Christy Gillmore

Christy Gillmore (Hakijamii the Economics and Social Rights Centre): Christy received her BA in Anthropology and Economics in 2006 from the University of Virginia. Upon graduating, she joined the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa, where she worked to empower women in a rural community. After returning from the Peace Corps, Christy worked in refugee resettlement as a health care coordinator and caseworker. At the time of her fellowship she was pursuing her MA in International Development and Social Change from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. After her fellowship, Christy wrote: “I had never lived in a big city in my life, and this experience opened my eyes to the immense inequalities that are growing due to globalization and rural-urban migration. I feel that I gained invaluable skills and confidence. I feel like I have gained writing and editing skills. I know that I want to focus on human rights now that I have experience of working in the field."



Double Exploitation

12 Aug

The village of Owinohuru, located in the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya faces so many challenges that their community organization, the Owinohuru Self-Help Group, is struggling to fight all its battles.

Haki Yetu- “our rights”- is Hakijamii’s main partner organization in Mombasa. Haki Yetu works with community groups in and around the city. John Paul Obonyo is the organization’s Program Officer, and he took us to Owinohuru and provided some history of the village’s issues.

John Paul Obonyo, Program Officer for Haki Yetu, Hakijamii's main partner in Mombasa.

First is the all too common threat of eviction. I have touched on the problem of forced evictions in Kenya (see The Ladder That Runs Down, Eviction Task Force) due to poor land and housing policies. In the 1950s, an Indian family owned the land in Owinohuru. People gradually moved in and set up houses, businesses, churches, and schools. The landowner left, leaving a houseboy to take care of the property. The people of Owinohuru lived there peacefully for 40 or more years. Just recently the landowner (or a relative of, this was unclear when we asked) has spontaneously demanded the land back- likely in order to develop the area- which would force the entire community to leave their homes and livelihoods.

The land case has recently gone to court, and was postponed until September of this year. Though the landowner has papers claiming to have paid KSH 58 million (725,000 USD) for the land, he has not yet produced a title for it. The community hopes that the newly passed constitution, which involves barring non-citizens from absolute ownership of land and power to reclaim grabbed public land, will work in its favor come the next court date. This threat of eviction has consumed the community’s efforts and resources for the time being.

The battery factory, owned by EPZ Metal Refinery Ltd, lies at the entrance of Owinohuru and operates at night so as not to draw attention.

An even more disturbing concern threatens the community’s health: in 2007, a battery recycling factory was installed in the village, producing toxic smoke so thick that community members could hardly breathe when it was operating. Shortly thereafter, people began getting sick, complaining of incessant coughing, difficulty breathing, high fevers, etc. Children were hit the worst and began having trouble learning in school. It was found that several of the children had high levels of lead in their blood.

After outcry from the community, the factory was shut down for a short time, but has since re-opened– operating, shadily, at night. The factory owners refuse to have even a discussion with the community members, doing everything they can to keep it operating.

Because this issue is so heartrending, I have made a video that explains the story through interviews with community members much better than I could ever put in words. Please watch it, and show it to as many people as you can. It seems that the only way for Owinohuru to remove the factory is to bring enough negative attention to the factory that it is forced to shut down completely.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxFKWbxC3hw

Posted By Christy Gillmore

Posted Aug 12th, 2010

6 Comments

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Hakijamii Trust, Christy Gillmore. Christy Gillmore said: Blog about community in #Mombasa #Kenya facing both forced eviction and health hazard from toxic factory http://bit.ly/bHkmrA #apfellows […]

  • […] own the land. They want to sell the land to private developers.  (See Advocacy Project Fellow Christy Gillmore’s Blog to learn […]

  • Nicole

    August 12, 2010

     

    Thanks for the good post, Christy. That’s a really terrible situation. A lot of the cognitive and nervous system affects of lead poisoning are irreversible in children even when the source of lead has been removed. Hopefully, there are avenues that can be followed to prevent generations of people living in this town to be plagued by the many negative health effects of lead poisoning (which include not just cognitive decline, but damage to the kidneys, heart, and reproductive system, among others).

    Is there anyway that you could release the name of the company that owns the factory so people could write letters of protest or boycott their products? Also, maybe it would be possible to contact Doctors without Borders in Kenya. I’m not sure if this is feasible, but perhaps they would be willing to send a doctor to Owinohuru and pay to test children (and adults) in the town for lead poisoning?

    Just a few thoughts. Thanks again for the post.

    • Christy Gillmore

      August 12, 2010

       

      Thank you for the great comments, Dr. Nicole! yes indeed, the name of the company is EPZ Metal Refinery- it’s on one of the picture captions and in the video as well. I’d have to look further into what else the company does to see if people can boycott their products or write letters to them. I hadn’t thought about Doctors Without Borders; I’ll try to look into that. Thanks for the great ideas!

  • Clare

    August 16, 2010

     

    It’s frustrating that such an obvious disregard for human health is allowed to continue, even at night. Have there been direct confrontations between the villagers and the plant operators? Is there any (non-violent) vigilant action they can take while they await outside help?

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