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The only growth I have felt is that of my burden, says Kakamega granny

Western
 Ester Ayidi Juma. With no steady income, she needs nearly Sh30,000 every month to put food on the table. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Esther Ayidi Juma, 69, who lives in the slums of Amalemba on the outskirts of Kakamega Town lives from hand to mouth.

Mama Ayidi, as she is fondly referred to, used to hawk chapati and githeri. Ordinarily, her day would begin before dawn and end long after dusk. But three months ago, she fell sick and was diagnosed with arthritis and high blood pressure.

With no steady source of income, Mama Ayidi’s days are a constant battle to provide for her large family. And with the high cost of living and taxes weighing heavily on her, putting food on the table is a herculean task.

“I have eight grandchildren, their mother and my three sons who depend on me for survival,” Mama Ayidi told The Standard.

She said five of the grandchildren are in primary school, two in secondary and one in college.

Each morning, she ventures into the bustling streets of Kakamega, where she tries to find odd jobs, washing clothes or doing manual labour.

“The little I make often goes to food, with little left for school fees, clothes and healthcare,” said Mama Ayidi

She went on: “Prices of food and other basic goods have soared, which forces me to make hard decisions about what to buy and what to forego.”

According to Mama Ayidi, for breakfast, she buys two packets of milk (500ml) at Sh65 each totalling to Sh130, 800 grams of bread at Sh130 and another one of 400 grams at Sh65 and a kilo of sugar at Sh140, all totalling Sh465 per day and in a month, Sh13,650.

Asked about lunch, she said: “We don’t eat lunch but prioritise supper. With the current economy, you can’t afford three meals a day.”

“You must eat something in the evening, especially for my grandchildren who spend the whole day in school,” said Mama Ayidi. 

She added: “I normally buy a quarter kilo of meat at Sh100, tomatoes at Sh50, onions at Sh30 and Sukuma wiki for Sh50. We use two kilos of maize flour every evening which goes at Sh130 and firewood that costs me Sh150 every day translating to Sh510 per day and Sh15,300 every month.”

The taxes imposed by the Kenya Kwanza government are an additional burden to those who are already struggling.

For  Mama Ayidi, every shilling counts, and the taxes take a significant chunk out of her meagre earnings.

“They collect and steal everything and come back to collect more. Tell me anything good that this government has done using our taxes,” she posed.

Despite these challenges, Mama Ayidi’s spirit remains unbroken. She embodies resilience, using every resource at her disposal to ensure her grandchildren are fed and clothed.

Community support plays a crucial role in her survival. Neighbours and charitable organisations sometimes step in to offer food, clothing and school supplies.

The grandmother dreams of a better future for her grandchildren, a future where they can break the cycle of poverty that has ensnared them.

Each evening, she gathers them around their small, dim-lit room, helping them with their homework and encouraging them to pursue their studies with dedication.

Her story is one of countless others in slums across the country.

Like many other Kenyans, the granny was glued to her neighbour’s television to follow the Budget reading by Treasury CS Njuguna Ndung’u on Thursday. She is apprehensive about the implication of the Budget on her life and that of her grandchildren.

Her neighbour, Everline Okusimba, 38, is a mother of four and is a food vendor while her husband does menial jobs.

Her life is a daily struggle, yet it is also a testament to the strength and perseverance that defines many women in similar situations around the neighbourhood.

“In the morning, I spend Sh70 on charcoal, Sh70 on a half kilo of sugar, sweet potatoes at Sh100 or 800 grams of bread at Sh130, totalling Sh280 a day and Sh8,400 a month,” she said.

She added: “Tea with milk is a luxury in this house.”

Lunch, like in Mama Ayidi’s household, is also a luxury. For supper, she buys charcoal at Sh70, two kilos of maize flour at Sh140, cooking oil at Sh100 (150ml), tomatoes at Sh50 and onions at Sh20, totalling Sh380 and in a month, Sh11,400.

On tax, she said: “Imposing tax on everything is a bad idea. They collect a lot of money and spend it extravagantly. Even the budget being read today has no meaning to us.”

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