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Climate change

Degrees of separation in rural Kenya

Climate change is leading to significant migration in Kenya, dividing loved-ones and driving families apart. Meet Teresina, whose husband Julius has been forced to move hundred of miles away to earn an income to keep his children in school.

Teresina (45) with her youngest son Amos outside their home in Tharaka Nithi

Caption: Teresina (45) with her son Amos (11) outside their home in Tharaka Nithi​

It’s said that absence makes the heart grow fonder. As couples around the world look forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day, Teresina Karimi from Kenya dreams of being with her husband, who lives hundreds of miles away.

“I miss him but there are no options here. There is nothing else that we can do,” Teresina Karimi (45) says, sheltering under the rim of her thatched roof. The burning sun has come out in the lowlands of Mount Kenya and Teresina points to her patchy crop of vegetables, which is drying up and turning yellow.

A year ago, Teresina’s husband, Julius, moved permanently to live and work on a large commercial farm, three hours away. Year after year, they watched drought attack their land, their soil becoming lifeless and their crops parched and limp. Migrating was the only possible way to put the last two of their five children through school.

Teresina (45) farms her land during drought in Tharaka Nithi, Kenya

Caption: Teresina (45) farms her land during drought in Tharaka Nithi, Kenya

Teresina has known Julius since they played together as children. Years later, when Julius moved away, they wrote to each other. Now, because of climate change, they are apart once more.

“Up to 80% of families in this region do not have enough food,” says Abraham Maruta, Deputy Director of Trócaire’s partner Caritas in Meru Diocese, which is developing irrigation systems for poor families with Trócaire support. 

“When crops fail, people sell what they have, animals, land and any other assets to get cash, until eventually they have nothing to fall back on and a member of the family has to migrate.”

Teresina Karini (45) farms her drought-prone land in Tharaka Nithi

Caption: Teresina in her village in Tharaka Nithi

Teresina finds support from a local women’s group, which comes together to help each other save money, cultivate each other’s land and tender for casual work like construction. “It’s hard on your own,” says group treasurer, Helen Kende. “But when you come together you can help each other plan. Our greatest desire is to get the children through school.” 

Teresina Karini (45) collects water from the river in Tharaka Nithi. Her family will drink this water and use it for washing.

Caption: Teresina collects water from the river in Tharaka Nithi. Her family will drink this water and use it for washing

Julius comes home every three months for three days at a time. “The kids run to him and embrace him because it has been so long since they last saw him, Teresina says. “I feel sad when he leaves but I can’t prevent it because if we both stay at home, the kids will not be able to go to school.”

The only thing that could unite Teresina and Julius for good is water. “I would like to see irrigation on my land. If I had irrigation, I could plant more crops and harvest.” Maybe then Julius could come home and they could farm together again on the land on which they met.

Teresina Karini (45) outside her home in Tharaka Nithi

Caption: Teresina and a neighbour outside her home in Tharaka Nithi

Trócaire is helping families in Kenya to return to their land and grow food with irrigation schemes that water crops all year round.

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