Bishara Hamo underwent forced Female Genital Mutilation as a child, and will live with the scars all her life....
After my KDF husband died from kidney failure, his relatives grabbed all his properties then kicked me and his child out
What happened to your husband?
He was a corporal with the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and among the officers who were deployed to the Somalia peace mission. He had come to Kenya for the holidays in December 2015. One day when we were at home, I had gone to the kitchen to prepare a meal and when I came back, I found that he had fallen down on the floor.
On asking what had happened, he told me that he couldn’t feel the lower half of his body. He had peed and soiled himself, so I dragged him to the couch and cleaned him. I reached out to his colleagues who organised for an ambulance to take him to hospital. After observation and diagnosis, the doctors told me that my husband had suffered kidney failure. He was then moved to ICU.
How did he die?
It was on a Friday and my instincts kept telling me that something was amiss. So as I slept, I was anxious and agitated. At around five o’clock in the morning, I received a call with the bad news that my husband had passed away. Our son was three years old at the time.
What happened next?
At the time of his death, I was not in good terms with my in-laws, so I called a family member to break the news to them. Immediately, my mother-in-law demanded the house keys so that she could collect his belongings. This became the start of a vicious battle between me and my in-laws over my husband’s property.
I remember my mother-in-law came home accompanied by around 40 people including my husband’s siblings. They caused a scene accusing me of killing him. They also demanded to take everything that was in the house, saying that it belonged to their son. An army captain who was in possession of my husband’s death certificate colluded with the family and he gave them the certificate.
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What did they do with it?
They used it to change the ownership of all his properties, they sold everything he owned and even withdrew all his money from the bank. I tried to follow up by reporting to the authorities without success, so I gave up. I was soon evicted from our home and went to live with my sister.
Did you recover from these losses?
No, in fact, things became worse after this. After a while, my sister told me to vacate her place despite the fact that I didn’t have a job or any money to my name. I could not even afford to put food on the table, let alone pay school fees for my child. I borrowed food from my neighbours.
How did the experience affect you psychologically?
I was in anguish, both mentally and emotionally. Within a short time, I lapsed into severe depression. It became so bad that I began talking to myself. I remember I would eat my poop after going for long calls because my mind was in disarray. Eventually my mother had to come and care for me like a small child. I slipped into a coma and was admitted in hospital for a month receiving treatment. When I woke up from the coma, I had recovered although I was terribly missing my husband.
Besides your mother, was there anyone else supporting you?
Curiously, the only other people who helped me during this difficult time were young widows like me who knew what I was going through. They would counsel me and also give me financial assistance to support my son. God provided my rent in miraculous ways, and how my son was schooled, I cannot explain.
How did things turn around for the better?
After one year of pain and suffering, I began to recover both physically and emotionally. Also around this time, I started receiving my husband’s salary and pension benefits. This was very surprising to me because his relatives had taken away all his properties, but they had forgotten to change his next of kin. That is how I got financial reprieve in the midst of my turmoil.
What did you do with the money?
I used it to support myself and my child, and I also decided to give back to the widows who had helped me during my struggle with my husband’s death. So every month I would go for wholesale grocery shopping and then divide the goods among the widows. At first they were two, but then the number started growing. At this point I decided it would be better to form a network for widows where we would support each other financially and emotionally.
Has the network taken shape?
Yes, it is called the Royal Widows and Orphans Foundation and is registered as a Community Based Organisation. So far, I have enlisted almost 100 widows in Murang’a, Nairobi, Nakuru, Busia and Migori in groups of 15 women per town.
What is your vision for these widows?
Our mandate is all about empowering widows and orphans countrywide. In the support groups, we do counselling and therapy depending on individual needs. There are members who are HIV positive, cancer patients, and those who are needy. My task is to train, counsel, encourage and empower them. So far, I have started a business-loan project where I lend each group Sh5,000 as capital to start an income-generating project. It is a revolving fund, so as soon as they recover the capital, they pay back to the kitty and I lend another group.
What is your final take on the state of widows in our society?
What we need to know is that young widows go through so much trauma but people hardly care about them. Widows need to be loved and cared for.