Old and often blind: grandmothers care for orphans

Pregnant at 15: Dire consequences for thousands of young women
September 10, 2021

Old and often blind: grandmothers care for orphans

The 75-year-old widow Leonida with her three grandsons James (3), Steven (5) and Gerald (7) in Kibuon in western Kenya.

“Dani!” (“grandma” in the local language, Luo) crows little James as he grabs his grandmother’s hand. She feels for his head and puts her hand on his small shoulder, her gaze bound forward. 75-year-old Leonida is blind. She is sitting in an armchair in her small clay hut in Kibuon, a village in Kisumu County, Western Kenya. Her three grandchildren James (3), Steven (5) and Gerald (7) are sitting next to her on water cans. Since their father passed away three years ago, the children are semi-orphans. Leonida only knows that her son suffered from a terrible headache. They did not get a diagnosis. Her daughter-in-law Monica works in the fields during the day. She leaves the house early in the morning and often returns late in the evening. Her salary is all that sustains the small family. Before the Corona pandemic, Leonida was able to earn a bit of money by begging. Now, strict government-enforced rules make this impossible.

Curfew and Heavy Rains Worsen the Situation

The challenges faced by Leonida and her son’s family are shared by many widows of the St. Monica Village cooperative. Some children have lost both parents. In these cases, the grandmothers are left as the only caretakers for the children. The old women earned most of their income during evening hours, when workers return home and do their shopping in the market. But now curfew starts at 7pm and there are less jobs and sources of income overall due to the coronavirus pandemic. The widow’s cooperative, for example, had to discontinue their lucrative catering service. Only small groups of people are now allowed to gather for celebrations and funerals.

Due to unusually heavy rains, harvests have been below average. This is possibly a consequence of climate change. At the same time, food prices have increased. This too is due to COVID-19, as the transportation of food has been complicated by the curfew. The price for beans, for example, has increased by 26 percent within the last few months.

Number of Corona Victims Unknown

It is likely that many widows have been infected with COVID-19 throughout the past months. The risk of getting infected is currently quite high in this region. But there are few opportunities to isolate, test, or treat the disease here. Nobody knows how many casualties the pandemic has caused amongst them. The situation is frightening, the insecurity high. Many widows survive only through the help of their neighbours, who give them food or a little money.

By giving out food, seeds, and fertilizer, DfA supports the widows in this difficult time. “We are so grateful for the assistance from Germany,“ says Leonida. “Our own government does little to support us. Without the help of Dentists for Africa, we would be on our own entirely.”