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Faces of Africa 01/14/2013 Ruth changes her life

01-14-2013 02:38 BJT

Meet Ruth she is part of the Inget Ngetiet women’s group. Andrew Kipkorir, Inget Ngetiet, its literal translation means “ignite the ignition.”

And today this group of single mothers from western Kenya has a lot to sing about. They are welcoming the arrival of three much anticipated gifts, but just five years ago; life for these women was very different.

Andrew Kipkorir said:" They were organized as brewers; they were brewing the local liquor."

Changaa, which in Swahili means “kill me quick”, is a highly concentrated form of alcohol brewed illegally in Kenya’s poorest areas. It is as potent as rocket fuel and its cheap, toxic ingredients have caused many to die or go blind.

Ruth said:" Because I am single and I don’t have anything I must brew. So I brew."

And soon the women would find themselves accomplices to murder. Their illicit alcohol business helped fuel violence after Kenya’s divisive 2007 elections.

Ruth said:" I grew up in Nandi district at an area called La Borette. My mother is a widow; has seven children; 5 girls and 2 boys. And I went to school to form 2. But at the time I was in form two, my mother got sick and she was admitted everything went to the hospital, to my mum. Nobody paid for me the school fees. That is where I left the school."

Ruth and her husband David Bernand Stevens. They're are holding a calabash which Ruth makes after she quit alcohol brewing.

At 16 Ruth met an older man and became pregnant, but the relationship did not last.

Ruth said:" That is when I came back when I was pregnant. After staying at home I got a firstborn child; a boy, when I was at home."

Back at home with her sick mother, Ruth gave birth to her son, Ronald, and found work at a nearby cereal factory.

Ruth said:" They were paying us Ksh. 900 per month at that time, yeah. So I was seeing it was a lot of money. So I just did for a short time and then my mum said “no I am not looking after your child. Just see what you will do with your child Just go to your place, go to your house.".  And that is why I just suggest now I better go away from this house."

Alone in the world with an infant to care for, Ruth left her mother and walked to the nearby village of Tuigoin she rented a small house, but soon the bills started to pile up.  

Andrew Korir and David Bernand with some members of the Inget Ngetiet women's group in Rift Valley Kenya. The women used to be brewers but they transformed.

Ruth said:" I was needing actually to start a business, but I did not get a good business because I did not have the capital. So I just started with brewing."

Brewing changaa is cheap and the ingredients are easy to come by. Selling for twenty shillings a glass, popular brewers can make money, fast. While this can be dangerous to those who drink it, for many, paying upwards of 120 shillings for a beer makes it an affordable risk worth taking.

Ruth said:" Because I was single, the women who had husbands did not allow me to be among their groups. So I was having now the other single mothers, widows, and then now we just started a group."

Ruth and 19 other single mothers in the village formed a group and pooled their earnings to buy ingredients for changaa. They rented a plot of land near a river, where they could collect water for the liquor. In 2008, during Kenya’s hotly contested elections, Ruth’s illicit business boomed.

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