Joyce Wanjiru Kairu is a professional beggar for the elderly in Kenya. After her mother died from colon cancer, she realized how often the sick and elderly go uncared for in her culture — and decided to be an agent of change.
“I don’t see why the elderly should be stripped of their dignity,” she shares.
Nyeri County, Kenya
Joyce Wanjiku Kairu (speaking in Kikuyu): Guess whose voice this is? It’s Wanjiku. Something must have given me away.
(She enters a hut and speaks with an elder confined to bed.) How are you? You look happy to see me! You are even laughing! Are you able to sit up so you can eat some potatoes?
Joyce speaking in English: Not many people would be able to put old people in a home or care facilities because it is not the culture in Africa — it is not affordable. So as a result, you find most elderly people neglected and abandoned. It is very sad.
I started Purity Elderly Care Foundation in 2011. I named the institution in honor of my late mother, who’d succumbed to cancer of the colon — or colon cancer — in 2010. My mother was ailing for some years, and I was busy gallivanting all over the world. I never, at any one time, thought I could come home and take care of my mother. A lot of us in the diaspora, we don’t care for our own until they die — then we come and take care of them.
You know, you feel that bitterness, that pain inside you, that I should have been there for my mother. That’s what brought Purity Elderly Care Foundation to be born.
When I landed in Kenya, the little money I had, I spent — and when I ran out, I started begging from the streets.
(Joyce speaking and laughing with a group of men on the street) These are… very good guys.
If it is food, if it is the repair of a shelter, if it is a blanket, if it is firewood this person needs, then I will go to people with those things and beg from them.
(Speaking with two other men on the street) These guys, they help us with construction when we repair houses.
So I’m a professional beggar for the elderly.
The professional beggar in me is likely to beg for these (she’s holding a potato from the ground in a market).
Something that I talk about in my walk of life is that you have to have humanity, humility, and dignity. If you can be afforded dignity at young age, I don’t see why the elderly should be stripped of their dignity.
I realized that when you serve humanity, it’s not about you. I was born in the image of God, so when I see the other person, I see God. So, I have to serve the other person as a human being.
I feel gratified that I’m serving humanity with humility and giving dignity to many people.
(Speaking in Kikuyu to the elderly person in bed) Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.