Hundreds of Kijiji fire victims forced to sleep in the cold after camp eviction

Elizabeth Tali at a store that she has turned into a home. She and her family were kicked out the temporary camp at Ngei Primary School.[Beverlyne Musili, Standard]
On Thursday morning, as Elizabeth Tali’s husband and children left home, the thin and dark middle-aged woman stayed back, thinking.

For the better part of the morning, she locked herself inside the dark, unventilated tin store that now serves as her new home, contemplating her family’s future and battling thoughts of inadequacy as a parent.

On Wednesday afternoon, Tali, a househelp, her husband, a casual labourer, and three teenage children began a life of deprivation and destitution.

Tali’s family is one of the 6,000 whose houses were burnt down in Kijiji slum, Langata, in late January. Since the fire incident, the families have been putting up at the nearby Ngei Primary School.

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On Wednesday evening, the camp was officially closed. Even though the camp’s administration had warned the victims about the closure, many were still unprepared to move out. Luckily, the day the camp was closed, Tali found an empty store at the edge of the slum and converted it into a home.

“We rented this store for Sh2,500. I feel ashamed that our teenage children have been forced to share a room with their parents,” says Tali, a mother of a 16-year-old boy and two girls aged 13 and 10.

The store, a tiny and drab iron sheet structure, can barely hold one person. Tali has carefully stacked the set of small mattresses she got from friends and one from the camp side by side on the hard concrete floor.

No toilets

Tali and her husband sleep on one stack, while her three children share the other stack.

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After lining the mattresses on the floor, the room has just enough space to fit their clothes, food donations from the camp, a basin and a kerosene lamp and stove, everything the family has.

“If we want to shower or relieve ourselves we have to go to the shopping centre. We pay five shillings to use the toilet and 10 to take a bath,” she adds.

The other homeless victims also claim that they now have to use public bathrooms and toilets, which is risky given Langata’s water shortage. With a roof over her head, Tali is better off than many others.

At the shopping centre, a group of women cluster together outside a small eatery, just slightly larger than Tali’s house.

“The owner told us we can sleep here, but we couldn’t fit so we were forced to sleep outside,” says Francisca Muthoki, gently rocking her six-month-old baby who is still recuperating from asphyxia, after she choked on flames during the fire.

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Learning disrupted

One of the women, Cecilia Muthoki, cooks chapatis at the eatery, while her colleagues Mukina and Jacqueline Mueni, who operated salons at the slum, say they still do not have any source of income. Until they find help or money, they intend to continue sleeping with their children on the ground.

Pius Masai, Deputy Director of the National Disaster Management Unit and overall head of the camp, says the families should be realistic and appreciate the help the Government and well-wishers accorded them.

“The camp was at a school, so we cannot stay there indefinitely and continue to disrupt learning,” he says.

He adds that the camp administration offered the victims enough time and supplies to help them start life.

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Elizabeth Talifirekijiji firekijiji slum