Kenya recently announced a crackdown on illegal alcohol and so many people are now being treated that a sports stadium has been converted into a rehabilitation centre.
Anne Wanjiku looks at her notebook and then breaks out in song – she sings about being delivered from the shackles of addiction.
Everyone at the Ihura stadium in central Kenya calls her cucu – meaning grandmother in her native Kikuyu language. The 56-year-old is one of just five women at the stadium being treated for alcoholism.
A recent crackdown in Kenya on illegally brewed beer and unlicensed drinking dens is one part of a policy to deal with alcoholism in the country; another part is the rehabilitation of addicts.
“Last year, I saw people go blind and die right in front of me after we drank some local brew,” Ms. Wanjiku says.
“I was lucky, I only lost vision in one of my eyes,” she laughs pointing to her blind left eye. But she continued to drink.
“I have been drinking the hard stuff for the past 30 years. At some point some of my children stopped going to school because I used all my money on drinking. Any cent I got would end up at the drinking den,” says the mother of seven.
She was able to buy a 750 millilitre bottle of the brew for just $1 (£0.60).
In the three weeks since the tents were erected in the stadium and the rehabilitation centre opened, the number of people seeking help here has risen to 700.
Everyone who comes gets a place in a bunk bed under a marquee tent, three meals a day, counselling and a medical check-up – but they have to stay for three months.
The authorities believe the figure could swell to 5,000 and are already putting up extra tents to accommodate more people.
But there is one large space left in the middle of the pitch, where patients can play football, bask in the sun and gather for their morning assembly.
I met policemen, teachers, lawyers and a surgeon who are all receiving counselling.
“We can construct all the roads we want here, but if we don’t have people to walk on those roads, if our children are not here anymore because of alcohol, what is the use of those roads?” asks county governor Mwangi Wa Iria.
“We are putting everything else on hold until we sort out this problem. It doesn’t matter how much money we use,” he says.
The mother of 33-year-old David Kamau persuaded him to come here for help, and at the entrance security officers confiscate cigarettes, marijuana and tobacco, which they find in his luggage.
“The only reason I am here is my two children and my young wife,” Mr. Kamau says.
“They might leave me if I do not reform, change my ways, you know. So I have to give it a try.”
He says his addiction began as a teenager, but lately he has been drinking more heavily, and smoking marijuana.
Pointing to a scar on his face he says: “People say I have become very violent to everyone when I am drunk.”
There is also a brick wall surrounding the stadium which is low enough to see the nearby town of Muranga.
One man told me that he misses home but “all I need to do every day is go to the wall and peep over it. I see the roof of my house and I am satisfied. But I am not going home until I finish this programme and go back to being sober.”
Governor Wa Iria says that all the young men have been encouraged to form peer support groups to help each other stay sober once they get out. They are also getting vocational and life skills training.
“Everyone you see here will join a cooperative society that will venture into agriculture, and especially the dairy sector. We have clearly thought about this and we have to save our children,” the governor said.
Ms. Wanjiku is unequivocal about what the centre has done for her.
“With the training and counselling I have received here, I will never go back to drinking. I now see what alcohol has done in my life, my family and my health – it’s poison.”
Culled from

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