Warimu Gachenga, elderly slum resident: “Even buying soap is a problem”

Wairimu Gachenga, 70, lives in Nairobi’s Korogocho slum and looks after the two orphan children of her late daughter. Once a week, a group of grandmothers from the area get together to practice self-defence techniques after one of them was raped in 2007.

“I started the self-defence classes because men used to rape us, so we saw the need of coming together as grandmas. And at first we did not know how to defend ourselves.

“I’ve never been raped. But one day my son was attacked. And they really hurt him. They cut him with a machete on the head. I only screamed, because I didn’t know what to do. I screamed but no one came to my help.

“When my daughter started falling sick, the husband chased her away and told her: `Just go back to your mother, you are of no use to me.’ He took in another wife.

Slideshow: Nairobi slum-dweller grandmas fight rape
View slideshow

“Every time I went to look at her bedding, there was blood - I couldn’t explain where it was coming from. We took her to Nazareth Hospital [on the outskirts of Nairobi] for two times, and then we took her to Kiambu [near Naiorbi] later, after suffering for a long time, and she passed away.

“The husband is not alive any more. In fact, he died before my daughter.”

“In good times, when I go sell stuff [Gachenga visits the nearby Dandora dump site to look for recycling material to sell] I get 150 Kenya shillings [US$1.72]. A bad day I get 30 shillings, which is too little to buy anything. Even to buy soap, or to buy kerosene in the house becomes a problem for me.

“I have a daughter who is also on the dump site, but she’s strong. She can sell so much stuff from the site, she really helps me. She gives me a few shillings. And again, I go to the Catholic Church. There’s a programme that is taken care of by the nuns, who give us something to eat, like what I have now.

“I don’t get any money from the government.

“I’m really happy when I meet with my friends. We do training for self-defence. The other thing is we sit down and talk like old women. We have so much to share, so instead of staying in my house and feeling sorry for myself, I go meet with them. It’s like a support group for me.”