Emma Daly of Human Rights Watch is profiling the activism of Phyllis Omido, a Kenyan woman who led the fight against lead poisoning that was destroying the health of her community. Omido campaigned for the closure of a smelting plant, located in the impoverished neighborhood of Owino Uhuru in Mombasa, where she was employed in an office job with perks including free gas.
Shortly after taking the job, Omido’s son King David became ill. Doctors discovered that Omido’s son had lead poisoning, which he contracted through breastfeeding. Where was the lead coming from? It was soon discovered that the lead poisoning was due to the conditions of the smelting plant where Omido worked. What seemed like a dream job turned into a nightmare.
Omido initially asked the company to pay for her son’s treatment and agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for his treatment. However, she continued to observe people, particularly adults getting sick at the plant. The death of co-worker caused more concern. Further, executives would visit the plant in full-protective gear while workers were not afforded the same option. After randomly testing people in the neighborhood where the plant was located, she found out that they all had elevated lead levels. Omido’s conscious called and she realized she had to do something and began organizing the workers and the larger community.
Despite threats and a botched kidnapping attempt, Omido founded the Centre for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action, and sought international help to mount a class-action case in the Kenyan courts to close the plant, earning the moniker Kenya’s ‘Erin Brokovich’.
Read more about Omido’s fight to save her community at The Independent.