• At least 821 widows are set to benefit from the agricultural programme
• The women have received equipment donated to help them take up farming
Long-suffering Kwale widows have found purpose after years of grief inflicted by the demise of their spouses and mistreatment by in-laws.
The once-depairing widows are now on the road to success and independence.
They won't regain what they already lost, but life has given them a new opportunity to start afresh and move forward.
In the deepest part of the Msambweni subcounty, we come across a group of widows sitting under a mango tree in Milalani village.
It is a bright midmorning and the sun's hot rays roast the skin.
The women are about to receive innovative farm equipment for sustainable livelihoods.
They are doing organic farming with the help of Tuwajali Wajane organisation in partnership with Global One.
The women have received wheelbarrows, spades, rakes, jembe, pangas and many other equipment for widows.
Zainab Salim is among the many widows in line to benefit.
"The equipment is a great relief and will support us in improving our lives," she said.
At least 821 widows are set to directly and indirectly benefit from the agricultural programme.
Salim said they lagged because of a lack of proper farming equipment.
The founder and director of Tuwajali Wajane organisation Mwanasha Gaserego said the programme is part of the efforts to empower widows and their families.
The organisation was formed to advocate for the rights of widows and offer empowerment opportunities on matters of leadership, inheritance and economy for self-reliance.
Gaserego said many widows were being taken advantage of by family members and chased away after their husbands died, subjecting them to acute poverty and misery.
She said the agricultural project seeks to support the food security agenda, climate change mitigation and socioeconomic empowerment of the widows.
The director said through the organic farming project, the women have been trained on better but cheap farming methods that are environment-friendly.
"The women are shown how to make organic manure and pesticides using local resources to promote food production and their growth," she said.
Gaserego said the project is set to expose the widows to local and international markets for their produce and value addition for better agribusiness.
She said the women are divided into 30 groups, where they will be farming various types of food crops.
The sizes of their farms vary depending on the areas. They are working groups due to land problem issues since many don’t own land.
Gaserego said apart from the organic farming programme, they also have a kitchen garden project that helps widows to grow vegetables to enhance food security and nutrition in their homes.
She said the agricultural project is one way of fighting gender-based violence, especially for widows and their daughters, who are often vulnerable.
"An empowered widow is resilient to social vices because they will be able to look after themselves and fend for the children," she said.
It is believed that because of helplessness, many widows go through sexual harassment by family members, who insist on remarrying them and if they don't agree, they are thrown out of the families.
Sometimes, the widows are chased away and everything is taken from them even before they bury their husbands.
Gaserego said the programme brings together widows and religious leaders who educate them on the aspect of faith and legal procedures to protect them from human rights violations.
The director said oftentimes, widows go through hell from the time their husbands die moving forward.
This happens during 'eda', a period when a woman remains unmarried and under the care of her husband's relatives after divorce or the husband's death.
The widows are subjected to poor living conditions while at the mercy of the relatives.
Gaserego said the widows are kept alone in dark rooms and forbidden from taking baths or applying skin oil due to outdated traditions and misuse of religious scripts.
She said with religious and civic education, women become enlightened and resist injustices.
Msambweni subcounty director of agriculture Nicholus Mwambezi said the women lacked good agricultural practices.
He said most were doing wrong farming and applying non-recommended fertilisers and seeds.
Mwambezi said through the county partnership, they have trained the widows to utilise small spaces and practise good agriculture.
He said they have demonstrated to the women that it is not about acreage but effective farming methods.
Mwambezi said the Agriculture department has assisted the widows with the appropriate knowledge and soil analysis for better farming results.
"Many just bought seeds and fertilisers without considering the components of the soil, which results in losses," he said.
The agriculturalist said half an acre has the potential to change people’s lives if they adopt new farming technology.
He said an acre can produce more than 25 bags of maize unlike now, where the women barely make it to two bags of maize in the same acre.
Mwambezi said the organic farming is set to improve and conserve soil fertility and enable the women to cut the cost of buying fertilisers and maximising production.
He said the project comes as a success as more women will adopt irrigation farming and stop relying on unstable rains.
The officer said the crops will be producing faster, hence increasing food security amid climate change.
Mwambezi said investing in the widows is not a waste of time but improving the progress of the entire community.
He said agricultural extension officers will continue to work and support the widows to run a productive food crop program.
They have taught us how to make and use organic manure. So we expect bumper harvestsFaida Hassan
Global One finance officer Wahome Kinyua said the project comprises water projects and tanks to assist farmers in having access to clean drinking water, domestic use and irrigation.
He said the project targets at least 150 widows, who will be working in groups of five. Each group has 30 members.
Kinyua said due to erratic rains, the irrigation will help farmers to grow food throughout, hence better harvest and money.
He said each farm has a borehole, connected to taps and the rest of it is supplied to the farm by the use of sprinklers.
Kinyua said they want to empower the widows to have stable livelihoods and overcome poverty.
"We want these women to be self-dependent and make a fortune in the future," he said.
He said the women will form cooperatives to link them with potential clients and find a market for their produce.
Another beneficiary Faida Hassan said previously drought was wreaking havoc on their crops.
She said the project is a relief for them because water is now easily accessible.
Hassan said they will be able to produce a lot of food because of the empowerment.
She said before they used to practice ineffective farming methods which were unproductive.
"They have taught us how to make and use organic manure. So we expect bumper harvests," she said.
Hassan said irrigation farming will enable them to concentrate on food production easily and effectively.
She said before the project they had to fetch water in jerry cans to irrigate the crops which was tiresome and impractical because of frequent water shortage.
Dzibwage widow group member Sita Seif Kiwaka said she expects her life to change by March next year.
She said they have already prepared the land and are waiting to plant this December.
They will be growing vegetables, cassava, fruits, maize and cowpeas.
Kiwaka said before joining the Tuwajali Wajane organisation, she had lost hope, but the agricultural project has restored it.
The mother of three said she will work hard and transform her life since she is the breadwinner following her the demise of her husband after a short illness two years ago.
Kiwaka said she will also apply the farming skills at home to improve her life.
The widow is looking forward to transporting the farm produce to as far as Nairobi and beyond.
“The way we consume food from the upcountry is how we want them to be buying our produce,” she said.
Mabadiliko Widows group representative Mwanafatime Salim said by mid-next year, the widows will be on another level.
She said they will have plenty of food and their pockets will be full.
Salim said the profits from the farm produce will strengthen their merry-go-round, and women's financial self-help groups.
She said life will not be the same for them, having received the needed empowerment and support.
County Gender Officer Nelly Amoite hailed the programme, saying it is indeed transformative.
She said such initiatives have helped reverse the trend of GBV and promote for women empowerment.
Amoite said some years back, women tolerated injustices for lack of awareness and financial muscles to fight back.
The officer said she is glad that women, especially widows, now know their rights and have learnt to be independent through empowerment programmes.
“It is a milestone achievement, we are seeing many people coming out of toxic relationships to report the GBVs and more so seek justice,” she said.