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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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Blind in one eye, crippled by pain, Teresina does without meals so her kids can eat

TheJournal.ie visited families in Kenya whose livelihoods were destroyed by climate change.

Source: Justin Kernoghan

TERESOMA KARIMI IS 46 years old and a mother to five children.

About a year ago, her husband had to leave the family to find work as their farm in Kenya could not produce enough food for them to eat and sell. He now makes 4,000 Kenyan shillings a month – about €40 – and sends half to help the family get by.

Back in Ishiara, in Embu county, Teresina essentially does everything for her family. She farms their two acres of land, she helps educate the children and she does manual labour on other farms to earn extra money on top of the cooking, cleaning and other general chores.

She gets paid about €2 for an eight-hour shift on those other farms.

“It’s hard work, because you always have to be bending over, from morning to evening,” she told TheJournal.ie when we visited her at her home.

Day3 Teresina 2 Reporters, including TheJournal.ie's Michelle Hennessy, centre, speaking with Teresina and community leaders at her farm in Embu county. Source: Justin Kernoghan

Twice a day, this 46-year-old woman walks two kilometres and carries 20 litres of water on her back.

Source: Justin Kernoghan

Teresina has, for a number of years, also been living with a very painful condition that has left her blind in one eye. She has been told there is nothing doctors can do to restore her full sight.

Bending over causes agonising pain in her eye. She is sometimes crippled by it, forced to take to her bed until it subsides. She cannot always afford medicine to ease the agony.

Source: Justin Kernoghan

She described the feeling as being like “having chilli pepper in your eye”.

Climate change

This year, the El Nino phenomenon has meant areas of semi-arid land, prone to severe drought have had more rain and are greener than they have been in years. Even on Teresina’s farm, she has managed to grow a few crops, though not enough to sustain her family.

Previous years were worse. Families like Teresina’s have felt the true impact of climate change in the past 10 years. Droughts have become more frequent, sometimes leaving communities with just a year to recover before the next one. The weather has also become completely unpredictable.

Before, there were dry periods and rainy periods: people knew when to sow their seeds so they would have something to harvest.

Day3 Teresina 1 Friends and neighbours of Teresina outside her home. Source: Justin Kernoghan

Now, no one knows when the rain will come. Some years, they plant their seeds only for them to be washed away by unexpected and unseasonable rains. Poor farmers like Teresina cannot easily afford to replace them.

She described August, September, October and November as “the hungry months”, the most difficult for her.

These are the months during which the family sometimes has to skip meals.

Source: Justin Kernoghan

“I do not feel good…it’s painful for me to see my kids go hungry,” she told us.

If we have very little and I can see that it’s not enough for the family, I forego the meal so the children can eat.

Though the economic strain weighed hard on Teresina, she also spoke of how badly she wanted her husband to come back and rejoin the family – and not just because he could help with the farm work.

He comes back every two or three months for just one day. On a personal level I miss the affection and love.

Irrigation scheme

One couple whose lives were changed by help from Irish charity Trócaire, spoke of the positive impact it had on their relationship – to have their burden lifted a little off their shoulders.

Source: Justin Kernoghan

On a thriving farm, with livestock and a newly built house, we met Edward Njuki and his wife Nancy. Nancy had herself made the bricks for their beautiful new home, something they were very proud of.

Source: Justin Kernoghan

Through a Trocaire-supported irrigation scheme, they have been able to ensure a proportion of their land always has water. Before this, Nancy would walk 10km a day, a five hour round trip with donkeys to carry back the water they needed.

Their well-watered land now yields high protein foods so their family can eat more healthily. They can also grow cash crops to sell at the market, ensuring they are never without school fees for their three children.

With a cheeky laugh, Edward talked about how the changes had “revitalised my marriage”.

Source: Justin Kernoghan

Nancy said she had been stressed and sometimes started to lose hope. They had been 80% dependant on livestock, which is not an ideal situation in an area prone to frequent and severe droughts.

Some years, there was not enough pasture for the animals. Without money for decent food, the children were often in poor health.

Edward and Nancy told us they are excited about their future. They plan to plant papaya and passion fruit trees to sell at the market. They will use the money they make from their farm for their children’s education – they want all three to go to college.

Source: Justin Kernoghan

“We want the children to get the best out of our hard work,” Edward said.

Reuniting families

Joseph Njue Ireri had to work as a blacksmith in Mumbasa in order to support his family back home as his farm was not yielding enough for them to live on. For eight years he lived away from his wife and two children and could only afford to come home for a short visit every three months.

The irrigation on his farm allowed him to come home to be with his family again.

Source: Justin Kernoghan

When we met Joseph, his farm was green and vibrant and full of life. He was harvesting tomatoes to bring to the market the following day.

“I see a bright future for both my boys,” he said. “I am always teaching the older son how to care for the crops so he knows he can also rely on farming to make a good life.”

Source: Justin Kernoghan

“My mind is relaxed now,” he added, as he explained how his family can now have nutritious diets and how much happier they are.

At the market the next day, he arrived in a car he rented for the day; juicy tomatoes spilling out of the back. People queued up to buy from him.

Source: Michelle Hennessy/TheJournal.ie

Stories like those of Edward, Nancy and Joseph show what a massive impact small changes can have for families affected by climate change.

In just a few months, Teresina will also have irrigation on her land, through a programme supported by Trócaire. She looks forward to being able to avoid that trek to fetch water, to being able to feed her children nutritious meals and to being reunited with her husband.

Source: Justin Kernoghan

“When water is here, it will be better, it will save time for me,” she said.

I will be able to grow things to sell, like bananas and kale and have more income for my family.

“My husband would come back and I would be very happy.”

Trocaire’s ‘Fight for Justice’ Lent campaign started today. The money they raise with their annual Trocaire box collection will go towards helping and empowering families like the ones featured in this article. 

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