Kenya: Haven of Peace That is Offering Victims of Marital Violence Fresh Start – Usikimye

The safe house is a beehive of activity when we arrive. Some women are learning to sew, others are washing dishes, while the rest are nursing babies.

The environment is serene, with patches of bougainvillea flowers and a little kitchen garden. One can tell that it has truly become a home for the women who have escaped extreme violence.

This is one of the three safe houses run by Usikimye, an organisation that seeks to provide post-rescue medical care and psychosocial support to survivors of gender-based violence (GBV).

Usikimye borrows from a Kiswahili word that translates to “don’t be silent”. It started in July 2019, as an online platform with the sole purpose of raising awareness on how one could get help in cases of an assault.

With time, the founders — Njeri Migwi and Stella Khachina — realised there was a gap in the response systems meant to support victims, mostly women.

“I would direct them to police stations and some would not get services,” recalls Ms Migwi who is a GBV survivor. Her experience inspired her to start the organisation. She left an abusive marriage that left her partially deaf in the left ear.

“I did not know what to do or where to start. I needed a recovery place to pause and restart my life but those resources were unavailable,” she says, observing that most women are usually rejected by their families once they leave their abusive husbands.

Today, Usikimye runs safe houses spread across three towns–Thika, Kiambu and Nairobi.

There are currently more than 300 survivors taking temporary shelter in the homes.

They have also developed a case management tool that determines the appropriate response for victims who seek their help.

Safe houses

Victims reach Usikimye through social media and a network of Good Samaritans in hospitals, police stations and walk-ins at their Soweto, Nairobi, offices.

They also receive calls from their toll-free hotline 0800000999, which they procured with the assistance of ForumCIV, a Swedish NGO that supports human rights organisations.

Ms Migwi says they get more than 100 calls daily.

They then vet the victims to determine the appropriate response. Some are referred to psychologists, hospitals or police stations. The last resort is admitting them to the safe houses.

Even then, the victims are required to acquire some documents before they are allowed into the safe houses.

“They must first go through the police and get an Occurrence Book (OB) number and a medical report (P3) from hospital. We usually assist by calling the stations in advance in the event that we cannot take them ourselves,” Ms Migwi says.

Once they check into the houses, Usikimye in-house psychologists — Dr Jackline Mdora and Ms Maureen Kiringa — have counselling sessions with them.

The organisation has also infused skills training like sewing, baking, cooking and financial literacy classes for the women.

The survivors stay at the shelters for a maximum of three months.

They are prepared for reintegration back into the community by the second month.

Rescuing victims

“We try to trace their families and friends to ensure they have a place to stay. In cases where they have no one, we look for community volunteers to house them as we set up small businesses for them so that they can rebuild their lives,” says Ms Migwi.

“Moreover, we do follow-ups after they have left by visiting them at their homes and contact-tracing.”

Funding is one of the biggest challenges Usikimye faces; they resort to crowd-funding on Facebook.

“At this point, I can say we are beggars,” Ms Migwi says laughing.

“We get monetary donations and experts volunteering their skills to advance our projects.”

Another challenge is the prank calls, which she says are heart-breaking as they waste their limited resources trying to help dishonest people. Moreover, they are understaffed, forcing Ms Migwi to do the rescues by herself.

She constantly gets therapy to manage the effects that come with the job. She gets panic attacks, is unable to drive and her phone is always on silent mode.

She associates the trauma to a past event where she got into an accident while going to rescue a victim.

Usikimye also runs a feeding programme as well as a mobile library in Nairobi’s Soweto neighbourhood, where they feed over about 1,000 children with uji and bread.

“Lack of food creates tension in homes and can lead to domestic violence. The feeding programme significantly reduces such cases,” Ms Migwi says.

Usikimye taps into social media to spread awareness and receive cases of GBV. They have been able to support women who have been able to recapture their lives.

GBV survivor

Betty* a 24-year-old survivor who sought temporary shelter at one of Usikmye’s safe houses, now owns an eatery in Nairobi’s Huruma estate, where she has employed two other survivors from the shelter.

She joined the home after her ex-husband stabbed her several times. Usikimye took her through counselling and financial literacy classes and in two months, she was back on her feet.

She was a recipient of funds from the survivors’ kitty that enabled her start her eatery business. She regularly visits the safe houses to mentor the residents.

Aisha*, another GBV survivor, also took shelter at Usikimye for a month and later secured employment at the judiciary.

She joined the home with her one-year old-son after almost being beaten to death by her ex-husband.

She too, visits the shelters to support the women staying there.

Ms Migwi received an award from Swedish Embassy Forum CIV for using social media for social change.

She hopes to duplicate Usikimye’s work across all counties in Kenya.

The organisation was recently nominated for humanitarian award at the National Business Leadership Awards. To end GBV,

Ms Migwi believes everyone must be conscious about being a positive bystander by spreading awareness and supporting survivors.

“I get nightmares every night, but I would not trade this for anything,” she concludes.


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Author : Nation

Publish date : 2021-11-25 12:47:01

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