How I moved on after losing my husband at 15
By Lilian Kaivilu
On a sunny Tuesday morning, Teleyio Yankasa Nkononi braves the smoke coming out of her one-roomed house in Kumpa area in Kajiado County.
In the grass-thatched, mud-walled house, Nkononi prepares tea for her two children and visitors she is expecting later in the day. One has to literally bend to enter the home she lives with her two children, mother-in-law and their two goats.
Nkononi comfortably moves around the house, albeit bending lest she hurts her head on the roof. Her children are seemingly a happy duo and enjoy staying in this house.
A small bed made of logs of trees and supported by four wooden posts stand at the far end of the house. An old sisal mat serves as their mattress.
At the entrance of the house is the fireplace, which Nkononi tells us is her kitchen. And right in the middle of the house is where her two goats sleep.
This has been Nkononi’s home since 2012 when she was widowed at the age of 15. Nkononi, 20, a resident of Kumpa area in Kajiado County herds people’s cattle in order to pay school fees for her children in Class Two and nursery school.
Her children attend Kumpa Primary School. At only 20, Nkononi is a widow, a situation that places many African women in a difficult situation within the community.
“I lost my husband in 2012 after he was involved in a road accident in Kajiado. I was left with these two children to take care of,” she says.
Widowhood: Invisible Women, secluded or excluded, a report published by the United Nations in 2001 states that millions of widows across the world undergo violence, poverty, discrimination and homelessness after losing their spouses.
Besides losing her husband and having no education, Nkononi was left in abject poverty hence her decision to do odd jobs in the area. Before his death, Nkononi’s husband was the family’s sole breadwinner.
According to the maasai traditions, Nkononi was required to construct a new house for herself. The house is made of wood, cow dung and mud.
In Western Kenya, widows are forced to go through a cleansing ritual after the death of their husbands. According to Human Rights Watch, one in every three widows in this region is forced to undergo cleansing.
Nkononi, however, did not undergo this. But this day was Nkononi’s last in the single room that she has lived in since 2012. She received a two-bedroomed house from Power Woman International, an organisation that empowers widows and women to change their families and eventually their communities.
This is the house that Nkononi, her two children and mother-in-law moved into. The house is self-contained and is located just next to Nkononi’s old house.
Besides, Nkononi is currently undergoing mentorship on economic activities that she can undertake in order to increase her income. Nana Wanjau, the Chief Executive Officer of Power Woman International, says beyond building houses for widows, the organisation conducts counselling for the women.
“We take widows with young children and walk with them for two decades. In the first six months, we take them through counselling to help them re-discover themselves,” says Wanjau.
She reveals that the programme to build houses for the widows started last yer and so far, they have commissioned three houses. Wanjau says the project focuses mainly on ostracised widows and those with young children.
Joyce Mumeta, the founder of Oltalet Support Group says that widows in the maasai community are often neglected. “For this reason, we support these widows by providing them with basic needs and moral support,” says Mumeta.
Before choosing the kind of help to give to a particular widow, Mumeta says the groups first checks whether the woman can take care of her children.