I first met Dianah on Facebook, as I have many other widows living abroad. We connected a little over a year ago and have stayed in touch ever since. We were both members of a few private Facebook widow groups, one being, Hope for Widows and my online private group, Black Women Widows Empowered - A Safe Place for Widowed Women. It was there, where we developed our friendship.
In reading through her Facebook timeline I could tell she was a passionate woman who meant business. She hustled unlike any other widow I knew. On a daily basis, her posts captured the essence of Nairobi, the essence of young and old widows, and more importantly, the essence of Dianah Kamande. Dianah (named after her father’s mother) is a young and beautiful widow who does not look her age. She founded the nonprofit organization, Come Together Widows and Orphans in Nairobi, Kenya. Her captivating smile speaks life to anyone that is blessed enough to be among her surroundings, no matter the class. Whether speaking to her directly or receiving a kind word from her on paper, there is one thing that you will surely appreciate her passion and love for God.
I’ve tried to interview Dianah twice for my radio show within the last year but unfortunately, it was not meant to be. You see, I always believe in the season of things, and it just wasn’t our season to connect. But now, our season has finally arrived. It’s International Widow’s Day and it’s her time to share; and share she does. I hope you receive this interview with an open heart and humbly digest what she has to communicate to us widows in the ‘states’ so that we can glean from the quest, outcry and more importantly the resilience of our dear widowed African queen sistas, and widow leaders.
Here is my interview:
BWWE: I've read the stories and watched plenty interviews about you but many readers haven't. Can you tell our readers how Dianah Kamande and Come Together Widows and Orphans came to evolve? DK: My name is Dianah Wanjiku Kamande. I am 35 years old and was widowed in 2013. I am a mother of two beautiful girls, Praise Nyokabi and Cate Precious. I became a widow as a result of domestic violence when my husband of ten years came home and had planned to kill all of us in the family. When his attempts failed, he turned the knife on himself.
I survived with several horrible injuries and was rushed to Guru Nanak hospital where head surgery was performed. I was fitted with five plastic nerves due to his injuries. After a week I underwent hand surgery and was fitted with multiple metal plates because he had broken my left hand. Finally, after the second week in the hospital, I underwent a breast surgery because he had pierced my right breast. It was a tough time but it was at this time I realized so many of my visitors in the hospital were widows and survivors of past cases of violence who had chosen to keep quiet with their stories.
As I sat as a survivor on that hospital bed, I still went through widow abuse. My in-laws accused me of my husband’s death, I was insulted and called a prostitute, and while in the hospital my property and even household items were taken away. Because my hand was plastered and unable to use the phone like I wanted, my brother assisted me as I googled to see if our Kenyan constitution (2010) clearly defined my rights as a widow and survivor of violence, but unfortunately, I found nothing. It was then that I requested to be given a notebook and pen. I began to draft a Widow’s Bill.
After my discharge from the hospital, I invited a group of 15 widows to my home and 25 arrived. Word got around.
For my second meeting, 66 showed up. The third meeting, 337 arrived and for the fourth meeting, over 750 widows appeared at my door. I was shocked and I knew then that I had to roll up my sleeves and find out the total number of widows in Kenya. I started reaching out to widows through the media and as of September 14, 2013, my organization registered 1.4 million widows by June 23, 2016.
Since I married young and because of my desire to learn more, I decided to return to school. I’m a student at Nairobi University within the African Women’s Studies Centre pursuing Constitution and Women in Leadership.
BWWE: What are the challenges that widows in Kenya face? DK: The challenges around widowhood were too many and ignored due to continued cultural practices. I started condemning these practices in the media and my voice was heard by politicians as well as the State Department of Gender. It was then that I introduced a widow’s hashtag, #WidowsRightsAreAlsoHumanRights.
I must continue to raise my voice and in doing so, I have introduced another hashtag, #BreakingTheCultureOfSilenceOnGenderBasedViolence. Since the inception of this social media awareness identification (and sharing my story and hospital photos), over 6000 women (and four men) have joined me for free seminars.
I traveled to all 47 counties in Kenya creating awareness on the plight of widows and championed for their rights. I also created support groups for widows such as Loss and Grief programs, Economic Empowerment Programs, bead work, financial training and free medical camps to ensure widows know their health status. I was able to turn all of the challenges Kenyan widows face into a Widowhood Bill. To me, my joy is serving God through others and not neglecting myself and my children.
BWWE: Will you be in the States anytime soon? DK: Yes. I’m going to be in the States very soon. I will be in Raleigh, North Carolina visiting Kenya Christian Fellowship, hosted by the founder, Dr. Joe Karogi. I’m also invited to visit the states of Alabama, Louisiana and Washington.
BWWE: What plans do you have for International Widow’s Day?
DK: Yes, we do have plans! Together with my team, we have already mobilized 2,000 widows from across the country to attend the IWD 2017 event. Our Chief Guest is Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the widow of the late first President of Kenya and other eminent widows among them is Professor Julia Ojiambo. The theme is Economic Empowerment and we’re having exhibitions to display some of the craft work, bead work, and weaving work that is made by widows to ensure they are economically empowered. We will acknowledge our government for having tripled business loans for widows and we are trusting to have a widow’s fund in Kenya soon, which I am optimistic about. I also plan to establish 47 widow county offices after sitting down with the ministry of Gender in the county governments in Kenya.
BWWE: You are one busy woman! What advice would you give widows in America?
DK: I have not known or heard about the abuse of widows in the States so my advice to widow leaders is to realize that leading widows is not a business, it’s about service. It’s all about the dedication of your time, money and other resources. It’s about sacrificing everything for the sake of others. It’s about lifting the load of your sisters and have a listening ear while turning the cell phone off. It’s about being slow to speak, slow to get angry and slow to judge and this has helped me to press on.
As a widow read a lot. I personally research a lot on widowhood. I don’t sleep much and I travel to visit and help other widows. I have no funding for the work I do but because I have a passion, God decided to set me apart.
I receive resources from my business profits and when additional funds are needed, I lobbied my friends on social media. I have chosen faithfulness in my work and every coin sent through my organization (or to me) reaches the needy. I have traveled to the morgues to obtain contact information of the newly widowed to perform a follow-up after the burial and to ensure they are not abused by their in-laws nor stigmatized. I have also lobbied Civil Societies Organizations and Kenya School of Law to provide us pro-bono Attorneys for widows with court cases.
I was alone starting this work but God was with me, and has been faithful. On this International Widows Day we will get to know the state of the Widowhood Bill, which I drafted. We have had meetings with Kenya Law Reforms, Parliament Drafters, Kenya Women Parliamentarians, Men in Parliament, Deputy President, Mother to the President and Government Legal Advisor Professor, Githu Miugai, who is one of our Assistant Chief Guests of International Widow’s Day 2017 (IWD 2017) to tell us what he has decided on the widow's fate and ensuring we are protected by our constitution.
BWWE: Thank you for your passion, Dianah. Any last words?
DK: Be passionate about everything you do because the people you lead might doubt God but as a vision-bearer - don't doubt God. Sarah sent Abraham to Hagar because it was not her who was called by God but it was Abraham who was called by God and given promises (Genesis 16:1-6).Be patient, you are dealing with wounded, vulnerable and grieving people and you are the one who is to remain sober and humble always as a leader and its by God’s Grace.
I want to thank Dianah for her precious time in responding to my questions. I’m humbled and grateful. May she forever continue to turn her survivors into gifts.
To contact Dianah, you may reach her at the links below:
Facebook: Dianah Kamande
Twitter: @shiks kamande
Google+: Dianah Wanjiku