrived in October 2012, and after leaving the prison gates, she vowed she would not return there. She travelled to her rural home in Kangundo, Machakos County, unsure of the reception she’d get.

“Thankfully, my family welcomed me back. Sadly though, my husband had already remarried. I chose to accept and move on with my two children, who had been left under the care of my mother. Shortly thereafter, I returned to my former business in Gikomba, where I was welcomed back by my former colleagues. Relieved, and knowing that acceptance of ex-convicts into society was a possibility, I decided to use the profits of my business to help women ex-convicts so that they too could be accepted back into society.”

Ndunge began offering help to ex-convicts facing problems of rejection by their families after their release by mediating between both parties. As her work progressed, Ndunge decided to make her venture more formal, and in 2013, she registered the organization Kenya Ex-Prisoners Fighting Acceptance Back into Society (Kefabis).

So far, Ndunge has been able to help 29 female ex-convicts be accepted back by their families, after initially being rejected. She sometimes requests the assistance of local chiefs, respected community leaders as well as religious leaders to help in the mediation process. Her initiative has seen her travel across the country, with some of her travel expenses being taken care of by the Missionaries of Africa –a Catholic based society whom she became acquainted with while in prison.

Today, Kefabis has 2,600 members, many of whom have established support groups as a way for helping and motivating each other to live by the law.

“In Kangundo, members have formed a group where they engage in commercial farming activities. In Malinidi, the women engage in craft work while in Kisumu, they engage in evangelical ministry. The Kefabis Kakamega chapter recently received training from a painting company, where they were taught how to paint professionally. The members often get contracts to do painting jobs, and are earning money from this. In Nairobi, members design and tailor clothes, jewellery and other accessories such as handbags. Most of these women use the skills they learnt while in prison,” she says.

Her work has however not been without challenges. Many are the times she has been chased by family members of the ex-prisoner she is trying to mediate for.

“Both of us are hounded out, as the families want nothing to do with ex-prisoners. Many are the times we have been thrown out violently,” she says.

“It is also disheartening when some families completely reject their family member. Two women have so far been completely rejected by their kin,” she says.

But Ndunge soldiers on, because as an ex-convict, she understands the stigma associated with former prisoners.

“I know what it is like to be stigmatised by society. Today, not all my friends have accepted me as some fear me thinking that I am a dangerous criminal. But that will not stop me from doing my work of helping female ex-prisoners rebuild their lives again,” she concludes.

*Ndunge is reachable on 0708898542

Article courtesy: The Star

Senator Harold Kipchumba: “Polio Shattered my Dream to be a Soldier”

By Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama

Anti-polio campaign ambassador Harold Kipchumba, who was paralysed when he was four, appeals to parents to ensure their children get all required immunisation

Growing up as a young boy in the small village of Kaptiony in Baringo County, 52-year-old Harold Kipchumba vividly remembers some of his childhood escapades.

“I would run wildly with other boys picking wild fruits, playing hide and seek games and chasing after birds while herding cattle.”

This however changed one day when at four years old; Kipchumba began feeling unwell.

“I felt pain in my body, I felt tired and I felt weak. Unable to get out and play with my friends, I remained indoors with my mother,” he remembers.

But his mother thought he was just being lazy.

“She scolded me, saying I was being sluggish because I wanted to avoid doing house chores such as fetching water and firewood. She thought I only wanted to eat and sleep.”

Harold Kipchumba

Photo: Harold Kipchumba during the interview 

Within a week, Kipchumba found himself completely unable to move his body from the waist down, especially his legs. It was only then that his parents took the matter seriously.

“They thought someone had poisoned me and pestered me about whose home I had visited and what I had eaten there. They asked who I had met along the way, and if the person had looked at me with bad eyes — thinking that a jealous neighbour had bewitched me. They also asked if I had eaten any wild fruits that may have been poisonous, or if I had touched any wild leaves that could have caused an allergic reaction on my legs,” he recalls.

His parents then sought the expertise of local herbalists to help cure their son.

“The medicine men made me swallow bitter concoctions. They would painfully massage my legs with traditional herbs and oils as they tried to straighten them. But none of their cures worked.”

Finally, after two months and with his legs still immobile, Kipchumba’s parents decided to take him to hospital.

And therein lay another challenge.

The nearest health centre was 40 km away from Kaptiony village. With no public transport in the area, the family had to wait for days for a Good Samaritan to offer them transport.

Eventually, Kipchumba and his parents reached the hospital. But there was no good news for them.

“The doctor said I had polio, which was irreversible. They told my parents that the condition could have been prevented if they had been keen on ensuring I had received all the polio vaccines in my early childhood.”

Kipchumba’s mother did not take the news of her son’s paralysis well, and spent years seeking a cure for him.

“She took me to countless traditional medicine men across the country — from Ukambani, to Kisii, to Kisumu. But none of them ever healed me. It was an exhausting experience for her, as she would get weary carrying me on her back as I was unable to walk or stand. I was big and heavy, but her determination is what kept her going,” he recalls.

Back in the village, Kipchumba would admire his age mates who had already started school.

“I was not in school because the interview for class one required one to touch their left ear with the right hand. I was short and plump with a big head and a very heavy upper body, so I repeatedly failed this test because I could not get my hand over my head. I watched all my age mates go to school while I stayed at home simply because I could not pass this interview,” he recalls.

Frustrated, Kipchumba’s mother decided to return him to hospital. And then she did the unexpected.

“My mother dropped me at the hospital and left, never to return for me. After a while, some Catholic nuns noticed me and took me with them to Nyabondo Home for the Crippled in Kisumu. There, I underwent rehabilitation for my legs, and I was also able to get an education.”

However, the young boy always remained hopeful that his mother would return for him someday.

“As I watched my friends get visited by their family on visiting days and be picked by their parents on closing day, I always stared at the gate, looking out for my mother. But she never came.”

That notwithstanding, Kipchumba was a bright pupil, and scored well enough to earn him a spot in Lenana School, a national school in Nairobi. While there, the school helped trace his family. It had been more than 13 years since he had seen his mother. He remembers the reunion.

“I cannot forget that moment. I was overjoyed. On seeing me, my mother shed tears, apologising profusely — saying she had never meant to leave me at the hospital, but had done so out of helplessness and frustration. Begging for my forgiveness, mother told me she had spent years regretting her decision to abandon me. I was too happy to see her and easily forgave her. I was also reunited with my siblings, including those who had been born after I had left,” he says.

After competing secondary school, Kipchumba was admitted to Kenyatta College (now university) for a degree course, but turned it down for an offer at Kimmage Development Centre in Ireland where he pursued development studies. He however says that one of his greatest dreams while growing up was to be a military man.

“When I showed up for the recruitment exercise in 1986 at the age of 24 years, the officers were shocked at my presence. They asked me why I was there, yet they had made it very clear that they wanted youths who were physically fit.

“I argued with them, saying I was physically fit, only that I was in crutches. Besides, I told them that I was capable enough to serve in the military in the administration, logistics or planning departments. But they turned me away.”

Dejected, the young Kipchumba returned home.

“If my mother had ensured I had received those two polio drops, then my dream to serve in Kenya’s Defence Forces would have been valid, just like Lupita’s.”

Principal Secretary for Health Prof Fred Sigor, Baringo County Governor Benjamin Cheboi and anti-polio campaign ambassador Harold Kipchumba during the world Health Day celebration in Marigat in April

Kipchumba during the World Health Day celebrations

Kipchumba, who holds a Masters degree in Local Governance and Leadership, is today a development consultant. Married with three children, he finds time off his busy schedule to participate in polio campaigns. He works together with the Ministry of Health to champion the cause of polio across the country.

Polio is an infectious disease that attacks the nervous system and can lead to paralysis, disability or even death. The polio virus enters the body through the mouth in water or food that has been contaminated with faecal material from an infected person.

The disease mainly affects children under five years old who are not fully vaccinated. Children in Kenya are vaccinated against polio in routine immunisations through the Kenya Expanded Programme of Vaccination (Kepi). They are required to receive at least four doses of the oral polio vaccine in the first year of life. Polio symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. For every 200 people infected with polio, one of them ends up with irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralysed, 5 – 10 per cent die when their breathing muscles become immobilised by the virus.

While many countries across the world have managed to completely eradicate polio, others still continue to grapple with this preventable disease. Kenya is one of them, and has an interesting history to it.

For 22 years from 1984 to 2006, Kenya was polio-free. However, this changed with the influx of foreign nationals into the country, mainly those from neighbouring countries. In 2006, two polio cases were reported in the country, which were importations from Somalia. In 2009, there were 19 detected cases of the virus in Turkana, which were importations from South Sudan. Another case was detected in Rongo, Nyanza province in 2011, and which was linked to the 2010 outbreak in Uganda — which was in turn linked to the 2009 outbreak in Kenya. As of December 2013, there were 14 confirmed cases in the country.

In light of this, the Ministry of Heath has been working with partners such as Unicef, World Health Organisation, and polio ambassadors such as Kipchumba in conducting mass immunisation campaigns to ensure all children are vaccinated against polio. Polio has no cure, and can only be prevented through immunisation.

According to Dr Ian Njeru, the head of the Division of Disease Surveillance and Response, these campaigns will continue taking place until all children are reached.

“All children in the country must be immunised, because for as long as there is a detected polio case, then all children across the country are at risk,” he says.

The polio virus knows no borders and carriers frequently move from place to place. Meaning the virus can appear anywhere in the country. Despite heightened awareness campaigns, the ministry is still not achieving its target of having more than 90 per cent of children immunised.

“Some of the barriers include religious sects that do not believe in vaccination or modern medicine. The poor infrastructure and dire security situation in some regions has also made it hard for us to reach all children,” he says.

According to Dr Njeru, children who have received previous polio vaccines should still be immunised in every campaign.

“It is safe to administer multiple doses of the polio vaccine to children. The extra doses give valuable additional immunity against polio,” he says.

Article courtesy: The Star

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