MONDAY, AUGUST 24, 2009 BLIND, INSANE AND TWICE LUCKY
Edited by Veronicah Njoki
Posted by Hunger Safety Net
Blind, old, wrinkled and all doubled up would not be a befitting description for Suban Abdi Hassan. She was beyond a common description of a poor person. Wretchedness of the wretched would sum up all that she was. Next to her, sitting crumbled outside her rattled and tattered hut was Ollaat. He was starring blankly at his grandmother as she mumbled: ‘’who are these people coming? What do they want?” She had heard our footsteps as we approached her hut. We were in company of the Rights Committee secretary of Rhamu Dimtu whom she knew. She recognized his voice instantly and gladly welcomed us into her humble home. The rights committee secretary introduced the team in the local dialect. There was approval on her face. She flashed a toothless grin. A neighbour took a maroon hijab and covered her head. This was a sign of honour to a Muslim woman. We were there to investigate a case of exclusion unfairly as reported by the right’s committee.
Blind and Abandoned
An identification card in her hand showed that she was born in 1928. Tied to her with a knotted rope was her grandchild, Ollaat Yarrow Hassan. He was naked and unkempt. He was 14 and mentally challenged. She slowly and frailly narrated the story of her grandchild’s rejection. He was forsaken by her mother at the age of one when she got married to another suitor. She also told of how she was struck by a strange illness that left her blind and desperate. This forced her to depend on her son. He was very poor too and with a large family of his own to take care of. He could hardly afford to feed her. Her story was just as right’s committee had reported. There was a genuine and urgent need to take the case forward. She should be enrolled into the programme. Thanks to the intervention of the rights committee. We inquired whether she could nominate someone in her household as a beneficiary if the appeal was successful. She happily named Ollaat’s elder brother Abbey Yarrow Hassan, her mentally retarded grandson. The administration component of the programme, implemented by Oxfam, took up the case. They later enrolled her into the programme. They also helped to identify one other able member of the family as a secondary recipient. He would be collecting the cash when she would not able to do so.
Chained and Naked
When we inquired as to why Ollaat was chained by rope to her. She said it was to make work easier for her. Ollaat was mentally retarded and could not take care of himself. She would also be sure that he would not get lost or harmed himself.
“We guard each other” she said with grin. Clearly, Ollaat didn’t like it. He kept trying to jump around her to untangle himself but he could not because the knot was tight. When asked why Ollaat was naked, she said: “I am weak and frail. Every time I dress him he soils his clothes. I do not have the energy to wash his clothes. I prefer to have him naked. It saves me from a lot of work” she said.
Happy and Satisfied
While we walked out of her compound, I was happy and satisfied. That the programme was working hard to reach the poorest. It was also trying to avoid exclusion of those who qualified to be registered. The Social Protection rights component of the programme is implemented by Help Age international. In Mandera the component has been subcontracted to local organizations called Women for Peace and RACIDA. Suban Abdi Hassan is now a proud beneficiary of HSNP cash transfer of 2150 shillings every other month. The amount is little but she is happy that she can at least afford a descent meal for Ollaat and medication when she needs it. There are hundreds of families like Hassan’s. Many don’t get an opportunity to be registered. This is because the programmes only target less than half of the poorest in the districts. The rest of the poorest people urgently need help. They hope and look forward for a time when the government would provide such support and rescue them from such misery. Story by: SPR Team – Mandera