In this Covid-19 era, gender based violence, early marriages and early pregnancies incidences have increased while most Kenyans have lost their sources of livelihoods.
The rise in social vices, depression, dwindling household income among other issues, have driven many to the edge, with no one to offer the much needed psychosocial support.
Through these hardships, a group of fresh graduates have defied their socio-economic background differences and started a community based charity group to help the community overcome some of the issues that came about with the pandemic.
“Rays of Mercy Foundation Kenya focuses on a mission of shifting intergenerational cycles of poverty, gender discrimination and gender based violence in marginalized areas into intergenerational cycles of gender balance, gender inclusivity and economic empowerment,” Grace Wambui, the group’s coordinator said.
Alongside Mercy Wanderi, both being alumni of South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU) and Rahab Muthoni, a student at Technical University of Kenya (TUK), they go about unpacking and sorting the various gifts and donations to the group, that had barely celebrated its first birthday.
During the pandemic, Wambui says, she witnessed most women and girls undergo the pain and shame of not affording sanitary towels while most parents bore the pressure to provide food and basic amenities for their children after the schools were closed abruptly.
“Among the major issues we have tackled is creating awareness on menstrual health to young girls in Nyahururu town and its suburbs,” says Wambui.
“I was prompted to start Rays of Mercy Organisation Kenya after observing girls in the slums of Kiamaina, Ziwani and Manguo villages unable to access sanitary pads ending up getting married early to avoid the shame of having to beg for the basic amenities,” she adds.
Wambui is saddened by how harsh economic hardships forced people into poverty which led to frequent domestic violence and gender discriminations.
“Girls used to access sanitary towels provided by the government at school, and when the children were sent back home, most parents could not manage to provide the basic commodity for the girls,” she explains adding that she confronted her friends and gathered little they had to the less fortunate girls and women but still they could not provide enough for everyone.
“While visiting several schools we found out that some pupils at Magomano attended school bare footed and we saw the need to create awareness to the local politicians and well wishers to donate shoes for the learners to ensure smooth learning for them. We also hope to decongest the classes, by creating more room for them,” says Wambui.
Rahab Muthoni enjoys speaking to groups of women in Manguo village located a few kilometers along Nyahururu-Nyeri highway.
When we join her during one of her sessions she leads the women in a discussion on how they will improve their income through baking and small agricultural activities.
“We conduct regular visits to the slums to enlighten women on how they can improve their financial status through baking cakes and carrying out small commercial agricultural business at their doorsteps,” says Muthoni.
“We teach the communities on the need to embrace and recognize that equal rights and opportunities should exist between men and women in a mission to counter domestic violence which has been rampant in this area,” she adds.
The outgoing Hotel Management student is glad that she can put her skills to work, instead of idling at home waiting for formal employment to knock on her front door.
“I am currently pursuing Hotel Management; the skills I have acquired so far have helped me in baking cakes. I later sell them at a profit which I direct to the organization. I also teach women and girls how to bake and how they can commercialize the skills acquired,” Muthoni says.
“It has always been my joy to see women share tips on how they started small and were growing to afford their families the basics that they otherwise would not,” she says.
When the KNA team joined them in a funds drive aimed at raising funds and other donations from well wishers which they targeted to give out to the less fortunate families in lower suburbs of Manguo, Ziwani and Kiamaina villages, their ripples in society could easily been ignored for a drop in the ocean.
Jane Muthoni, a beneficiary of the programme testifies of how she played both the role of breadwinner and mother to her three children after losing her husband to Covid-19 related symptoms.
She is still confident and hopeful that life has to move on and she can still provide for her three girls.
“It was a bit challenging for me to put food on the table and provide basic sanitary hygiene for my three daughters when the pandemic hit us. I did not manage to secure a job, but I was inspired after Rays of Mercy Organization Kenya visited and donated sanitary pads,” she says.
According to the County Social Development Officer CSDO, Mr. Peter Kulei, the organization was fully registered on April 11th 2021 to volunteer in community service. He says that CBOs acts as pillars through which people group together to address common issues affecting the society.
“Community based organizations are critical since they act as a platform where society is able to learn and exchange ideas and it is through exchange of information that we see innovation that triggers development,” comments Kulei.
Their source of funding comes from donations from well-wishers, contributions from the group of members, family and friends and conducting small business.
The group members also venture into small businesses of vending and hawking fruit salads, baking and selling clothes at a profit, which is directed into the charity drives.
Their funds are directed to offering health services and community socio-economic services including economic empowerment and enlightening women.
Mercy Wanderi, who doubles up as secretary to the foundation and a graduate in Gender and Development Studies, is currently an intern at Samburu Girls Foundation.
She says that they have put more emphasis on advising the communities on the need to provide equal opportunities to both men and women.
“We intend to educate the society on the need to embrace change in the fast changing economic environment. Create enlightenment to the unemployed youths on the need to apply skills learned from learning institutions to create self-employment opportunities,” says Ms. Wanderi.
The group, she says, focuses on bringing to the table a keen consciousness of the reality of gender inequality and its consequences as well as coherent understanding of the change, which will see the positive result of equal empowerment.