Ndura Kinyanjui isn’t sure about his age. But if you insist on knowing when and where he was born, he produces his original identity card. It shows he was born in 1931 in Murang’a. But for the last three decades, Kiang’ombe slum in Thika has been his home.
“Things were very different back then,” he says. “Life was easier...simpler.”
Ndura was among the very first beneficiaries of the government’s Old Person Cash Transfer (OPTC) programme. The OPCT programme aims to strengthen the capacity of older people and improve their livelihoods.
“You might look at me and think life is hard now. You hadn’t seen me before the programme started,” he says.
Every month, he and some of his age mates receive Sh2,000 from the Central government.
“We look at this more like an investment rather than an expense,” Susan Mochache, the Principal Secretary in the State Department of Social Protection says.
At independence poverty, disease, and ignorance were identified as some of the critical challenges by the country’s founding fathers.
He says poverty eats up one’s dignity. And for him, the monthly cash transfers have restored some bit of it.
“I can afford some medicine every month. I can buy my own food,” he says.
Ndura is almost two decades older than Agnes Wambui, another beneficiary of the cash transfer programme. She too lives in Kiang’ombe slums. The residents of this area who had for many years been squatters were in 2003 allocated land by the government.
Every adult was allocated a parcel of land measuring 40 feet by 80 feet. In this space, houses stand. Pig sties exist. Chicken coops find space. So do goat pens and cow sheds. Whatever space is not build on is colonised by flocks of ducks unafraid of shuffling feet.
Wambui’s homestead looks similar to many of those around her, the key difference perhaps being that her pigs and ducks were all bought from painful and conscious managing of the monthly income from the social assistance programme.
“I first got the money in 2007. Back then we only received Sh70. Then, this was scaled up to Sh1,000 and then to the current Sh2,000,” she says.
“From that money, I started buying and selling sugar cane in town. Then when I made some profits I started trading in fruits. Now, I have three pigs that I hope to sell soon and maybe invest into something bigger,” she says.
Like Wambui, a group of old women in Kiandutu slum in Thika have decided to take control of their current lives as well as their future.
“Some of our age mates died in their sleep and nobody knew,” Jacinta Wanjiru says.
“No one wanted to be troubled by a poor old widow.” In 2007, at the start of the OPCT programme, those in her circle who qualified for the funding started a welfare group.
“We knew we had to plan for that money. The only way we could do it was if we held each other accountable. From the money we get we set aside Sh100 for the group which now operates as a cooperative,” she says.
The group not only deals with the elderly but also disabled children and orphans.
“All this from the dedication of the women who saw what uplifting someone else can do,” Eunice Muringe, who is in charge of the welfare group said.
She says the group whose glue was the OPCT have found a lot more reasons to stick together.
“A few years ago they were in the eye of poverty. Now, they have made something of their lives,” Muringe says.
The programme started as a pilot in three districts, in Thika and Nyando and was later implemented in Busia, under the Rapid Response Initiative of 2007.
To date, more than 203,000 households in all 290 constituencies benefit from it. But the nobility of the project has not come without challenges. Key among them being accountability.
“We know the system had some issues before but we are trying to deal with them,” Mochache says. “For instance we had people getting money yet they did not qualify for the programme. Others had enrolled to all social assistance programmes yet one can only be eligible for one.”
She says the single registry of individuals under government social assistance programmes will help deal with the hiccups.
“The objective of this system is to consolidate information from the different management information systems for the cash transfer programmes that are operated independently by different departments and ministries,” she says.
The goal of the single registry, Ms Mochache says, is to provide accurate reports on the performance of the social protection sector.
Though challenges abound in rolling out this ambitious programme, there is no doubt it has restored the dignity of its beneficiaries.
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