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Grieving Kenyan father votes for change

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Kenyan man moves past horrific loss
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kenyan farmer Joseph Githuku lost his wife and child in post-election violence
  • He registered to vote in Wednesday's referendum for a new constitution
  • Constitution aims to reduce political tensions in the country
  • More than 1,000 people were killed in violence after December 2007 election

(CNN) -- Every time Kenyan farmer Joseph Githuku looks at the faces of his family, he sees the ones who aren't there.

Two years ago, his wife and five-year-old son were killed in the wave of violence that swept the country after the disputed election in December 2007.

On New Year's Day, 2008 Githuku's wife and six children were sheltering with 100 others in a local church as a rival tribe attacked their village. Many never made it out.

A gang of youths bolted the door and set the building alight. Fifty died, including Githuku's wife and child. His five other children managed to escape.

"When I look at the children it is heartbreaking. Sometimes when I see how difficult things are. I think maybe with her here it wouldn't be like this," Githuku told CNN.

Video: Kenya's crucial vote

While he says life is hard without a partner, the loss of his son at such a young age fills him with anger.

"I feel terrible for the child, he was five years old. He didn't know anything... good or bad. This child died on his mother's back," he said.

Githuku now works alone, tending his crops and caring for his family. He also maintains the graves of those killed in the violence, picking weeds from around the makeshift crosses that mark each loss. Some are scrawled with the word "unknown."

Githuku was one of 12.5 million Kenyans registered to vote in Wednesday's referendum to agree a new constitution. He has been reading the proposed draft and is determined his voice will be heard.

"I am giving myself strength to believe that the country is good. I am not afraid, because if I become afraid I won't go and vote... because if I run away, then my vote will be lost," he said.

I am giving myself strength to believe that the country is good. I am not afraid.
--Joseph Githuku, Kenyan farmer
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Githuku cherishes framed photos of his wife and child and wonders what life would be like if they were still alive. "Many times when I look at this picture, I feel sad, because she was my wife and I lived with her for many years," he said.

He struggles to care for his surviving children; his income from farming isn't enough. "What is the hardest thing now is money, because I don't have anyone to leave in the house to take care of the kids so I can get casual jobs," he said.

He hopes the approval of a new constitution will bring change to a divided nation.

Tension within the country has eased since the signing of a national peace accord between rival parties in February 2008. The accord set up a temporary structure that called for many reforms -- including a new constitution.

Proponents of the constitution hope that the document will reduce the political tensions that led to the last outbreak of violence. More than 1,000 people died after the national election in 2007, and hundreds of thousands of others were pushed off their land.

"The elections robbed me and it put one community against another and so many were killed. I am very ready to vote, because I am a Kenyan, Kenya is mine, I'm proud... I don't say I regret, I don't say I am suffering.. I am proud," Githuku said.

CNN's Lillian Leposo and David McKenzie contributed to this report.