Mums ditch pots and pans to rescue youth

Kilifi Mums engages with parents and youth to address promiscuity, child labour and drug abuse in a community that has been affected by these ills for a very long time. Kibibi Ali, a fearless campaigner against injustices, highlights the strides they have made

Barry Silah @obel_barry

What is your organisation all about?

We are a community-based organisation focused on changing a society grappling with major challenges. Our agenda, first and foremost, is bringing mothers together in a bid to fight poverty and for their rights and those of young girls.

It was started in 2013 primarily to help the community discuss and fight issues around underage prostitution, parental responsibility and overall empowering of women to be self-reliant.

The wider Kilifi county has, from time immemorial, fought against issues such as gender-based violence, drug abuse, underage prostitution and pregnancies and, of course, the growing menace on the beaches that is paedophilia, which has affected a lot of young boys.

Has the community at large been receptive enough with your project?

It has been a work in progress, but thankfully we are getting somewhere. Through structural partnerships with the administrative, political and security channels, we are seeing some effort in place. I have made it clear during our meetings that only together shall we be able to fight such problems.

At least in every police station, there are gender desks and each chief is under close guard of his territory to ensure that some challenges including dropping out of schools are kept at a bare minimum. Of importance is constantly sensitising the community, especially the young ones on keeping safe and reporting on abuses that may be meted out on them either subconsciously or forcibly.

Challenges must be aplenty in your line of work Absolutely, but we are enjoying it because it shows there is always work to be done. However, most disturbing and glaring is the fact that deep cultural beliefs are ruining our young people, affecting their health and education. The other concern is that because of poverty, the desperation levels are high in the rural areas. Young girls get preyed on for little cash, and ultimately their lives are ruined.

The problem is so endemic that we might as well call it an emergency. The big shots, also involved particularly in child prostitution, have money and power, thus most cases are compromised. This really complicates the effectiveness of our work.

Members of Kilifi Mums at a past event. Photo/Manuel Ntoyai

Cheap and easily available khat plus the drinking dens in our midst are a nightmare my team has to constantly grapple with.

Fortunately, we have prepared a petition for County Assembly to look into the issue critically.

How impactful has been your mission to change the mindset of the locals?

We usually have several meetings with different stakeholders so that we compare notes on progress or challenge areas. However, that mostly women turn up and share their problems is a plus for us. However, that men are usually cagey with issues affecting them forced us to open another wing known as Kilifi Dads to empower them to be open and speak of their fears. With good co-ordination with our politicians and the security personnel, there has been significant impact in creating awareness, but we still have much ground to cover.

The element of financial empowerment, how has it helped addressing poverty?

So far, we have 7,000 members, with about 200 women in each ward in the seven sub-counties. What I have insisted on and encouraged is a savings culture amongst ourselves. This has ensured we do not have idlers who will rely on their husbands or find reason to engage in irresponsible behaviour that is risky to their lives.

At the moment, a couple of women groups have sprout, with table banking as the main activity that has, in turn, increased their accessibility to cash for trade and other use. I feel this is, by far, the biggest route through which we will elevate the status of our people and alleviate poverty.

How are you dealing with the increasing cases of paedophilia targeting boys?

It is a scary issue given its rise especially in areas such as Mtwapa and Malindi. It is an industry of its own kind and I can confirm it has messed up a lot of our boys. A recent survey showed boys aged 10-15 were most vulnerable in this trade due in part to naivety and flowing money from mostly foreigners.

We have tried, in collaboration with the security personnel, religious organisations and the county government, to evaluate this issue so we can nip it in the bud. A lot of suicide cases of traumatised boys have come our way and some of these stories are harrowing and saddening. The western culture is to blame and we will continue fighting it until our boys are safe.

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