Millicent Wanyama – Breadcrumb seller, Kenya

After losing her husband in 2008, the responsibility of providing for seven children fell to Millicent Wanyama, now 35.

Millicent, who, together with her children, lives in the sprawling Ngomongo slum in the capital Nairobi, told IRIN her story.

Name: Millicent Wanyama

Age: 35 years old

Location: Ngomongo, Nairobi

Does your spouse/partner live with you? No, he is dead.

What is your primary job? Selling bread crumbs

What is your monthly salary? 5,000 shillings [$58]

What is your household’s total income - including your partner’s salary, and any additional sources? About 5,000 shillings [US$58].

How many people are living in your household - what is their relationship to you? Eight people, which includes me and my seven children.

How many are dependent on you/your partner’s income - what is their relationship to you? My [seven] children, and at times I send a small amount of money back home to my mother.

How much do you spend each month on food? 4,000 shillings [$47].

What is your main staple - how much does it cost each month? Maize flour, which costs 150 shillings [$1.75] per kilogram-packet.

How much do you spend on rent? 800 shillings [$9].

How much on transport? I walk to work everyday.

How much do you spend on educating your children each month? About 1,500 shillings [$17.50] because they go to a government school, which is highly subsidized.

After you have paid all your bills each month, how much is left? Nothing is left, but I always keep aside 50 shillings [$0.58], which I take to my ‘chama’ [pooled-saving group].

Have you or any member of the household been forced to skip meals or reduce portion sizes in the last three months? Yes, my children take tea without milk before going to school, and we all in the family take only supper. We decided to forgo lunch to cut costs.

Have you been forced to borrow money or food in the last three months to cover basic household needs? Yes, but many times when I don’t have money, I buy foodstuff on credit from the local sellers and pay later or provide services to them as a way of paying them.

“My husband was killed in 2008 by rowdy youth, who attacked him when he was coming from work. That day, my life and that of my seven children changed, and things have never been the same for us.

“When my husband was alive, I was a housewife, and he always struggled with his small job to provide for us. But after his death, I had to look for something that could bring income. We slept hungry many times, and we were thrown out of our house because we couldn’t pay rent [about US$10 dollars].

“Our house is a tin-walled small room, and we struggle to fit in it as a family, but that is what I can afford to offer to them.

“I started working for people as a house-help, and I used to save a little money from what I earned. After I saved some 12,000 Kenya shillings [about US$140], I started a small business. Now I go to industrial bakeries, where I collect broken loaves of bread [crumbs], which the factories have abandoned, and come and sell to the families who live in the slum. Many of them cannot afford the decent loaf of bread, and what I sell to them is used as breakfast.

“A decent loaf of bread costs 45 shillings [$0.52], but I sell mine at 20 shillings [$0.23] because they are just broken pieces.

“In a month, I get a profit of about 3,000 shillings [$35], which isn’t enough to pay my rent, buy food and buy school items for my children. I have to supplement what I get from selling bread.

“I also walk to rich people’s homes and ask them if they have domestic chores which I can help with. In a day, I can wash clothes for which I get paid 250 shillings [$3], but on some occasions, people just turn you away or ask you to do it on credit, and I have to go back home empty-handed. My children are used to taking a single meal a day, and they don’t complain because they know our situation is bad.

“I worry about the future of my children and whether I will be able to put all of them through school. I ask myself that question and I don’t have answers, but I am hopeful. I am working hard to increase my sources of income and to ensure I can save more of my income, and I am hoping God will provide.”


June 2013 update