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The Ugly Face of Poverty


They had not even rested enough from the daily toil and fatigue from vending for their families. In fact, most of them were busy preparing supper, some breastfeeding babies and some catching their breath after coming from the river. Since morning, most of them had been undertaking back-breaking chores ranging from walking long distances in search of water, cooking hard-earned food, looking after animals, thatching their huts, and the list is countless. For this is what characterizes a woman's life.

That Saturday, at around 7.30, the women in this village were just about to give a sigh, happy that day has gone by without being battered, beaten or being reminded that they were women. Just then, the explossion occured just in the vicinity of their village. And of course many 'heads of families' at that point were resting and as usual, they demanded to know what was the cause of commotion at the nearby road.And when the women brought the news about an oil tanker that had rolled and spilled thousands of tonnes of oil all over, the responses from their 'masters' were, "What are you waiting for, woman? Collect anything in the form of containers that can carry oil and wake up all the children. We must make a kill today!"

And as more women and children poured at the scene and scrambled for the spilling oil, happy that they could afford a meal out of the planned oil sales, it happened.. no one saw it coming. It came from nowhere, eating into everything in the vicinity and reducing it to nothingness. And from a distance, you could hear their distress cries, the shreeks of helpless women and children as the hungry fire dug in to them, reducing them to ashes within no time.

The Kenya Redcross Society statistics revealed that out of about 130 bodies recovered from the Molo Oil Tanker Tragedy (as it is referred to), a great percentage were women and children.

My fellow women, it is so painful to be a woman in a society where you have to struggle on your own to feed the hungry mouths. A situation where you are so helpless to resist anything that comes by that can enable you put food on the table. A society whereby you do things, not at will but because you have no choice, it is an order from 'above' (men).

But together through this voice, let us share, encourage and empower each other.

Caution: The attached photo may be horrifying.



Jensine's picture

Stunning writing

Joanne -
Your writing made me stop still in my tracks. Your voice is so powerful and urgent. What a scene of horror, and the toll taken for those who felt they have no choice but to obey the "order from above". I know your voice and new vision for the women and children of Kenya and beyond will ring out loud and clear.
Thank you,

Jensine Larsen
World Pulse

Joellen's picture

How can I share the burden

As I sit at my computer, at the end of a work week I wonder, "How can I help share the burden, the sorrow." Thank you for your powerful reporting as this event so clearly depicts the harsh reality of poverty. I am of a completely different world. One where people live with excess and waste. How can we bring these worlds together? How can we carry the awful burden of extreme poverty together?
In committed partnership,
Joellen Raderstorf
Mothers Acting Up

Khushbu's picture

The story has touched me

Hi joanne...

The story gave me goosebumps and the picture choked me...It is sad that many people do not know the harsh reality of poverty but your story depicts it so well without saying a lot....Thank you for sharing it with all of us...

Khushbu Agrawal

Maria de Chirikof's picture

I am glad you shared it

Your writing is so good and I could feel fear to read the next sentence afraid to find out what happened to the woman and children!

I also think it illustrates how 'awareness' is so important. It is very easy to get caught up in the struggle to live day to day and the wanting to get ahead so you can finally catch a breath, that you forget to think about things. You know if the woman had been rested and refreshed and not worrying about taking care of her family that she would have stopped to think of her own safety and that of her children.

Has anyone gone back to that village to see how they are doing now? I can imagine the shock of it all, on top of that still urgent need to take care of your family. It is truly sad that it is so ingrained into the woman not to question the male. I sincerely hope that by sharing our own stories that we can help show other woman not to be afraid of 'change' and how life will be much better once it happens. Fear is a very real emotion and not one to be taken lightly.

I can remember when my daughters and I were at the homeless shelter. Normally only the adult does a chore and the children don't. Except right at that time there were many pregnant woman or woman who had just had babies and they do not have to do chores (which is a great thing) but it left a lot of stuff that needed doing and my daughters were in their teens. We had 3 sets of chores with 2 daughters doing one thing, the other 2 doing another and myself doing a third. I remember she was from Africa but not which country or even her name, I have tried very hard to forget every moment of that place, but she came up to me one day. She said I have been watching you and you need to stand up for yourself, for your rights. I smiled and thanked her for caring.

I can remember being way too embarrassed to explain that I was here because I truly had nowhere else to go. I was afraid of what would happen if I said I did not want my daughters doing chores. I did not want to get us kicked out. Looking back I am sure they would not have done anything like that since they were good and caring people but that fear made me silent. It was winter and it was cold outside. I had images of me and my daughters having to sleep in my car and dying from the cold. Every system set up to help us had failed us and we were left with nothing but each other. It was a scary time. Things changed slowly and I know it is having a tiny bit of economic security that lets me breath now.

I hope you can help the woman in your area and all the ones who come here looking for strength and hope and just friendship just by being yourself!


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