One chilly day in July 2012, the plight of frail senior citizens was brought to the fore at a food and blankets distribution event in Mweiga town, Nyeri County.
The way they scrambled for the goodies donated by well-wishers showed just how desperate they were.
But the scramble was too much for some, like Ms Leah Wanjiku from Amboni Village in Kieni. Ms Wanjiku, who was 83 at the time, fainted due to what her colleagues attributed to hunger.
Last Wednesday, the elderly in Nyeri marched around the town to mark the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
It was the first time most of them were leaving their homes to socialise with others. The pain of social isolation was clear.
Deprived of strength, in poor health and most likely with little or no pension, many are living from hand to mouth.
The solitude sometimes becomes overwhelming, leading to mental problems. The Nation tracked some of the cases but cannot reveal the identities of the women because of the sensitivity of the matter.
In Githiru village in Nyeri Town Constituency, Cecilia Muthoni (not her real name), 97, lives with her daughter-in-law. The mother of five, who suffers from dementia, was abandoned by her children two years ago. They never come to visit.
Previously, she lived in Thunguma village about five kilometres away in her matrimonial home but had to be moved when the one-bedroom dilapidated structure became uninhabitable.
After inquiring around, the Nation traced one of Ms Muthoni’s daughters, who does not live far from her.
“With her condition, she kept soiling the home, there was too much work and made others in the home uncomfortable,” said the middle-aged woman.
Ms Muthoni’s daughter-in-law says it has not been easy taking care of her since she also has to attend to her family’s needs.
“I decided to take her in because most of her family members were not willing to take care of her because of her condition. Taking care of her single-handedly is difficult because at times I have to lock her up for hours when I go looking for food,” her daughter-in-law said.
In Kiamwatha village, octogenarian Veronica Wairimu, an ex-Mau Mau fighter who is blind, is taken care of by her great-granddaughter.
Her six children left the village in search of opportunities in Nanyuki. According to her great granddaughter, they say distance, hard economic times and poverty prevent them from visiting her.
“She once fell on a pot full of boiling porridge and was admitted to the Nyeri Referral Hospital for close to a month. That is when I decided to take her in,” said the great-granddaughter. Muthoni’s and Njoki’s plight are not unique.
Ms Joyce Wanjiku, who works with Purity Elderly Care Foundation, says the neglect is a major contributor to mental health issues such as depression, which is common in this age-group.
The situation in Nyeri is aggravated by the fact that the county does not have a home for the elderly.
“The foundation receives phone calls from people asking if we have a home for the elderly, which is very sad, but there is a need to have one," Ms Wanjiku offered.
Meanwhile, Nyeri Executive for Youth, Gender and Social Services Esther Ndung’u said they are planning to build a home for the elderly. For the moment, they visit specific homes and take food to elderly people living alone. However, she said that solves only part of the problem, since some do not have anyone to cook the food for them.
Besides, most of them were unaware of the government’s cash transfer programme, and those who registered complained about the unfriendly procedures.
But the cash transfer programme aside, little else has been done to protect the elderly. They are almost pushed to the periphery, forgotten and often left to survive the best way they can.
Additional reporting by Mercy Mailu