When hundreds of Kenyans throng Mombasa for Christmas and New Year’s holidays, Saida Ali will be busy taking care of her disabled son.
She hardly leaves home because Swaleh Rashid, now 10 years old, requires round-the-clock care.
He was born with complicated Yellow Fever, which forced a full blood transfusion to save his life while he was only three days old.
“We were told that is how his brain was affected and from that day he can neither go to the toilet nor talk. The only thing he can do is to give you a cup of water and plate to indicate that he is thirsty and hungry,” she said.
Saida’s family were the among first beneficiaries when the pilot cash transfer for persons with disabilities programme started in 2010 in Kwale and Mombasa.
She received Sh8,000 in 2010 and continues to receive Sh2,000 to date.
PROTECTED FROM POVERTY
The money comes through the Inua Jamii (Lift the Community) Programme, run by the social protection department in the Labour ministry.
While cash transfers were initially met with scepticism, evidence from countries like Brazil, South Africa and the Philippines show they have protected severely poor people from falling deeper into poverty.
The Kenyan programme has faced a bumpy beginning, but things are beginning to look up.
Saida used the Sh2,000 monthly payment to start a mandazi and juice business to fend for her family, which now depends on her for everything.
“The business helps me a lot. At least I get some money to buy pampers and food for the family because most of the time I am taking care of my son. He cannot be left alone since sometimes his condition gets worse and he starts breaking everything he can reach inside the house. Taking care of him is a big challenge,” she says.
At Majengo village in Mombasa county, an eight-year-old severely disabled Stephen Mutua plays with his mother Anastasia Emma, who sells vegetables, a business she opened after getting the government cash transfer.
His mother said her son was diagnosed with a mental problem at the Coast General Hospital when he was 11 months old.
“He started walking when he was seven years old but his condition has not improved since then,” she says.
Mutua’s mother said the money she receives from the national government helps her take care of her family of three children. She used Sh4,000 to open up a vegetable kiosk at the Majengo market to support her family.
“The money also helps me to buy pampers, food and households items,” she says. “I wake up early in the morning to go to Kongowea with my son because I cannot leave him with anyone else.”
Mutua’s mother finds it difficult to leave her child under the care of neighbours and friends, as they have complained in the past that he is stubborn.
“I have two children in secondary school, one in form four and another one in form three, and therefore, you realise the cash given to me monthly is not enough. I have to go an extra mile to support my family,” she says.
ENROLLED IN NHIF
Mombasa county coordinator of children’s services Elizabeth Mbuka says the county has about 5,627 households with orphans benefiting from the cash transfer programme.
“Every household has three children on average,” she says.
Most of the families have used the money to start businesses, while others have eventually bought land for construction.
She singled out delay in receiving the transfer as a major challenge, saying it at times takes a toll on the beneficiaries’ livelihoods. As a result, when the money finally comes in, beneficiaries are sometimes already deep in debt.
“Sometimes you find beneficiaries’ names are missing from the list of people to be paid, but their money has been deposited in the bank. The bank needs to sort out this issue to ensure beneficiaries don’t waste a lot of time waiting for the money,” she says.
Mombasa county social development coordinator Dayton Kileta says the Inua Jamii programme is a success. It started as a pilot programme in 2010 with 600 households for older persons and 60 households for persons with severe disability. It has now been scaled up to 4,257 households and 645 households respectively.
“Almost half of older people in Mombasa county have been enrolled in the National Hospital Insurance Fund after joining the programme, which is helping them, especially those suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure,” he says.
SIX-MONTH PAY DELAYS
Kileta says delays by the government to release the fund regularly is a big challenge to beneficiaries.
“Sometimes we are forced to pay them after four to six months because of the delay. The process of acquiring money from the Treasury is the problem behind the delay,” he says.
The other challenge is stigma. He says some people with disabled children fear coming out and therefore do not access government assistance.
“There is a woman who has a severely disabled child who declined when we told her that we were to visit her home. This shows that there is still a problem,” he said. However, he says they plan to increase the number of households benefiting from the persons with disability programme.
“The waiting list is quite long, Kisauni has 50, Nyali 25, Likoni 15, Mvita 17, Changamwe 10 and Jomvu 9,” he said.
In Kwale county, beneficiaries of cash transfers seem to invest their money differently.
During our visit to Burani, we met Juma Mwakutunza, a six-year-old child whose head started swelling after he was born. Juma was taken to Kijabe Mission Hospital for surgery.
“From that time to date, he has never talked, stood and cannot sit down. He forces himself to speak when he is angry,” says his father Shabaan Mwakutunza.
The father was enrolled in the pilot programme for people with disabilities in 2010. He accumulated the money to Sh20,000 and bought goats, which he will later sell to support the family.
His wife, Mariam Mkuruto, says they have a duty roaster in taking care of Juma, who cannot do anything for himself.
“We use around Sh1,000 to go all the way to Kwale to get Sh4,000 every two months. Sometimes we spend days in Kwale waiting to be paid and realise we have incurred more costs than what we are receiving. We want the government to bring the money right to our villages,” she said.
Mwanaharusi Kupendeza, a nine-year-old girl with a swollen head and crippled, is among those benefiting from the cash transfer for persons with disabilities programme in Muyuguta, Kwale.
Her father, Kupendeza Mwandiani, has used the money to buy four goats that he expects to sell and continue supporting his child.
“She can’t walk and therefore you have to take her to bed and out all the time as well as to the toilet,” he said.
Kwale social development coordinator Patrick Mbano says that 1178 people are benefiting from the cash transfer for persons with disabilities programme, while 13,000 are under the older persons cash transfer programme.
“Inadequate capacity of personnel is a big problem as well. We need enough trained officials to handle the older people and persons with severe disability cases in the county. We only have one vehicle, which is not enough to monitor the programme,” he says.
He says politicians use the cash transfer programme to incite locals against the officers for their own political gains.
‘They sometimes force officers to include names in the programme list and disregard the prescribed eligibility criteria,” he said.