By Agnes Mtengo and Brian Okoth
Peninah Bahati Kitsao, a widow from Kisauni Constituency in Mombasa County, says a committee formed to collect money from well-wishers is yet to give her a single coin nearly six months after her hunger plight was highlighted by the media.
In April this year, Kitsao, 36, was filmed cooking stones for her eight children to make them believe she was preparing food for them. The widow hoped they would fall asleep while they waited for their meal.
A shocked neighbour, Prisca Momanyi, alerted the media to her plight.
On April 30, Kitsao revealed she had received money via mobile phone and through a bank account that was opened for her by Momanyi, as Kitsao does not know how to read and write. However, Kitsao says she has since exhausted the funds that were contributed directly to her cell phone line and bank account.
Now, the mother-of-seven (after her four-month-old daughter died in May), says a committee formed to collect money on her behalf has seemingly escaped with the funds, which her neighbour Prisca Momanyi estimates to be slightly over Ksh1 million.
“Peninah received a lot of funds, amounting to over Ksh1 million, if I am not wrong,” claimed Momanyi.
“I could not be part of that committee because I am the one who highlighted Peninah’s plight. I only requested to be informed occasionally about the kitty progress. Since that time to date, I haven’t heard a single word from them (committee members).
“We only read news articles in the media that they moved her to a new house and even bought her a parcel of land. When I visited Peninah recently, I was shocked to find her still living in the same house, under the same deplorable conditions. When I asked her what happened to the money well-wishers contributed for her, she broke down in tears, saying she was yet to receive a single penny from the committee members,” added Momanyi.
Nailah Abdallah, the director of Mombasa-based rights group, Sisters for Justice, said she would do everything possible to trace Peninah’s missing millions.
“As a rights group, we will follow up to ensure Peninah gets what is duly hers. Since April, she is yet to receive any concrete help. We will unravel what the committee did with the funds raised,” said Abdallah.
Despite reports in May suggesting that Kitsao had been moved to a better house, the 36-year-old says she still lives in her dilapidated two-bedroomed house without running water or electricity.
“They (committee members) have never called to tell me where the parcel of land they allegedly bought me is located. People call to ask what I did with their money. I end up being speechless because I have never received a single coin of their contribution from the committee,” said Kitsao.
“Sometimes I am left with no choice, but to ignore their (well-wishers’) calls because I do not have answers to their questions. The committee is yet to meet or call me. I am hurting, given my welfare is yet to improve despite Kenyans contributing towards elevating my status.”
The 36-year-old woman’s husband was killed by a criminal gang several months ago. Since then, she has been struggling to find food for her children.
Her situation worsened as the COVID-19 pandemic meant she could no longer find the menial jobs she relied on to fend for her family. Kitsao washed people’s clothes at a fee for a living.
On May 7, 2020 Kitsao's four-month-old baby, Mary Kaingu, died in the morning after having a fever for three days.
“She developed a fever that saw her admitted on May 4," Kitsao's firstborn, Saumu Kaingu, said.
"She was to be discharged on May 6 as she had improved, only to die on May 7,” Saumu, 24, said.
The family immediately made arrangements to collect the body from the Coast Provincial General Hospital, where the child was treated, for the burial. Kitsao now has seven children.
After her plight was aired in the media, and she received financial support, her in-laws, who had previously disowned her, attempted to warm their way into her heart, Mombasa Woman Representative, Asha Mohammed, said on May 3 upon visiting Kitsao at her Kisauni home.
“Men from her husband’s side who chased her away now want to inherit her. This will not happen,” said Mohammed, revealing that they would introduce Kitsao to family planning so that she can manage the number of children she conceives.
“Her age and fertility could attract predatory men who would be out to take advantage of her newfound wealth,” said the Woman Rep.