Poverty pushes woman to give her children sleeping pills to skip meals

It is 7.30am in Lutheran area, Makutano town, West Pokot County, and Jane Naliaka, popularly known as Mama Dorica, is seated in a veranda with her children pondering on their next move.

Some of the minors are crying and appear drowsy while others are restless because they slept hungry and have had nothing for breakfast.

Sad as she looks, the starving 62-year-old mother of six struggling with a Sh480 debt is lucky to be alive.

She, her children and grandchildren narrowly escaped death last weekend after taking heavy doses of sleeping pills for two days to momentarily forget about their hunger pangs.

They took the doses on Saturday and Sunday and literally ‘slept the hunger away’ out of desperation caused by Kenya’s runaway cost of living.

They are among millions of Kenyans who are unable to make ends meet after the prices of basic commodities shot through the roof— thanks to inflation and heavy taxation.

Commodity prices remained high in June, and now July, despite overall inflation easing by 0.1 percent to 7.9 per cent, according to data from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

Among goods that have kept inflation high are sugar with a year-on-year inflation rate of 58.1 per cent, 200kwh of electricity (53.4 per cent) and maize grain (30.7 per cent). Maize is Kenya’s staple.

A kilo of sugar cost Sh204.76 on average in June 2023, up from Sh129.55 in June 2022. The price also shot up by more than Sh10 in June as compared to the previous month when it retailed at Sh194.29 on average.

Naliaka and her family were saved on Sunday by their neighbours who got concerned after they failed to wake up for over 36 hours.

She took the Sh480 loan from a friend when one of her grandchildren fell sick but the debt has since ballooned after she failed to repay it on time.

“I have six children plus five grandchildren whose mother died. Some children are still young. Today, I gave them hot water with no sugar in the morning, but many times we go without food,” she said.

“Whenever we lack supper, I normally give them tablets to sleep so that they don’t cry the whole night.”

The trader who sells vegetables at Makutano market went broke after another lender carted away her stock worth Sh3,000 for failing to repay a loan.

“I could not pay the debt for two months and my friend came and picked up my tomatoes. She even reported the matter to the police station and life became very hard for me,” she said.

Naliaka, a single mother who stays in a rented single-room house, says she has been unable to pay rent for six months. “I pay Sh3000 but I am now unable to make ends meet.”

The sleeping pills have taken a toll on some of the children and their school attendance is now erratic.

“They normally go to school at most three days in a week because sometimes the pills make them dizzy,” she said.

The woman appealed to Kenya kwanza Government to address the plight of poor Kenyans, whom she said were “greatly suffering”.

“I call on President William Ruto to intervene and save us as mothers at the bottom of the pyramid,” she said.

Charles Lokwachai Panyako, a neighbour who witnessed the incident, says the woman’s situation is dire.

“Life has become hard. If you find 10 people in a vehicle, five most likely slept hungry the previous night. I was shocked after visiting Mama Dorica. I saw her with many tablets and she was giving them to her children to sleep and forget about food,” he said.

“Initially you could buy a quarter of sugar. Mama Mboga gets Sh100 in a day and it becomes hard for her to afford a decent life. She takes three sleeping tablets and gives two to each child,” he said.

Wycliffe Ambani, a boda boda rider, said Kenyans have been affected by Finance Act 2023, which has made has made life unbearable.

“A quarter of sugar goes for Sh60. Boda boda riders are crying because of high fuel prices yet they have loans to repay. Let the government help the poor,” he said.

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