The national general election fever is always thick in the air in Kenya. For many, casting the vote is a civic duty they must do no matter what it takes to have it done.
And so, they abandon all else in the city to travel to the rural homes to wait for Election Day. In 2007 Kenya had experienced deadly post-election clashes, and so in 2013 the tension was still rife.
Charity Mbiti,25 and her family were among Kenyans travelling home, this time not to vote, but to avoid being caught up in the post election violence, in the run-up to the 2013 presidential elections.
Charity was then 13 years Old and a form two student at St Theresa’s Girls secondary school in Changamwe Mombasa. As she narrates, the tension was building and his family had to plan for a journey to Kitui, her rural home.
As she narrates, the journey begins as usual. Nobody thought nothing bad would happen on their way. Like any other traveler, Charity and her sister had embarked on a Mombasa-Kitui journey, through public transport.
“We were travelling to the upcountry because of election tension in 2013, in 2007 my area that is Mikindani, had experienced violence, and my father wanted us to travel out of the city until the elections are done, so on our way, just past Taru market the vehicle we were travelling in was involved in a crash, after rolling several times,” narrates Charity.
Their journey to Kitui, ended that day.This opened another gloomy journey for Charity. The road crash was so deadly that Charity lost her right arm and would have it amputated in hospital. Although she thanks God for surviving, she recalls how the crash that left her sister dead is what turned her life upside down.
“It was not a head on collision, It was fatal accident because I lost my sister on the spot, and also one of my hand part was amputated, she says since then, her performance in school deteriorates as she could not use her right hand to write anymore,” narrates Mbiti.
After amputation, Charity would then find herself struggling to accept her situation because of the stigma perpetrated by her fellow students in school. At times she says it is not easy to find a life partner. Or at times, people think she doesn’t need a male partner,so accessing reproductive health services like seeking contraceptives is a nightmare.
Charity says her experience pushed her to become a youth advocate on matters of disability and access to reproductive health services for persons with disability. She is the secretary of the Jomvu sub-county network, so we have partnered with other partners to do mapping and also carry out sensitization.
“I am a youth advocate on matters of disability, I champion for the rights of youth with disability so that they can get to know their rights to reproductive health services in public hospitals,” she says.
The youth advocate now says her journey to look for a life partner has also been curtailed by the disability. Her amputated hand can no longer hold heavy materials and thus she says many of her male friends shy away from meeting her in public.
She says her passion is to create awareness to the public and do activities targeting to enlighten the society about the rights of PWDs to accessing sexual reproductive health .But as she narrates; her work is not short of challenges. Among them is that it has been difficult to talk to people with children they hide at home.
She says through her work, many children are now able to access reproductive health services in hospitals without stigma. She says what motivated her most is the training she received from Dream Achievers Youth organization DAYO in their recent projects they are undertaking in the coastal region.
“After knowing the environment I was in, I decided to take a path that would make a change in society, at first I wanted to study business management up to university, but lack of fees landed me in community service and social work,” she says.
Her passion was motivated by the Mid-2020, statistics that saw Kenyans woke up to shocking statistics that indicated that 4,000 teenage girls were pregnant as a direct effect of the coronavirus pandemic.
Teenage pregnancy was already an issue that development partners in collaboration with the Kenyan government were struggling to address at that time. Young girls had dropped out of school after getting pregnant or giving birth.
The problem has continued to haunt parts of the coastal region. This has been attributed to a number of factors among them poverty, cultural taboos as well as lack of sexual reproductive health information.
Talking about sex in Kenyan culture has proved to be a cultural taboo, but this has been among the blind spots that continue to take away the rights to education of a majority of young girls.
This has continued to be challenged by different youth organizations and feminist’s movements. One of the women taking on the vice of teenage pregnancies, rights to access reproductive health services head on is Charity Mbiti.
In 2020, the sub county recorded the youngest mother in the country at 9 years Old. This was as a result of teen pregnancy.
Charity says a lot of factors led her to do community work. Charity has given her energy to advocacy work. Although she has a disability, that can’t stop her from achieving her ambition.
“I have never been molested but some people take advantage of me because of fear of rejection. Personally I have seen my boyfriend did not want us to meet during the day because they did not want to be associated with me,” she says.
Sometimes she says, when he appears, he appears on a cap and some black goggles to conceal his identity. Sometimes she says he wanted them to meet at night when it’s dark, this one she says compromised her self esteem.
“I thank God that I didn’t get pregnant because it would have been another war with my parents and relatives, people like to judge people with disabilities and this is what keeps me away from engaging in sexual affairs,” she adds.
She says key policies to agitate for the rights of disabled girls within reproductive age are needed. As she narrates, the majority of girls with disability, who have reached the reproductive age have continued to suffer in silence due to stigma and discrimination while accessing healthcare services.
“Mombasa we don’t have a disability policy, the only policy we have is not aligned to current dynamics. But as for now there is progress because Dream Achievers in collaboration with Mombasa county are developing a disability policy, this will help us a lot,” she said.