MILLICENT: Professional Caterer & Women’s Rights Ambassador
Millicent is 30 years old and comes from Lindi village, in the slums of Kibera (Nairobi). This area is characterised by dilapidated housing units, poor waste disposal management systems and persistent insecurity. She is a mother of four: two boys and two girls. She had her first child when she was 14 years old. She has faced immense gender based violence in her life, beginning in her first marriage. “The man was a serious drunkard, he never cared for me and my kids at all. He would go out on several occasions with other women and when around, he would rape me in presence of his friends”, Millicent shared when asked about her first husband.
Two years later after leaving her husband she met an older man, 40 years her senior. Millicent had divorced her husband after seven years of marriage and without knowing of her rights to child support, faced severe financial hardship. She fended for her family by sitting at factory gates in the industrial area of Nairobi, looking for temporary work. She would either clean or prepare tea for staff when called upon, but on more than one occasion was not able to find work for the day. This meant no wage, and no food for her family.
During her time waiting for work, she often met an older man who would talk and offer her a drink while she sat. He was working for the factory on a temporary contract. This became more and more frequent until he expressed his intention to marry her. He had also just divorced his ‘troublesome’ wife, after they had had one daughter. She had no other options and was desperate to support her family. She complied.
Millicent had no idea that the man had actually been married over 16 times (the real number keeps growing). Being a casual laborer, he married whenever he had a job and once the contract expiries, he divorced his current wife and remarried when he gets the next job offer… and the cycle continues. This is a common phenomenon here in slums, as most men fear to face their spouses with the reality of financial hardship due to lack of communication.
When Millicent discovered this, she knew that she had to do something first. She learned about the Care for Kenya program through her friend Everline, who had just graduated from the program and started doing embroidery work in her neighborhood. Her resilience motivated Millicent to also join the program in February 2017. She did not discuss this with her husband, for fear of being battered and banned from the program. She was dedicated in her training and classes as she was aware of the challenges she needed to overcome. Her main interest was learning business skills.
She was three months into the program when her husband found out about her attendance in the course. He not only refused to talk to her for several days at a time, but also stopped giving her 150 Kenyan Shillings (1.50 USD) a day. This was her stipend with which she was expected to budget for all of the family expenses (three adults and four kids). Though she was psychologically prepared for this after having been briefed by the neighbors, it still came as a surprise as she had been married barely a year.
When Millicent missed two days of classes, our team followed up. As usual, when any woman misses a class or we cannot reach her for two consecutive days, we call her, then her next of kin. Then, if unable to reach them, we go to her home. What usually interferes with a woman’s ability to be successful in the program are often the challenge she faces in everyday life. This barrier is often referred to as the feminization of poverty, the burden of poverty that specifically affects women. Our project manager stopped by her home that day and found Millicent lying on her floor, crying and in pain. Her husband had started beating her the night before, badly. To ensure the community wouldn’t know, whenever this happened he would pull her out of the home in the middle of the night and batter her until she could barely walk home on her own. He would lock their shanty home door and let her find a place to hide until he reopened the house in the morning.
When she told of her ordeal to our team, together we formulated a solution based on both the program and on Millicent’s needs and newly developed business skills. She knew that she couldn’t leave her home due to cultural as well as economic reasons. According to cultural traditions, a woman cannot in her own accord separate from her husband after marriage without involvement of her in-laws and siblings, otherwise she would be branded an outcast.
Millicent immediately took initiative and obtained a catering contract from a neighboring school to supply food to both the pupils and teachers. She capitalized on the opportunity of being able to start her own life through business. After carefully conducting a need assessment, creating a business plan and analysing the finances needed, her request was approved. Care for Kenya assisted her with sufurias (two cooking pans) and utensils to start, then and a further 4,500 Kenya Shillings ($45 USD) was issued to her as startup capital for her business.
Since Millicent had a thriving demand and market for her business, it grew from an initial 700 Kenya Shillings ($7 USD) as net profit per day to 1000 Kenya Shillings ($10.00) per day. Most Kibera residents live on less than a dollar a day.
Millicent has recreated her future and redefined her position in society and in the relationship: ‘Nowadays my husband loves me so much, he regards me as an asset rather than a liability’. Thanks to her business, she is now financially independent from the mzee (older man) and no longer needs to worry about fighting with him about finances.
Millicent’s story epitomizes the predicament of Kibera women who obtain critical skills to provide for their families and to shape their future choices through participating in Care for Kenya. Our program instills learning, trainings, mentorship and community support, that together allows the women to graduate with skills necessary to negotiate key life decisions.