Teresia Wamwitha: “We fled our home with only the clothes we had on”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

For four weeks, Teresia Wamwitha, 47, took refuge in the bush with 10 children - eight of her own and two of her sister’s, who died 10 years ago - after fleeing post-election violence in Kenya's Rift Valley Province.

Her house in Burnt Forest area was razed to the ground; she barely managed to get the children out on the night of 29 December when violence broke out in parts of the country. Having been shunned by another sister due to her HIV-positive status, Wamwitha is now renting a room for KSh300 (US$4) a month in Juja town in Central Province. IRIN spoke to Wamwitha on 14 March in Thika, where she had gone to the Kenya Red Cross Society offices for aid:

"After being in the bush for weeks, we managed to board a lorry out of Burnt Forest. It was headed towards Nairobi. We had nothing; life for the children, especially, had become very hard. We fled our home with only the clothes we had on. When we got to Kianduthu [in Limuru area] we were directed to the Red Cross who provided us with clothes, blankets and food.

"Later, I left Kianduthu to seek the help of my sister who lives in Kiambu. However, she rejected me because I am HIV-positive. I have lived with the virus for 20 years now and I didn't expect my sister to reject me. My other sister, who left me her two children, also died of HIV/AIDS. What is worse is that I have a physically disabled child and one of my sister's has a mental disability. I recently learnt that my eldest child, who is disabled, also has HIV, although she was not born with the virus.

"From Kiambu, I then headed to Thika [town] where other displaced people were camping at the stadium. Life at the stadium was not easy; I needed to find a school for the children and a special school for my sister's child. I decided to rent a house at Juja [near Thika] and I pay the rent by doing odd jobs like washing clothes and any other task I'm asked to do. For instance, yesterday I washed a huge pile of clothes and was paid Ksh50 [$0.70] for it, I will buy vegetables with the money because I must eat well as I am taking ARV medication. I swallow up to 30 tablets a day.

"Recently, my sister's eldest daughter came to Thika to look for me; she offered to take me in, together with the children. I was so relieved. She returned to Kiambu with the children and they started school on 10 March. Now I am trying to get a reference letter from the district hospital here and the Kenya Network of Women living with HIV, which I will use to continue ARV treatment. I also came here to get some relief items from the Kenya Red Cross; the staff here have been very good to me.

"Although the last two months have been hell for me, I cannot see myself going back to Burnt Forest where I had 10 acres of land. All I want now is to find some work and raise some money to enable me to start a small business. I want to continue taking care of these children; they are all I have left after my husband committed suicide four years ago.

"After living with the HIV virus for 20 years, I think I can survive long enough to see the children grow; the ARVs help me a lot but I need to find work in order to eat well. I am rather weak today because I have taken the ARV drugs yet I haven't had anything to eat."

Source: IRIN