Granny’s joy after gift of house ends 15 years of misery

Kenyans were touched by the sight of her doorless, collapsing shanty

In Summary

• The plight of a widow living in a shanty made group rally to her aid via social media

• Helping Hand Pwani broke her makeshift shelter and built a home for her and family

Widow Rehema Sharif, 75, at her Muyeye home in Malindi subcounty. Mombasa NGO Helping Hand Pwani built her a new house.
Widow Rehema Sharif, 75, at her Muyeye home in Malindi subcounty. Mombasa NGO Helping Hand Pwani built her a new house.

Some people live, others survive. Cooped up in a shanty in Kilifi county ever since her husband died 15 years ago, Rehema Sharif never knew happiness.

The granny, 75, endured life in a near-collapsing structure in Muyeye, within the informal settlement scheme of Malindi town.

The ‘house’ was covered by old iron sheets and nylon, with a very tiny entrance that had no door.

Inside it were a three-stoned jiko and one bed, which she shared with her son and his four children. They had to make do with this as there was no hope for a better life.

Interestingly, the family was surrounded by a neighbourhood that is living in proper houses, but for them, even a toilet was a nightmare.

At night, they used to dig a hole with a jembe to relieve themselves, and in case a call of nature came during the day, they had to borrow a toilet from a neighbour.

Today, however, they can afford a smile and tears of joy.

Sharif has been gifted with a brand new modern house thanks to the power of social media and a Coast-based NGO that decided to build her a proper house.

Helping Hand Pwani came to donate foodstuff to the widow and found her living in a pathetic state. They launched a campaign to transform her life by offering her proper shelter.

“Today, I am very happy, very happy as you can see. People have come here, they built me a new house. Family has come to celebrate with me. That is happiness,” Sharif said.

When journalists arrived at the widow’s home, there were over 20 cars parked outside, which belonged to members of the NGO who had come with their families, including men, women, girls, boys, young and old.

Today, I am very happy, very happy as you can see. People have come here, they built me a new house. Family has come to celebrate with me. That is happiness
Rehema Sharif


They were participating in different activities, including painting the new house, carrying blocks for the construction of a toilet and cooking the famous Coast cuisine of pilau.

The excited Sharif could be seen walking around in disbelief, probably wondering how a poor woman who had lost hope could have such heart-warming guests, who had spared their entire day and drove all the way from Mombasa and Kilifi to be with her.

Then came the moment of breaking the old house. The Helping Hand Pwani members carefully brought it down and ensured all the utensils of the widow were safe.

Before they demolished the shanty, Sharif brought out a spear, saying it was a security weapon that is poisonous and that she used to protect her grandchildren at night.

To get her daily bread, Sharif had to break coral stones and sell them to get money. Her son is jobless and it is her duty to ensure they all get food every day despite the challenges.

Life was no different when her husband was alive but at least he used to act as a shield and helped with feeding the family. Since he died, the burden left behind changed her life completely as the children were young and it was tough to survive.

Shariff said the NGO members were first brought by a woman called Fatuma as they were giving out food to widows who are poor.

Habib Hakim, an official of Helping Hand Pwani, said the group was formed to help feed orphans in Mombasa, where they are affiliated with more than 25 orphanages.

Hakim said most of the time they also give out food to widows.

“As we were supplying food to orphans, we were informed that there is a woman in Muyeye who is very poor and has no food,” he said.

He said when they brought food, they were touched by the state of her house, which could collapse at any time and endanger the granny living with her grandchildren in one bed.


As a group, Helping Hands unanimously agreed to construct a better house for the widow.

To raise funds, they normally use social media, including Facebook and WhatsApp groups, which have members from all over Kenya and abroad.

“We contribute among ourselves and then do a quotation for the house and begin construction immediately. What is important is that we build eco-homes,” Hakim said.

They use mud and then plaster it with cement before painting it with the colours of their choice. The building work is done by local youth.

For the house to last longer, they have an agency called pest control, who spray the house.

Hakim said the construction of the house cost them Sh140,000, while the toilet and septic tank cost them an extra Sh60,000.

“We are very happy today to be with her. Since we came from the beginning, she could not even afford a smile. She was so sad always, but today, she is very happy,” he said.

Hakim said the widow told them her grandchildren had no friends because of the poor state of their home. No one wanted to associate with them.

Helping Hand Pwani also bought her bunk beds, mattresses cooking utensils and curtains for the house.

Hakim said those wishing to follow them on Facebook should go to Helping Hand Pwani, adding that they have a huge following of Kenyans in Britain, Germany and the US, who are helping them.

“We bought her a storage tank and set a system to harvest water. When it rains, she will be able to get 1,500 litres of water,” he said.

Apart from helping the needy, they also drill boreholes, construct schools and renovate mosques that are in a bad state.

Normally they identify the problem and share it on social media, where they are able to raise funds within two hours.

He said they will instal a solar system for the woman as they follow up on how she can get electricity.

I am in love with the idea that we broke a shelter and we provided a home. She no longer is going to live in just a house to cover herself but she has a home that she can call her own
Rukaya Bandali


Mahmoud  Ali, a Kenyan based in the UK for the last 30 years, said he travelled to Kenya to witness the handing over of the house to the poor widow.

Ali, who is a member of the NGO and a volunteer, said he was happy to be able to put a smile on the needy’s faces.

He said being present was very important as the feeling one gets is different from the one being shared on social media.

“What attracted me to Helping Hand Pwani is the support they give to orphans, elderly, widows, so many sick and needy kids, that’s what I volunteered for,” he said.

Ali came and saw a small child eating while smiling, something which cannot be shared on Facebook.

Everywhere they go, they get a different experience from the sick, widows, mosques and madrassa that is memorable.

Ali said they will also feed 150 children from a local madrassa and support them with clothes.

Rukaya Bandali, an administrator of Helping Hand Pwani, said they also have another component called the Red Spot, aimed at helping adolescent children, both boys and girls.

She said they look at the hygiene of the children and provide them with sanitary care.

“For the girls, we have hampers, where we give sanitary pads, underwear, shaving kits, soap, detergent to wash the underwear, toothpaste and toothbrush,” she said.

For the boys, they give them two pairs of innerwear, two shaving kits, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap and detergents to wash the innerwear.

“We are lo0oking at raising responsible and groomed individuals who can look after society,” Bandali said.

“At the same time, we don’t focus on villages that have underprivileged kids. We also go out to schools because it's very important to teach hygiene to everyone.”

For the widow, Bandali said she was very happy to be part of the team that had put a smile on her face and enabled her to have a place to call home.

“As a human being, I am in love with the idea that we broke a shelter and we provided a home. She is no longer going to live in just a house to cover herself but she has a home that she can call her own,” she said.

She said the new house is a place where she can protect herself and her family without having to worry about the neighbours or anybody else.

Maimuna Faruk, a member from Kilifi, said she is proud to be part of Helping Hand Pwani because of what they do to support people.

Faruk, a cook by profession, said she is the one who cooked the food for the 150 children and is happy to offer help always.

She said leaders should be on the frontline to support the people who are suffering in many areas due to the high poverty levels.

The widow might have lived for years in poverty but now the new home will open a new chapter in her life for the better.

Edited by T Jalio

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