You get what you need (7 December 2015)

As part of my work recently, I found myself in a peri-urban community close to Mombasa, on Kenya’s coast. Dumped on this community – literally – was a mountain of waste, including “solid waste products”, as it is known; the non-digestible leftovers of human food consumption.

The community was already struggling with other fundamental issues; 95% of people are squatters, gender discrimination is rife and culturally embedded, clean water is available if you are prepared to walk several kilometres with a heavy plastic container on your head (and Yes, it is the women who are expected to do this).

In addition to all this, an illegal waste dump has been established by the local authorities, without any legislation being passed and without any consultation with the community. With this waste dump has come an influx of human scavengers, desperate and desperately poor people, usually men; and so incidences of sexual violence, child abuse and drug taking have, depressingly and inevitably, risen hugely. Primary school drop-out rates are also rising; a day learning your numbers at school, or a day spent finding bits of thrown-away waste that you can sell for the price of some rice to some recyclers – you choose.

A depressingly familiar tale, and there are many levels of injustice and misuse of power in this case, as in so many others; and not limited to the local Kenya government either.

But amongst all this, I met some women and men who have changed their own lives for the better, and those of others in their community. Here, in her own words, is Lucy:

I am Lucy, and I live with my family in Mwakirunge, near Mombasa, Kenya. I am Chair of a chapter of the women’s groups in this area. Before, I felt fear; I could not talk with my husband, even when he wronged me. Often, I cried, and stayed silent. It was the same with my sons – I could not correct them when they behaved badly and did wrong. Now I confront them if they wrong me. I used to make no contribution to the household budget; now I am supporting my six children to go to school, and my husband, who is blind - he has glaucoma and cannot work. I am a Village Elder in my district – the only woman to be an Elder. I know my rights and those of others, and offer advice to those who need it. I campaign against early marriage and pregnancy, and I help girls whose parents have abandoned them. I earn income from farming, selling fruit and vegetables; and I have started a Merry Go Round group for small loans and credit. My ambition is that all my children will attain Form 4 level and get good jobs. I am proud that the community has come to value education – I have helped this to happen.

Life is not perfect for Lucy, and many challenges lie ahead; but she has just got on with it, for those she loves and for herself.

So whatever barriers you are facing to achieve what you want, remember Lucy and others like her and, in the words of The Rolling Stones: you can’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you just might find you get what you need.

All the best

Graham - email: - tel: + (44) (0) 7890 360 806 - skype: tigercoaching1