VOF Month 1: (Beautiful Brains: The Jigger Queen)
It is a hot sunny Saturday in a small remote village somewhere in Central part of Kenya. But neither the scotching sunrays nor a weekend, a non-working day, could deter her from her passionate fight. Dressed in dark jeans, a black and white long-sleeved shirt with a white cap covering her blond hair, the glamour in her is noticeable even with her white gloves. The 24-year-old Cecilia Mwangi is here to restore hope to the many hopeless faces, a majority of which were women and children, staring blankly at her and waiting eagerly for her word. Today, she is visiting this village for the first time, well armed with basins, water, soap, savlon and potassium permanganate solutions, a team of volunteers, ready to raid the village and set it free from jiggers. This is her worthy cause… fighting jiggers’ infestation and preaching good hygiene so that the most vulnerable groups, women and children could have decent lives.
The Ministry of Health estimates that over four million people in different parts of Kenya are infested by jiggers and the number is likely to rise. Most of these live under very poor conditions. According to free online dictionary, a jigger, also pronounced as chigger or chigoe, is a six-legged larva of mites of the family Trombiculidae, which is parasitic on humans and other vertebrates and inflicts a bite that produces a wheal accompanied by intense itching. It multiplies so fast and causes uncomfort to the skin of the affected.
It is against this backdrop that the 2005 Miss World Kenya beauty queen has embarked on setting the country free from jiggers through Ahadi Kenya Trust, the only organization in the country dedicated to this, which she co-founded with Mr. Stanley Kamau in 2007. Working as the anti-jigger campaign ambassador, Cecilia says she wanted to use her beauty to create change and cause impact among the poor, given that most of those who suffer from the jigger menace live under very poor and unhygienic conditions. “It is a shame that in the 21st century, Kenyans still live under such conditions yet the leaders are loud about giving the best to their citizens,” she said with a smile as she finished off soaking a 2-year-old boy’s infested hands and feet in savlon solution after cleaning them.
From the crowd present, it was noticeable that most of those affected are school-going children, elderly women as well as the youths. The effects are diverse ranging from unproductive groups especially in the farms, high rates of school drop-outs, HIV infections since most people share pins in the process of jigger-removal. Some get completely crippled hence taking part in the democratic process of choosing their leaders (voting) becomes a problem.
But how did she transgress from a beauty queen to jigger queen, you may wonder. She says her motivation came when she visited a rural home with a friend and realized how big the gap between the rich and the poor is. “I realized that we live in worlds apart, with a majority in extreme poverty while others languish in milk and honey,” said she. She recounts how disturbed she was that night, with the sight of almost crippled and underfed children crying over their helpless mothers with crooked hands and heavily infested soles, unable to toil in the farms to provide for their families due to jiggers. “And that is where it started from; I wanted to use my crown as a weapon to transform my community with a lot of emphasis on good hygiene, since I discovered that dirty hygienic conditions are the epitome of jigger infestations,” she said.
So far, Ahadi Kenya Trust has spread its wings in five out of eight provinces in Kenya. The ‘jigger queen’ as she is commonly referred to, says her goal is to have a healthy and hard-working jigger-free nation by 2015. “So far, about 800 pupils across the country have healed completely and have been able to go back to school,” she says amid several interruptions of ‘madam jigger, please come and help us here.’ Judging from such interruptions, it was evident that she was a symbol of hope to many faces present. She says she does not mind being referred to by names like 'madam jiggers', 'jigger queen', 'jiggers discoverer' and the sorts. "I am now used to it and the names make me proud of what i do," says she.
She says through their several centers in different parts of the country, Ahadi has been able to rehabilitate many affected people, engaging them in different enterpreneural activities like basketry, bee keeping and other money-generating activities to help them earn a living and vend for their families. The queen also works closely with youths in slums through charitable activities towards empowering them, especially the girl child. She reveals that she has initiated a beauty pageant crown, Miss Mukuru Crown, in Mukuru Kayaba, one of the biggest slum in Nairobi. "I want to mentor and change the attitude for the girls to know that beauty can also be found in slums, because most grow up with a low self esteem however beautiful they may be," she spoke with a obvious glamour in her voice.
She has also managed to mobilise resources through partnering with corporates, local NGOs, churches and all groups of goodwill to help raise the living standards of those in slum areas and supporting education through donating text books to several schools. "My only threat now is lack of political goodwill," she says, adding that most politicians look at her work as politically motivated. But she was happy that the local administration in most areas that she has visited so far support the idea. This was evident with the presence of the area Chief and the Division Officer (D.O) of the area she had visited this Saturday. "I am no longer afraid of the negative publicity that haters do to my name because it tells you that people are watching your every step," she emphasized.
She has so far won several crowns including the Youngest Distinguished Alumni of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology Award, Young Achiever award initiated by the University of Nairobi's Women Students’ Welfare Association (WOSWA). In addition, this year, Ahadi Kenya was crowned winners of the 3rd annual Leadership & Management Award in Global Health, an initiative by The USAID.
With Nelson Mandella, South Africa's first president as her role model, she joked that if she was given a second chance to live, she would like to live in form of wealth, so that she can spread her wings to those in greatest need, so that all people could live decently with all their rights protected. Her message to the world is to create change in thier own small ways for you never know the time of the storm.
Ahadi Kenya Website: http://jigger-ahadi.org/index.html
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are learning to speak out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.