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I am a believer in pursuing one's passion and enabling others to realize their potential. Working with women and girls is my passion.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mending her torn dreams


Tabitha Ndila*(not her real name) was a humble young woman, determined to go past her secondary school education yet her family could not afford the fees required. She decided to go to work at the local centre as a cyber attendant where she sold air time and did photocopy, printing etc for her boss. It didn’t pay much but at least it gave her hopes, hopes that one day she would be able to get a college certificate and make her chances in life better.

She had big dreams.

Her father did not support this, “why should be a girl live away from the house”, he asked, yet he was not willing or able to pay a cent for her college education. He felt that Tabitha was old enough for marriage, at 22 years of age she ‘should get married and give him wealth not ask from him’.


Tabitha persisted and worked hard while saving the little she earned. She hoped to save at least Kes 40,000 (approximately 460 USD) despite earning only Kes 4,000 (45 USD) per month which she used for her upkeep and house rent. She underwent difficulties at work despite her determination; the boss was making sexual advances which she refused and continued working hard and ignoring his advances. She felt that the boss would soon give up on her; after all she was dating his son. She was in charge of the cyber hence she had constant interactions with the boss. The tension continued but she had no much choice, couldn’t just resign, she didn’t have a college education, skills or capital hence felt her hands were tied.

I first met Tabitha in some unfortunate circumstance. It was a day she will never forget in her life! She was woken up by her boss in wee hours of the morning demanding that she gives back the keys to the shop and the cash she had carried with her. It was not unheard off for the boss to come for the day’s profit from her but not at this hour of the night or rather morning, 4.00am. The boss had threatened with terminating her employment the day before so this was the final handing over, but at 4.00 am? She woke up and fumbled with the lights to get the hand bag that had the documents needed and tried to give her boss by opening the door slightly, but this was not to be. The man apparently had other plans and pushed the door on the unsuspecting and shocked lady and raped her! She screamed but nobody came to her aid.

I met Tabitha in 2006 as when I managed violence against women program. She had been referred to the community based advocates. The case was quite sensational and hence I intervened from the Nairobi office to offer more support. Despite the trauma that she suffered she managed to think straight and take actions that many women who would be seen more empowered that Tabitha would have hesitated to. The perpetrator left her in shock but also very bitter. She called her sister who is nurse who advised her on the dos and don’ts and she had the courage to take action. I still marvel at this lady! Neighbours were unresponsive and she had to make the decision stand on her own and start the long journey to the police station with her soiled night dress and pants as evidence well packed in a bag. The perpetrator was waiting at the road but she managed to run as the perpetrator followed her to the police station, what guts!! As she recorded her statement the perpetrator shamelessly offered her Kshs 40,000; just what she needed for her college. She declined. Despite reporting to the police station at 6.00 am she was not given escort to the hospital until 11.00am. At that time, it was a legal requirement in Kenya for a P3 form to be filled at the police station before seeking treatment.


The District hospital offered her the Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) but the journey had just begun; and it proved a long and painful one. The small town was alive with news as the rapist was a popular man in the locality. I cannot claim to understand what Tabitha went through, but the little that I journeyed with her was enough to tell me that this soft spoken ordinary lady was no ordinary girl. I assisted by taking her to a rescue home for some time to get away from the hype in the village. Her father was particularly not pleased with her, after all, “why did she stay in the town centre alone”. However, after talking to the father I saw a victim of flawed masculinity and my heart went out to him. He was bitter with himself for not having protected his daughter; another man had injured his pride.


I was with Tabitha when the Anti retroviral Drugs (ARVs) reacted so negatively on her and on our way from Nairobi where she was in a rescue to Makueni her rural home, we kept making stops for her to throw up. She was nauseated throughout and could barely keep anything in her stomach. Sometimes I would look at the tears in her eyes and pray that she gets the strength to move on. Sometimes I felt that I am in her thoughts and wondering, ‘is it worth it? Can’t I just leave this and forget it ever happened?”



But she didn’t.

Sometimes I went to see her at the rescue home and felt I had no words for her. Her life had been turned upside down!


She spoke out for herself and for many others. The neighbours refused to give testimony for the court process after intimidation. With counselling and the support that she received through the organisation, she persisted. It was disheartening to realise the far that the perpetrator (who was a teacher, demoted from a head teacher after sexual abuse cases) was willing to go. It took a lot of work to block his corruption as he tried to bribe his way in different areas. He tried to get early retirement and process benefits before the case was determined (yes he was one year from retirement, 54 yrs!) but with help of some good lady officers we were able to block this, hopefully he didn’t manage later on. The determination of this young lady encouraged us. As is common in the Kenyan and other justice systems, the case took so long and by the time I left the organisation, it was still going on in court. I gathered later on that it was transferred from the local court to Nairobi to avert corruption. She had done everything to the letter as sexual gender based violence (SGBV) survivors are advised, yet it was not smooth sailing for her.


When I think of great women I have encountered, she is one of them. I have not forgotten Tabitha to this date, I am proud of her that she was able to speak out!! It took a lot of strength for her to do this and for sure she is a great woman. As I keep wondering what became of the case, I know that Tabitha is a winner. I hope she is the last woman or girl that man ever touched!! For sure he felt haunted as his ‘40’ days had expired. I guess he could not understand why the organisation was interested in this girl who is a ‘nobody’ in the social status. My interest was in Tabitha and the many other girls that this man had defiled and got off easy. My interest was with the many other women and girls that were at risk since this man was free. I later met another young woman in her mid 30s who disclosed that the same man had sexually violated her in teenage years! How many more had he violated and went scot free?


But Tabitha is a shero, for she spoke out; she spoke out for them for me, for us. She spoke for the school girls who had suffered under this man and could not do much about this. She spoke out despite the challenges of doing so in the community. Her life would not remain the same, but she could pick up her torn dreams and move on with life. She could make sure the incident does not define her.


I hope the world will support her as she mends her torn dreams.