On Tuesday, January 26th 2016, I went on a road trip to Maai Mahiu in the Rift Valley, with my nephew Ludovico, to visit a group of Cucu’s (Grandmothers) working under the umbrella of CTC International (Comfort the Children) within a program known as Grandparents Against Poverty and HIV/Aids (GAPA).
CTC International aims to empower these Cucu’s, who are taking care of orphaned and vulnerable children, to lift themselves from poverty through the GAPA project by initiating income generating activities for them and ultimately mitigating poverty and HIV/Aids within their community. The income generating activities include; liquid soap making, mat weaving, goat keeping projects, poultry keeping, maasai bracelet making as well as handbag weaving. The program also aims to build the capacity of these Cucu’s, through home care based training, entrepreneurship and agri-business in order to improve their quality of life.
So far about the program has about 150 Cucu’s taking care of over 400 orphaned or vulnerable children in the region, and I met some of these women who are going above and beyond peoples’ expectations. These women told stories of resilience and hope, sad yet inspiring. While most have an average of 3 children to take care of, I met one who had nine! Such brave women as well as many others around her.
As I spoke to these women, I asked them a series of questions, like whether they have a family support mechanism, and their response was that it is non-existent since ‘everyone has their own problems’, and so they take care of these orphans, and the only support they have is from the other women within their group. A lot of them said they have been weaving for 20 -30 years and when I asked them if they knew each other, they said no, since they are from places scattered all over the rift valley, all the more impressive how they collaborate and work well together.
It takes them about a week to make one Kiondo basket, sometimes more, other times less, depending on the issues they have to deal with in their own lives. I gave them some designs to do for me, and got to know about the challenges they face while working on these weaves. Some prefer to use wool as it is cheaper and easier to source, while color was also a challenge, and they said some of the colors I wanted would be rather hard to get. I therefore told them I would source for the colored sisal in Nairobi and send to them through a matatu courier.
We also met Dan, the Chair of CTC who tells a story of how he came as a humanitarian worker for a year in Maai Mahiu, and having learnt about the plight of these women, came back after several years to help these women. They get no assistance from the government apart from some medicine for the sick, and therefore have to rely on various projects they do around the area, including a water project, selling milk to a nearby factory, a coffee plantation as well as the GAPA project. There is also a program for mums with special-needs kids between the ages of 6 -16 years, who are given education and if successful, their kids can come back to the farms and get employment. CTC also runs a clinic, where we met two workers, one being a lady who is currently doing her internship.
I was very impressed by the commitment and resilience of these women, and I look forward to see the products they will come up with, which I will gladly share with you. This is my way of supporting these strong women. CTC International through the GAPA project, has restored the identity and hope to a population that has been forgotten and marginalized not only in Maai Mahiu, but in many parts of Kenya.
Ludovico and I really enjoyed the interactions and new friends we met. I will surely be going back!
More visual inspiration – some of the cucus and the surrounding areas: