You touched hearts - Tribute to the late Margaret Mukui Kiumo
Once in a while, I interact with community members in the process of my work who leave a great impact in my life; such was the case with Margaret Kiumo. I cannot recall the first time I met Margaret but I know it was in 2004 when I was newly employed at the Women’s Resource Centre and Development Institute (WRCDI). It was my first trip to Makueni, meeting a group of volunteers for a training workshop and I arrived late in the evening. I had been given her contact “in case of anything” and I found myself at home! She was quite welcoming, calm and composed, with maturity that was just amazing. With time she became my mark for Wote Makueni, any time I was in the field I knew I “I was in safe hands”. Margaret was one of the trained community advocates who were referred to as the Violence Against Women (VAW) Advocates, a role she performed with her whole heart.
I came to meet her sister Mary and some of her friends as her salon became my ‘office’ in Makueni. I was not the only one, I often wondered when she did her business since every time I visited the salon, there was one or more clients, women abused, children with their mothers, fathers wondering about their children; you name it.
I hold fond memories of Margaret. I recall the many times she would literally shield me from expectations of community members by alerting me not to go to her salon and meet her in a different place! It was known that when am in Wote, I would visit her salon, and sometimes some of the volunteers would send survivors of VAW expecting a miracle. She made it her duty to alert me of such instances and give me time to process the issue before meeting the survivors. Sometimes it was not even necessary to meet survivors as the action needed was within the power of the VAW Advocates. She is one of the few VAW advocates who would challenge the others “why should we want to engage Sophie in every small way she has trained us to do the work?” Anyone doing social work and engaging with community volunteers understands the strain that can be there when expected to do the national and then intervene in the local work that the volunteers are well versed with; work that a program person could not do nearly half as well as community persons.
I recall a time I was on my way to Wote and she alerted me of a case which needed the intervention of the District police boss. I recall stepping into her salon to the site of three kids sprawled on the floor, almost naked, and a much traumatized mother who seemed not to comprehend who she was due to the violence that had really traumatized her over time. I still recall how she described that woman, “Sophie I am not sure what strength that woman has, that she is still alive, if I were in her situation I would rather be dead”. This didn’t deter her from making her small salon space, a space for this woman and her kids, she didn’t worry it would discourage the customers but supported the other volunteers in getting audience with the police boss. Many survivors knew her salon as the office to report their grievances.
I recall the updates she gave me that helped me be in touch with what was happening at community level. We had a joke that there were always problems! She had a smile most of the times that even as she told of the ‘suffering’ one would not help but see hope. I remember her narrating a non-violence protest that the women in the area carried out. In a case where they felt that a senior person in the education department was hindering the prosecution of a sex pet, they mobilized 98 women in an innovative protest that I still marvel at.
At one time, the car I was using to the field developed mechanical problems about 10 km from Wote and she sought for mechanics and another car. I remember it took a while, and it was not until almost midnight that the car was towed as it was not repairable. The inspiring part is that she never acted in a way that implied she was doing a favour, or asking for a favour in return. How I miss her.
Her passion for justice and for the rights of women and girls was evident to anyone who interacted with her. She was the reference point not only for the women and girls seeking redress but also for administration officers. The flip side of this is that she was ‘marked threat’ by some of the administrators. She also sought leadership in several organizations and even vied for ward representative without success. After I left the organization in 2006, I maintained contacts with her and never hesitated in giving her contacts for persons who needed contacts in Makueni. The last time I met her physically was in April last year in a forum I invited her in Nairobi. I learnt of her death in shock, somehow death despite being certain always comes unexpected. Somehow, I feel that her work was not done yet, that the gap she is leaving is huge, but those are my human thoughts. She must have done her part of the work, and she deserves to rest in peace.
As I travelled to Makueni on 23rd April 2011 for her final farewell, I could not help but recall the memories of this amazing woman. Her family has lost a great person, so has the community. I am sure Margaret touched so many lives; that her memory will live on for a long while. As I listened to her children remember their mother, that she sacrificed a lot for them; as her parents and siblings eulogized her, as her nieces and nephews said what an amazing aunt she was who was there to give them advice; I knew all has not been said about her. It cannot fit in writing, but many will hold her in their hearts. We will hold her in our hearts, as the only place that the memories will never be stolen.
A quote to her family and loved ones:
“You can shed tears that she is gone,
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back,
or you can open your eyes and see all she's left.
Your heart can be empty because you can't see her,
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her only that she is gone,
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back.
Or you can do what she'd want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”---David Harkins
Margaret, you were such a blessing to many, you were such an inspiration to me, May you Rest In Eternal Peace. May you be welcomed and rejoice with the angels. God be with you till we meet again.