Economic Development Initiative

The Story of Rose Awinja: From the Dumpsite to a Food Basket

The Story of Rose Awinja: From the Dumpsite to a Food Basket
Rose Awinja

Rose Awinja, who is in her early 50s and from the western part of Kenya, was once happily married. However, her husband succumbed to HIV complications and she was left with six young children. At that time, Rose was not engaged in any kind of income generation.

Disagreements in her extended family became frequent, leaving her exposed to insults from her in-laws. In parts of Kenya, even though this practice is outlawed, after a husband dies, a man or the brother of the deceased may take the widow as his wife, without seeking the widow’s consent. If a widow refuses to be inherited as property, her stay with her in-laws’ might be compromised. This happened to Rose. She grew concerned for her own and her children’s welfare. Her in-laws complained that she had killed their son; they argued, “If he died of HIV, why are you still alive?” Troubles continued; her in-laws began to take her things, which she believed was meant to drive her away.

A New Life

Finally, when she could no longer handle the animosity, which was now directed at her children as well as herself, she decided to sell some belongings and ran away to Nairobi with her young family. This is when reality hit -- she was now the head of the household and needed to ensure the family’s basic needs were met. Children needed to eat, and they needed a roof over their heads.  

With no skills and six children, she decided to engage in various manual jobs in Nairobi to feed her family and see them through school. At that time, she was also diagnosed with HIV. Rose has been taking ARVs (antiretroviral medicines) for 12 years. After her diagnosis, she developed blood pressure problems and other health complications, but she persevered, fending for her family. Some of the children dropped out of school due to the family’s harsh life and lack of tuition fees. 

Rose mainly washed clothes for neighbors as a source of income, which enabled the family to survive on one meal a day. In March 2020, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the government issued curfews, forcing Rose to lose her laundry work. She decided to tag along with her adult son who scavenges in a nearby dumpsite. The son has a wife and a child who live with Rose, increasing her family to eight members who all share a one-room home. 

Rose reasoned that the more family members who pick through the refuse, the better. However, at the dumpsite, the challenge, her son reports, is survival. Fights break out frequently as people scramble for items which may in turn be sold for food. On days when Rose stays home, she selects and separates the items that her son has picked. A good day’s income of two dollars is still not enough to get by. Her son does not like seeing his mother at the dumpsite nor does he want her to sell the items from the dumpsite. Her son’s dream? To fund his mother’s laundry business. 

Operation Hope

Operation Hope Community-Based Organization volunteers, funded by United Methodist Women, met with Rose and her family during a household assessment process. Among female household heads living with HIV in Embakasi-Kayole in Nairobi, Kenya, United Methodist Women is funding food baskets to mitigate the impact upon the most vulnerable. Rose was identified as one of the beneficiaries of COVID-19 Vulnerable Response Project, a project of United Methodist Women. 

After one of the deliveries of the weekly food basket, Rose told the volunteers, who had returned for an assessment, how happy she was. While the government has promised money to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on families like hers, these funds have not materialized. When the volunteers revisited, Rose was preparing a meal for the family with a smile -- unlike any they’d seen before -- on her face. 
Rose reports that since receiving the food baskets, she has not needed to follow her son to the dumpsite. What her son earns from selling items is used to pay rent to Rose. Rose’s son was so touched by the generosity, he told our volunteers by the time the pandemic is over, he will have saved enough funds to provide for his mother’s income generation plan.

United Methodist Women has provided funds for the COVID-19 Vulnerable Response Project to support the distribution of food and sanitation items weekly to 50 women heads of household who living with HIV/AIDS as well as to 67 children who live in two children’s homes. The food baskets include flour (ugali), rice, salad, cooking oil, sugar, green grams (dengu), and bar soap. 

The pandemic’s effects upon households like Rose’s have been unprecedented, turning lives upside down and increasing anxiety and hopelessness. Too many women have received termination letters or been dismissed with no hope of resuming work. In the urban areas where most beneficiaries live, even manual jobs are not available due to fears of infection. However, a ray of hope has come through the food baskets distribution program, courtesy of United Methodist Women, Operation Hope and the COVID-19 Vulnerable Response Project.

Flory Emma Atieno, with Regional Missionary Elmira Sellu, co-founded and leads the United Methodist Women-funded Operation Hope in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Posted or updated: 8/28/2020 12:00:00 AM

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Flory Emma Atieno
Flory Emma Atieno, founder of Operation Hope, distributes snacks and drinks to children the Place of Grace Children’s Home in Donholm.

United Methodist Women Economic Development Initiative (EDI) creates economic opportunities even in the most vulnerable rural communities. The seed grants support women entrepreneurs to start and run viable small enterprises, agribusinesses and income-generating activities. The opportunities that these small grants create for women, their families and communities are powerful catalysts, especially during COVID-19 when the economic situation is becoming more and more insecure.