How mothers endured sleepless nights in Nairobi's floods

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Philomena Twili casual worker at Polycam girls on random walk at her neighbourhood in Kibera Kiandaa Bombolulu.[Beryl Ringos]

In the heart of Kibera Undugu, amidst the tangle of narrow alleys, resides Roseline Mugasha, a resilient 36-year-old mother of four.

Her home, a sanctuary for her children, was one of the many affected by the relentless fury of floods gushing in and out of Nairobi in recent days after the heavens opened with untold generosity.

Each furious raindrop that pierced through her leaky roof felt like a dagger to her heart, for beyond the mere inconvenience lay a looming fear, the fear that at any moment, the feeble walls of her ramshackle could succumb to the force of the angry waters, shattering her fragile sense of security. Fortunately, the walls did not collapse but the stubborn flood waters found their way into her abode she couldn’t sleep anymore.

“My biggest worry was that the wall could fall on us, this caused me sleepless nights,” Mugashab said.

The mother of four ekes out a living from a modest mandazi business. Her trade was severely destroyed, she couldn’t earn her usual Sh500 per day because Nairobi was rocked by the grayness of the mists and fog as the heavy downpour raged messing up the slum settlement. That alone transformed her routine into a battle against want. She was not able to cook or sell her mandazi. The sizzle of charcoal on rainy days only added to her burden, its reluctant flames mirroring her own struggles to keep her family afloat. Yet, it wasn’t just the physical toil that weighed heavily on her weary shoulders. 

“The absence of customers wasn’t merely a blow to my income; it was a stark reminder of the harsh realities of life in the slums. With most people confined indoors, seeking refuge from the floods, the usually bustling road where I plied my trade was deserted,” she said.

Philomena Twili casual worker at Polycam girls on random walk at her neighbourhood in Kibera Kiandaa Bombolulu.[Beryl Ringos]

Each passing minute felt like an eternity as she anxiously scanned the desolate streets, flowing with water, her heart sinking with every missed opportunity because of the flooded roadway. The floods had rendered it impassable diverting her customers to another route too narrow and with no space to set up her jiko and stools to run her business. Mugasha’s spirit remained unbroken though, fueled by a mother’s unwavering determination to provide for her children.

Philomena Twili, another mother who lives in Bombolulu area of Kibera, recalls the chaos that ensued as floodwaters invaded her home, kicking her out of her ramshackle. She is a casual worker in an NGO earning Sh 500 per day. During Nairobi’s flash floods, she missed work for six days running, as she sought for shelter and feared losing her job.

It’s a grim reality that mothers have borne the brunt of floods in Nairobi.  “Climate change is exacerbating gender disparities, widening the chasm of inequality,” Jane Anyango, founder of Polycom Girls said. “Inadequate infrastructure and flooding not only jeopardize lives but also undermine efforts towards creating safer, more equitable communities. It’s imperative that voices of those affected are heard.”

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