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Spare a thought for widows and their children

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Lilian Aluanga-Delvaux | June 26th 2016
Dianah Kamand during an interview. She had a perfect life until when the man she adored turned on her, their children and himself. (PHOTO: JENIPHER WACHIE/ STANDARD)

Dianah Kamande was living the perfect life.

She had a loving husband, two beautiful daughters and a solid marriage that had lasted for ten years.

That was until her life was thrown into a spin in April 2013, when the man she adored turned on her, their children and himself.

The attack would not only leave her a survivor of domestic violence, but a widow, with life-long physical, and emotional scars.

As if losing her husband was not enough, Dianah was accused by her in-laws of having driven the husband to his murderous rage.

“I was called a murderer. I was confused because he was the one who tried to kill me. Those were dark days,” she says with a sigh.

Today, she is far from the distraught, lonely and helpless person she was. She talks about how she managed to turn an incident meant to kill her into one that makes dozens of other widows and orphans realise that there is more to life.  As the world marked the International Widows Day on June 23, Dianah was among those that gathered at Nairobi’s Kenyatta International Convention Centre. (The International Widows day is a UN-ratified day of action that seeks to address the plight of over 200 million widows and their dependants across the world).

She talks about the incident that changed her life. “It was a day like any other. My husband and I left the house together, as we always did. We talked later in the day about dinner and he told me he wanted ugali and fried meat,”she says.

At about 8 pm, her husband returned to their house in Nairobi’s Baba Dogo area.

“He seemed upset and even sent the girls away when they ran to meet him. I asked him to come to the table and eat but he said he did not want my food. I thought he had had a hard day at work and would talk about it later,” she says.

He then took the house keys and left in a huff. As the evening wore on, Dianah got concerned and called him but the phone went unanswered.

She then sent him a text message informing him she and the children had gone to bed.

What she remembers next is waking up to a searing pain on her face and something warm trickling down her face.

She was sure burglars had broken into the home and she instinctively reached for her phone to call her husband. As she fidgeted with the phone, she realised with horror that her husband was the attacker.

“He said we were all going to die in that house that night,” says Dianah, who is in her 30’s. Confused and petrified by the turn of events, she dived under the bed as her husband continued to lunge at her with the already bloodied sword.

She played dead and he moved to his next target, the children, but not before calling his mother and in-laws to tell them to prepare four graves.

As she lay on the floor, Dianah heard her eldest daughter, who was eight years old then, plead with her father not to kill them.

Sensing her children were in danger, she dragged herself from the hiding place and headed for the children’s room where she found her husband holding a knife to her daughter’s stomach.

EMOTIONAL RECOVERY

“He thought I had died and he was very shocked to see. He dropped the knife and the children ran to safety.

As the crowd milling outside continued swelling, Dianah’s husband let go of her and locked himself in their bedroom where he killed himself.

Dianah was rushed to the hospital where she underwent surgery and started her long walk to physical and emotional recovery.

Today, the scars on her head, face, chest and hand, remind Dianah of how close she came to death. And the emotional scars still run deep.

“I never got to bury my husband and it hurt to hear that my in laws had disowned me and the children, accusing me of having killed their son.

“I was called a prostitute and some of my husband’s relatives tried to take our household goods,” she says.

Then there were the neighbours.

“Women did not want to see me talk to their husbands and men banned their wives from talking to me. I recall an incident where a friend’s visit to my house earned her a beating from her husband.”

Throughout her ordeal, Dianah got encouragement from a group of widows who often visited her, driving her to do some soul-searching.

“I wondered how many widows around the country were going through similar situations and who was supporting them.

It also dawned on me that every married woman is a potential candidate for widowhood and I asked myself what I could do to help them,” she says.

Determined to re-write the script of many widows’ life stories, she vowed to make a difference in her own way. She looked for other widows and five months after her ordeal, held the first meeting, which was attended by 25 women.

In three months, the number had grown to almost 250 and she founded an organisation, Cometogether Widows and Orphans. As her story spread, more people, including the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Zeinab Hussein, got interested in her work.

A Bill is currently being drafted, to among other things, protect the rights of widows and widowers.

Dianah is excited at the prospect of having a legislation that will protect the rights of widows and widowers. The Bill seeks to address their right to a spouses’ property, even when the union was polygamous.

The proposed legislation will also outlaw certain cultural practices that ban widows and widowers from attending social functions and those that force them to perform certain rites.

The Bill, an initiative of Muungano wa Wajane, an umbrella body that brings together widows, will be sponsored by Nairobi County women’s representative Racheal Shebesh.

The death of African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) head, Archbishop Samson Gaitho, not only broke Bertha Gaitho’s heart, but also her family.

Bertha, who is in her 50’s, was the prelate’s second wife. They got married after his first union ended in divorce.

“We raised all our children together, including those from his first marriage, but things changed when my husband died,” she says.

The prelate died in 2011.

According to media reports, the two families have been embroiled in a court dispute over the deceased’s properties, and at one time, the first wife’s children stormed Bertha’s home.

But that is a subject she would rather not discuss. She chooses to focus on what the church can do to improve the plight of widows.

“I am saddened by the divisions in the family and would like all of us to live in peace.

killed any time

“The church should offer a shoulder for the many widows out here undergoing a lot of challenges. It (church) should be a place where widows feel welcome; a place where they can run to for help,” she says.

Bertha’s case is not any different from dozens of others involving families of “high profile” personalities.

The widow of former Internal Security assistant minister Orwa Ojode was locked in a tussle with some of her in-laws over compensation from Parliament after his death in 2012.

A three-year feud over property that belonged to former business tycoon Gerishon Kirima — pitting one of his wives against some of his children — also made the headlines.

Widowhood, says Bertha, has strengthened her and enabled her help other widows in similar situations. “My husband was key in making decisions affecting the family. I suddenly had to do this alone and I have slowly learnt to take on challenges as they come,” she says, and advises other widows to “know God the more and don’t cut out your social life because it will kill you.”

Next month marks a year since Jessica Kiplagat lost her husband, Major Sammy Morell.

A pilot of the Kenya Defence Forces ‘50 Air Cavalry battalion at Embakasi, Morell died when his chopper came down in Lamu County.

Tears still well up in the eye’s of the 31-year old as she talks about a loving husband and great father.

“I have mourned my husband for a year but I am nowhere near getting over it. I would choose him again today if he were alive,” she says, of the man she married in 2005. “I was once told that getting married to a man in uniform was like signing a death certificate because he could get killed at any time.

“But death can meet us anywhere and as a woman, one must be prepared for the possibility of losing a husband, regardless of their career.

“Its hard to accept when it happens but one must take courage, work hard for your children and hold on to God,” she says.

She too talks of a strained relationship with her in-laws but shies away from the subject. Her only prayer, however, is that the government sets up a support programme for widows of uniformed officers.

“They die while serving the country but many leave their families suffering. I was lucky I had a job when my husband died, but what about those who have children but no income?”

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