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Slum woman with a big heart

By | Published Sun, April 10th 2011 at 00:00, Updated Sun, April 10th 2011 at 00:00 GMT +3

Despite being jobless, Jane Anyango has brought up her four children and other girls in Kibera, says KIUNDU WAWERU

To be a hero or a heroine, one must give an order to oneself.

Simone Weil

In one of the best books ever written, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, success is said not to depend on what you are given, but rather on what you do with what you have.

These words ring true for Jane Anyango, who has struggled most of her life trying to bring up four children in the slums of Kibera without gainful employment. Her husband was a driver but the pay was not enough.

Anyango speaking to women in Kibera then takes a moment to play.

Despite her problems, Anyango found time and energy to give to others. In 2004, she started a campaign to empower girls in the slums. After one of her beneficiaries died, Anyango and a friend started another groundbreaking campaign, Kibera Women for Peace and Fairness. This campaign propelled Anyango to national and international limelight, to the extent thatshe won a visa to travel to the USA under the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Programme last year.

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Last November, Anyango received the Community Peace Builder Award from Peace x Peace, a global network of peace builders in more than 100 countries. Anyango was also nominated for this year’s International Women of Courage award, the same award that Ann Njogu of CREAW won last year.

Ann was selected by the US Government for the coveted 2010 International Women of Courage Award. The US State Department confered the Award in Washington after US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, selected her. The award honours women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and advancement.

Small shop

"Even though I did not win this award, I nevertheless felt humbled and encouraged to push on working with women and girls in Kibera," says Anyango at her small photocopy and print shop in Kibera.

In 2004, Anyango was living with an eleven-year-old niece. One day, the girl was caught having sex with a security guard aged 39.

"No," Anyango soberly says; "It was not rape, as this is the reality in Kibera. Grown up men coax small girls to have sex with them. This is a big problem here."

Anyango sued the security guard with defilement but to her amazement, every time the two were together, her niece would cosy up to the guard.

"She did not understand that what the man had done was a mistake. In fact, as the case went on, she revealed that they had been having an affair for nine months!" Anyango says. "This is happening all over Kibera. These girls need a forum to air their woes and I have taken it upon myself to bring them together."

Anyango meets with the girls and provides them with a platform to talk about abuse, no matter how traumatic. She started by meeting them at her house, then at photocopy shop next to Kibera Law courts. The growing demand for these forums has compelled Anyango to take the forum to schools.

Shot dead

During the post-election violence in 2008, Kibera went up in smoke. "One of our girls was shot dead. She was only 15," says Anyango.

At the peak of the violence, Anyango and a friend organised a protest march to the District Officer’s compound.

Ann Njogu receives the coveted award from Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. [PHOTOS: MBUGUA KIBERA/STANDARD AND COURTESY]

"The situation was running out of hand and women and children were suffering the most. We wanted to put a stop to the violence so we organised the march, even though we knew it would be very dangerous. We called out to our neighbours and about 200 people turned up," recalls Anyango.

District Officer Kepher Marube gave them audience. Their message was simple, yet powerful. "Please talk to your husbands," they cried to First Lady Lucy Kibaki and Ida Odinga, "we are suffering."

The media captured the statement by the women.

"Our protest was a success," says Anyango. "We met two days later and formed Kibera Women for Peace and Fairness. I was elected leader and my biggest challenge was to get people to co-exist again. I wanted people to share their experiences, as I knew this would help us heal. Then we selected village leaders to enhance peace in their areas."

In later meetings, the women convinced men to join them. Surprisingly, residents opened up and emotionally confessed their acts. Anyango says: "Ever seen men cry? They did at these meetings, as they were overcome by emotions."

Some of those who had looted property returned it, others left houses they had taken over, displacing the owners.

"Hopes were raised and peace prevailed, and I believe it is because the people had a lot of confidence and goodwill in us," says Anyango.

Today, Kibera Women for Peace and Fairness is still going strong and holds regular meetings at the playground next to the DO’s office, which they have dubbed ‘freedom square’.

They have also introduced women’s football and merry-go-rounds.

"If women could bring peace to Kibera, what can’t we do?" poses Anyango adding: "For years, people have come here offering solutions for us, but I know all we need is empowerment and we shall deal with our problems."

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