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Selfless service - Kwale HRDs

Silently yet loudly operating within their localities are human rights defenders

Selfless service - Kwale HRDs

In this day and age, when harsh economic times deepen, it is almost automatically expected that any good work be rewarded with some pay or an otherwise token that can be converted for a cash benefit that can enhance the recipient’s life. Yet still, as the cliché goes, there are still afew good men and women out there, whose service remains selfless, aimed at collective benefit for their communities at large.

Silently yet loudly operating within their localities are human rights defenders, commonly known as HRDs. These are ordinary men and women, defaced off political sideshows who dedicate their time and energy by working with various stakeholders to ensure that citizens enjoy their rights. 

Charles Njaramba worked with street families in Nairobi during his yester years, empowering them to secure better livelihoods even while on the streets. He would sit and listen to the stories of street mothers, children and young men and only wish he could take them all in, but the young man with little resources could only offer largely emotional and little technical support. Later on, still as a young lad, he moved to Kwale where he worked for one of the prestigious hotels as a supervisor. 

Owing to his experience in dealing with street families, colleagues caught up with his fighter spirit, and soon he was appointed as the staff spokesperson to the hotel management. Poor or lack of remuneration was his every day plea to management, cries that fell on deaf years. “A lot of my colleagues came from very poor backgrounds. How the hotel treated them frequently affected their livelihood,” said Njaramba. He continued with the fight for better terms for employees, until a time he interacted with one of the hotel guests who shared her work and passion with communities, and he took the leap to join service in the community. “ My journey to human rights was indirectly started with my work with street families, then the passion was re-ignited with my representation of workers at the hotel, and here I was being called to work with communities again,’ reflects Njaramba.

Since then, Charles has been at the forefront of community empowerment for the realization of human rights for all.  He is also a writer and writes for varied publications. “There is always something new that needs media attention for anyone who works in grassroots areas. As human rights defenders who have had the opportunity to receive varied knowledge from partners, we are the voices for the voiceless,’ he says.

African society still exists on patriarchal norms, and in Kenya for instance, many communities in the coast still believe that the men are to speak for their communities. It will take much persuasion and affirmative action to ensure that women, who are core to a community are as vocal, especially in this information society of today where at the click of a button we can all access same or similar information.

Ms. Kibibi Rashid is one such woman who has risen through the odds to empower fellow women to be part of decision making structures of society. She has a firm demeanor, but conversation with her opens the gates to a woman with much concern for the development of her community.“I am lucky to come from an environment where men accepted my vocal and passionate please for issues that affected members of Matuga constituency,” she says. Her entry into the world of human rights defenders was occasioned by her first step to take in orphaned children into her home. 

The plight of having to take care of these less privileged members of society delved her deeper into community matters and has thus today found herself in the fight for matter such as land ownership for women, affirmative action for women in her county and spurred her to be keen on public participation during county budgeting processes. “Women have no reason to shy away from being HRDs as the new constitution has spoken specifically for them and provides avenues by law to participate in good governance,” says Bi Kibibi.

For Mwanakombo Mkono a HRD from Kwale town, her passion is on access to education. “We have good laws in this country but from my experience, illiteracy makes communities be taken advantage off and not progress,’ she mutters. It is from this low education levels that, in her opinion, women have been unable to fight for their right to own property and cases such as that of rape, which are a human right violation, continue to be solved at ‘barazas’ and perpetrators walk free.  For her, free primary education may have improved access but still offers challenges of quality which makes many children drop out in the region in search of labor to fend for their poverty struck homes. Also, some schools still charge fees, as little amounts as they may seem, which also contributes to drop outs and hence illiteracy continues to remain rooted.

“I think that the government should be able to map different education priorities for different areas and be able to set up boarding schools for disadvantaged candidates so that they are able to focus and complete on a level playing field with the rest of the country,” she adds passionately. Through her efforts, she serves as the Chair of parents association in Kwale. 

Charles, Kibibi and Mwanakombo remain one of KNCHR’s key point persons in Kwale as citizens who have committed themselves to ensuring their communities enjoy and promote human rights for all. Selfless ambassadors!

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