Inside Dorcas Rigathi’s game-changing projects for widows

Second Lady Dorcas Rigathi (carrying a woven bag) joins Kilifi women in a jig at Gede Primary School on February 27, 2024. She launched a programme that will engage Kilifi widows in mangrove restoration for their economic empowerment through carbon credit.

Photo credit: Photo I OSDP

What you need to know:

  • Second Lady says her programmes are founded in chaplaincy, outreach and family values.
  • She has been meeting with widows from different parts of the country.

Most Kenyan widows lead miserable lives as they lack the means to sustainably meet their family needs.

Their challenges include disinheritance, discrimination and harmful traditional practices that include cleansing rites and sexual violence.

Kenya has about four million widows, according to the 2019 census.

The situation is worse in some regions. And as an empowerment response, Second Lady Dorcas Rigathi has launched a programme for widows in Nairobi, Kilifi and Migori.

Ms Rigathi aims to make them self-reliant so that they can meet their family needs.


On Tuesday last week, she met with 2,000 Kilifi widows at Gede Primary School. She expressed concern about the high number of widows in Kenya, terming it a problem that needs further scrutiny and research to tackle.

The Second Lady attributed the deaths of many men to alcoholism, drug and substance abuse, addiction-related accidents, and mental health issues.

The Kilifi widows will be engaged in restoring mangrove forests. “This will not be charity work but an economic activity that rakes in income for the widows from this area,” she said.

An investor will establish a carbon credit institute in the area to educate residents and the country on the whole ecosystem of carbon credit investment and funding, Ms Rigathi disclosed.

The project will involve more than 700 widows, who will be paid for their conservation work.

Kahindi Ndilo, one of the widows, says life has not been a bed of roses since her husband died 13 years ago as he was their sole breadwinner.

Ms Ndilo is, however, optimistic that the project by Ms Rigathi will improve their lives.

“I have five children and am having a difficult time bringing them up. Business is low, and we desperately need water to farm. If farming does not work, you must have money to buy food.”

“I sell vegetables, and in this sun, it is difficult to have something to sell. We look forward to the project that Ms Rigathi has brought and hope it helps improve our lives,” she says.

Sidi Balozi, another widow from Kilifi, says one of the heaviest burdens they face is educating their children.

“We have children in school, and sometimes the hard work we put in is not enough to cater for the needs of our children and families. Many children are stuck at home because we cannot cater for their education needs.

“My husband died in 2003. Since then, I have been struggling. He left me with six children. Those not in school are just at home without jobs. Our life is hard,” she says.

Susan Mung’aro, the wife of Governor Gideon Mung’aro, says widowhood is tragic. She lost her father at a young age, and was brought up by her mother.

“Our family was surrounded by a cloud of darkness, having lost our breadwinner. After the death of my father, I saw how living in widowhood was difficult for my mother as she sought all ways to provide for her family.”

Deputy Governor Flora Mbetsa has advised widows to make drastic decisions to change their lives.

“When you empower a woman, you empower the entire community, and as a county, we shall work with the national government and this office of Ms Rigathi to empower our widows.”


In Migori, widows are being involved in sweet potato farming and processing. More than 600 widows are targeted. They will supply their harvests to a private miller and in return earn a decent income.

A few weeks ago, Ms Rigathi held a forum in Migori. She enlightened more than 100 widows about the project.


In Kibera, Ms Rigathi’s programme has been running for more than seven months. Over the period, widows have attended empowerment training in entrepreneurship and environmental conservation.

They have been sharing their experiences to encourage one another in a session dubbed Safari ya Ujane (widowhood journey).

They are now establishing a 300,000-tree nursery and have already done 100,000 seedlings.

Beatrice Naliaka lifts the lid off her hardship after her husband died in 2018.

“I did not have anything, be it a house or land. I did not even have friends. I buried my husband in Kakamega and returned to Nairobi, together with my six children, in tears.

“The children would ask me: ‘What kind of life are we living?’ But I told them it was due to the death of their father,” she tells Nation.Africa.

She has washed clothes for people in Kibera and worked on urban farms planting vegetables to make ends meet.

“I wondered where my life would end up. But a miracle happened, and from nowhere, Mama Dorcas came into our lives. I have experienced great change through this widows’ programme.

“Through the weekly meetings with other widows, I no longer feel sad or pity myself. As widows, we open up to each other about our lives through a session called Safari ya Ujane, which helps to make us strong,” she says.

Having become motivated, she has, through her clothes washing venture, bought a piece of land and built a two-room house where her firstborn now lives.

Through the tree project, she can now educate her children.


Lucy Moraa, another widow in Kibera, says the initiative has been an eye-opener.

“We have been learning new things through the widows’ programme. We came together as widows and trained in, for example, tree nursery making. Today, this venture has become a source of livelihood for us. We are grateful,” she says.

Other projects are in Kajiado's Loitoktok, and Bomet. Kajiado widows have established a tree nursery.

Ms Rigathi says she started working with widows since her days at Kenyatta University, adding that she developed the passion having been brought up by a mother who was herself a widow for many years.

She notes that the programme is one pillar under the office of the Spouse of the Deputy President, the other two focusing on the empowerment of boys and people living with disabilities and founded in chaplaincy, outreach and family values.

Ms Rigathi says widows can contribute to the economic growth of the country but are relegated and their plight not brought to the forefront in local and international forums.