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Living on the Edge? Never Give Up!!

Living on the Edge? Never Give Up!!

Beatrice Gikunda will never forget the 28th of May, 1982. On that day, her husband died. He had cancer. Their first-born was thirteen years old. Their last-born, a baby girl, was only two months old. In between were five other children. When the burial arrangements were over, Beatrice was summoned by elders: “We have decided that you will be inherited by your husband’s older brother, Gituma. If you refuse to be inherited, take your husband’s dead body and your seven children and leave. If you agree to be inherited, you will continue being a member of this clan and family and we will bury your husband on his land here.”

Beatrice was not prepared for this turn of events. She had only a split second to think of an answer. “I debated in my mind what to do. I realized that I had no place to take the lifeless body of my husband. I had seven young children. I was a primary school teacher earning $40 a month. There was nothing to think about. I agreed to being inherited.”

When Gituma’s wife watched her husband shake Beatrice’s hand, agreeing to inherit her and her seven children, she wept bitterly. No one had consulted her either. These were men’s decisions and women had no say in the matter. Gituma’s wife wept for herself and her two children. How would she live with seven more mouths to feed and another woman competing for her husband? She started drinking and never stopped.

Beatrice’s husband was buried. Beatrice, however, refused to be Gituma’s ‘wife’ after the burial. This marked the beginning of “hell on earth for me and my children. Even today, I have a case in court over the issue of my husbands land. These people have taken away everything from me,” Beatrice laments. Beatrice looks down for a few seconds, as if deep in thought. Then she brightens up and with a smile says: “The troubles I have gone through have made me stronger. This is why I am able to help so many women.”

Beatrice had to walk a tightrope to get her husband’s benefits; she had to feed, clothe and educate her seven children; she had to contend with her husband’s younger, abusive brother, and she had to continue teaching to earn a living. She explained: “When I got inherited, a man became the administrator of my husband’s estate. He was a signatory to my late husband’s benefits account, money that was set aside solely to cover the education expenses of my children. I could not get that money without the signature of the man.”

Although Beatrice worked day and night, it became impossible to make ends meet. Sometimes, she would boil water and feed the kids on water as dinner. Eventually, her husband’s brothers took her children on the grounds that she was unable to look after them. In the uncles’ homes, the children were fed on food the dogs ate. They were made servants. Within a month, they all ran away, explaining: “we would rather feed on water than stay in their houses. We make food for the dogs and they tell us to eat it.”

To keep alive, Beatrice and the children started working as laborers on other people’s land to supplement her meager salary. When she discovered that her brothers-in-law were colluding to take her husband’s land from her, it was the last straw - she went to court.

The brothers-in-law colluded to bring a boy in the home whom they said was sired by Beatrice’s husband. The brothers sent people to spray her crops with chemicals. They came and took her animals and car. Because Gituma was a senior government official, going to the local government agents to report all this harassment yielded no results. Beatrice, however, swore never to leave the land nor give up the fight. The case is still in court. Her children are all grown now and they are helping her fight. “I decided I would fight to the end,” Beatrice proclaims.

Beatrice started an organization called Future Care for widows and orphans in 2007. “I said to myself: if I suffer like this, and those mistreating me are wealthy people, what about those who have no one to help them and know nothing of their rights?” Through this organization, Beatrice has helped many women fight for their property. She works with Chiefs and Churches to help women who are facing challenges with their husbands and relatives when husbands die. Currently, she manages 33 cases of violence against women. She also rescues girls experiencing sexual harassment, who she takes to a rescue center near her home. Since 2009, she has rescued five girls who are survivors of rape and has had the perpetrators arrested and arraigned in court.

Beatrice is a member of Amani Communities Africa, which works to educate women on their human rights and peace. She also is a member of the Circles of Ten: Women for World Peace, through which grassroots women are linked to groups in USA to share ideas on peace. Beatrice leads many women’s groups in her region, including being the Vice President of the Africa Peace Forum.

When I heard Beatrice’s story, I was inspired by her courage. Her case is unique because her brothers-in-law were wealthy people. I felt that her story was important for people to understand how greed and selfishness leads to harassment of helpless families. Beatrice’s courage to stand her ground, learn from experience and form support groups for women is inspiring.

All of Beatrice’s children have completed high school. Two have bachelor’s degrees and the others have a higher diploma certificate. The children have built their mother a lovely stone house, and are continuing the legal battle for their dad’s land.

Beatrice’s parting words: “Please share my story with other women. And remember to remind them never to give up. God is always on the side of the widow and orphan.”

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 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world..

Comments

Potter's picture

Thank you , Amani

This is a powerful piece. Beatrice is a brave, determined woman. It is inspirational that she withstood so much for her own family but did not stop there. She carried the fight for others who needed support finding their own voices. Thank you for sharing her story with all of us. You write with such a strong, clear voice ...can't wait to see what you post next!

jimi's picture

Thank YOU

Hi Potter,

Thank you for your kind words.

Amei's picture

This is .....

(I am looking for words) ... I am spell bound !!! It was only yesterday I was thinking of you and today I see your story that have touched me so strong. The words that kept repeating in my mind while i was reading were "this is unforgivable" (even though I am an advocate of forgiveness) ....how could people treat someone like they treated Beatrice.... I have seen horrible movies and news...but never actually realised that these awful events happen for real. I have stopped saying "Its only a movie" rather now I say "These must be happening in real world for some one to create a movie".

She is so right "God is always with widows and orphans" I salute her and please if you do meet her pass my message... "I will not give up and I do have a mission"

Merry Christmas to you and Family. Happy 2011, Amani

This is a wonderful story to share
Amei

jimi's picture

Thank You

Thank you so much for your encouragement. I am happy that this story touched a cord in your heart. I hope it helps many women recognize the importance of speaking up and never giving up.

Blessings and peace.

Amani K

jimi's picture

Inspiring

I would like to applaud Beatrice for showing courage, persistence, wisdom and resilience as well as great intelligence. Most women in her position would either have given in to the indecent demands of the bullies and lived the rest of their miserable life in slavery or run off somewhere, abandoning what is rightfully theirs and living in abject poverty and wallowing in self pity that does nothing for anyone. Instead, she picked herself up, did what she had to do to get her family through the rough patch and then rose to a level way above self by starting a charity that gives a voice to other women in similar positions.

Well done Beatrice and well done Amani K for bringing this story to public attention. Some of us can learn a serious lesson from Beatrice.

Jimi

jimi's picture

Thank you

Hi Jimi,

I am so glad this story opens up space for serious inward looking so that women can move out of the suppression culture, religion, traditions and other systems and institutions in society has meted them.

I thank Beatrice for courageously willing to share her story so that others may find their voice and freedom.

SAsong's picture

Never give up!

Very inspiring and painful. Beatrice is a gem and being able to turn her own misfortunes into an opportunity to be a blessing to others is amazing! Her silent yet strong resilience really comes through. Thank you for sharing her story. I pray for continued courage and strength for Beatrice.

Amani K's picture

Thank YOU

Dear SAsong,

Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I truly hope these stories will inspire other women to take courage and fight for their rights, wherever they are in the world. What women often do not recognize is that to fight for one's right is their right and no one can take that from them. The courage Beatrice upholds is amazing. She is fearless - but as a woman, the struggle is so tight that fear is squeezed out - there is no more space for it - the only way forward is the fearless fight where only getting one's rights met is the only path.

Have a fearless and human rights-full-y-met 2011!!!

AmaniK

Dr. Karambu Ringera
Founder and President, International Peace Initiatives
Vice President, Global Ecovillages Network (GEN) Africa
Advisory Board Member, Women Human Rights Institute, University of Toronto
Member and Delegate, Soroptimist Internationa

Nancy J. Siegel's picture

Wonderful story!

Dear Amani,
You write so beautifully and with great clarity. This story is both touching and inspiring. You choose your words artfully and your text is flawless. I believe your writiings will have great influence on improving the lives of women and children. I salute you with a full heart!

Nancy Siegel

Amani K's picture

Thank You Nancy

Dear Nancy,

Thank you so much for your encouragement. I pray my words inspire others to be their greatest, highest selves. In 2011 I want my actions to create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, dare more, do more, become more and BE more.

All the best in 2011 Nancy,

AmaniK

Dr. Karambu Ringera
Founder and President, International Peace Initiatives
Vice President, Global Ecovillages Network (GEN) Africa
Advisory Board Member, Women Human Rights Institute, University of Toronto
Member and Delegate, Soroptimist Internationa

mrbeckbeck's picture

Wow!

Karambu, well done! This is a wonderful profile piece.

Your written word is a powerful force in showing complex situations with great clarity. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story here. I am amazed at what Beatrice has accomplished through her determination, compassion and vision. I hope that the courts eventually find some justice for her, and hopefully restructure the current systems that leave women in desperate situations.

I am confident that change will come soon, especially with strong voices like yours to show the way.

Happy New Year!
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

Amani K's picture

Thank you Scott

Happy New Year to you Scott!! Thank you so much for your comments. I cannot tell you how I pray for the day all the clauses that pertain to women and children in the new constitution are made law and legislation to enable their implementation is passed in parliament. We are also working on creating a National Action Plan for UNSCR 1325 in Kenya, the international framework that calls for the inclusion of women in peace and security processes. Yes, change will come soon.

Karambu

Dr. Karambu Ringera
Founder and President, International Peace Initiatives
Vice President, Global Ecovillages Network (GEN) Africa
Advisory Board Member, Women Human Rights Institute, University of Toronto
Member and Delegate, Soroptimist Internationa

mrbeckbeck's picture

Resolution 1325

Hi Karambu,

That is amazing that Kenya is working on a National Action Plan for UNSCR 1325. It is a powerful tool for including women in peacemaking processes... and I think it is far too under-utilized. I look forward to watching you and Kenya's women rise to the leadership roles and general well-being that is so very deserved.

Thanks for being so great! Happy New Year to you too...
Best,
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

ssaeed's picture

Amazing piece!

Dear Amani,

This is a wonderful and articulate article! I felt moved by Beatrice's story and her courage. You wrote her story well! I hope the courts choose in her favor and I hope her community realizes all the wonderful work she is doing for women's rights in Kenya and Africa. Its always terrible when the less fortunate widows and children are always the target of the greedy minded individuals in society. In India widows are suffering the same situation. I like her solution by creating an organization to care for widows and orphans. I support her 100%! :)

Sana

Sana

Amani K's picture

Thank YOU

Dear Ssaeed,

Happy 2011 and thank you so much for your comment. I agree with you that Beatrice is an exceptionally courageous woman - her story is incredible and she has done a lot for women in her community. The beauty of her organization is that she partners with others to bring capacity building to women in rural areas - and this is not well received by men - but she never gives up. I hope Beatrice's story will inspire other women to take courage and so something about the challenges they face in their lives. I pray that women who need support get people willing to stand with them so that they can create solutions to issues important to their liberation.

AmaniK

Dr. Karambu Ringera
Founder and President, International Peace Initiatives
Vice President, Global Ecovillages Network (GEN) Africa
Advisory Board Member, Women Human Rights Institute, University of Toronto
Member and Delegate, Soroptimist Internationa

Gikunda's picture

Mrs. Beatrice Gikunda is my mom

Dear All,
a
I just came to see this story of my mother online. I am her son and the 5th born amongst my six other siblings. I would like to indeed confirm that we have gone through alot as a family since when out dad passed on. I was only five yeras old then. I have seen all the harassment that my mother has gone through. Since when I attained the age of 18 years which is the legal age in Kenya, I took up protecting my mother in a situation I likened to a tongue living between the dangerous teeth. My family is the tongue living between the teeth who are my paternal relatives. I have seen police and hired goons raid my home at dawn some years back and taking away all what my mother possessed, including her livestock, I lost 3 of my valuable dairy cows too.

Over the time I took the interest of following up with relevant authorities to unearth the malpractices and forgeries that my paternal relatives had used to take away our ancestral land and illegal seizure of our property. It's been a tough life but as a lie will circle the world twice before a truth is known so did my paternal relatives make a complex web of lies to frustrate us.

I have since made significant steps in restoring a future for my siblings and mother.

I would like to thank everyone who took the time empathize with my mother. I believe these are some of the problems in most African villages, We thank God we were able as a family to pull through despite the hurdles erected by our relatives. We believe justice will be served to our family and that such acts will not be done to other people. I salute my mother too.

Thank you.

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