Perspectives from the edge of a balcony, a tipping point.

It`s a warm afternoon, the warmest it’s been these past three days, and I’m seated at the edge of a balcony soaking up the warm sunrays as I observe a group of individuals happily chatting. These are the members of different organizations, intellectuals and members of the religious community who have been discussing women and migration in the African Context at the Second session of The Religious and Migration in the 21st Century series of conferences. The convergence was at the Insituto Dimesse of Padua Langata in Nairobi from June 6th to 8th 2017. Reminiscing the discussions that have been presented for the last three days, for the first time I grasp Malcom Forbes idea that diversity is the art of thinking independently together. There wouldn’t be any justice if I left this conversation without really explaining why I for some apparent reason was seated at the edge of a balcony? thus, the narrative continues.

The theme of this conference “Women and Migration in the African Context”, was intended to explore the unique experiences of African women in migration and come up with effective solutions to their migration issues. It began with an analysis of the concept ‘feminization of migration’ which can briefly be explained as women being the largest population that is affected by migration issues, attributable to their high degree of vulnerability due to their social, economic status and institutional frameworks that are gender imbalanced. As HAART Kenya, we can attest to this – according to studies we have conducted on the internally displaced persons in Kenya 2017, 64.5% of victims are female while 34.5% are male. Considering this, we have commenced structuring our programs to be more gender sensitive, taking into consideration the different needs of men and women in order to attain equality and equity.

One of the key agenda tackled by the conference was a review of the Khartoum process – a brief history: the Khartoum process is one of three ongoing migration dialogue processes between Africa and the EU, launched in 2014. Kenya being a member state has been part of this conversation which embarks on creating a framework for policy and dialogue around the topic of human trafficking and smuggling and particularly, irregular migration. What does this mean for HAART? It provides a platform for developing partnerships at the regional and bilateral level between countries of origin, transit and destination to tackle irregular migration and criminal networks.

The religious groups were a major point of focus, describing how they have been addressing issues of women and migration in their institutions. Such groups form the largest contributors towards assisting vulnerable people in our society, therefore they are an integral stakeholder in our projects; giving an account of the practical things they were already doing in response to the various needs of migration and refugees, bringing into perspective the challenges faced by sea-fearers while on transit. Receiving such direct information, I was left to mull over, to what degree are religious groups involved in policy formulation and designing of various community projects. For HAART Kenya, one of the principles we center our programs around is partnership and co-operation; and in this regard, we have partnered with Misereor and Misean Cara, recognizing the value of having religious institutions as our stakeholders.

Back to the question, why I for some apparent reason was seated at the edge of a balcony? So, you see having been a part of such intense, intellectual, spectacular discussions not only am I soaking up sunshine but the foresight provided during these three days.

By Miriam Muthio

The face of joy

I think one of the most satisfying things on earth is seeing someone who has not known joy and peace finally find it. It is even more satisfying to be involved in their walk to realizing this and watch their reactions afterwards.

By Rehema Baya

This was the feeling I had on the last day of November 2016 when HAART’s shelter was officially opened and the children were brought in. The excitement was written all over their faces; knowing that they will be at HAART’s shelter where they would receive the care and protection they require. They were excited about the space and the faces they met; most especially the victims department members who have walked with them and toiled tirelessly to see the shelter become a reality.

The girls had just closed school and this was home to them. They giggled to each other while having dinner; a clear indication of the friendships they had created and having a roof over their heads just crowned it. I observed how fast they became comfortable in the place. They were not shy to choose their beds and walk around the shelter to familiarize themselves with the place. Their settling was very swift.

We shared dinner that evening as they talked about school and their journey from school to the shelter. They were happy, yes they were happy. Finally what had been denied to them; the opportunity to just be a child and receive care and attention was right in front of them. They would enjoy the holidays assured that they were safe. This made me realize how important peace of mind is to every human mind regardless of their age, and just how important it is for people to care about each other’s peace of mind. The opportunity to dream again and keep it at it knowing that it is achievable was here.

By Rehema Baya

This was a big achievement for HAART. Changing lives and doing the best while at it is one of the key roles for HAART. It was also a dream come true for HAART as the idea of having a shelter had been lingering for a while. This meant that the protection program had grown and we could confidently assist more girls without having to worry about their aftercare. More than ever before I was proud to be a part of the HAART team.

By Phyllis Mburu

New Rescue Center for Victims of Trafficking in Kenya

Over the past 2-3 months we have been dealing with a shelter crisis (read about it here) that caused disruption to our work with reintegration and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking. More importantly, it meant we could no longer offer a secure and stable environment for the victims we were supporting. After a lot of work, long hours and tears from our dedicated team, we are extremely happy to announce that from today there will be a dedicated rescue center for victims of trafficking in Kenya. The local Advisory Council and the District Children Office inspected the rescue center and although there were still a few details left to fix such as getting all the furniture delivered, the inspection team was happy with the progress and have given an approval for the center to begin it’s operations.

By Rehema Baya

By Rehema Baya

We will not share the location or announce the staff that work there both to protect the victim and our staff as the Rescue Center is meant to be a safe house and the place will not be open for the public. However, we can say that the rescue center is in a safe neighborhood within 1-2 hours’ drive from Nairobi City Centre. The Centre will have a maximum capacity of 20 female victims of trafficking from the ages 8-18. We still have not decided on a name for the place and although we have some ideas, but if anyone have a good suggestion we are willing to listen.

Now that we are offering accommodation full-time to victims of trafficking if you have anything you would like to donate it would be very well received. Whether it’s monetary or items such as food items, household items, hygienic items, toys or books, we would be extremely grateful. We would like to thank our supporters who donate every month and also thank Bobmil Group who donated 21 mattresses. We are also extremely grateful for our donors such as Misereor, Misean Cara, Walk Free Foundation, Razem Dla Afryki, Mensen met een Missie and Missio Austria who allow us to assist victims of trafficking in Kenya. Lastly, we would also like to extend our gratitude to our UK partner Medaille Trust who have helped us by generously sharing their own shelter guidelines and manuals which has made the transition a lot easier.

Finally, from the management we are extremely proud and honored that we are able to work with such a capable and dedicated team that never wavered and worked extremely hard and diligent to make this rescue center a reality.

We are happy to receive the first residents of the rescue center today!

They almost had me

‘Lucky’ is one word I have used many times before in my life but this time I thought I would never use it again. I never got to meet my parents, I never got to see how they looked like. At a tender age my parents died and left me alone in this world, I was then shipped off to live with my grandmother an elderly woman who lacked the capacity to take care of me but was willing to take me in. I was only three years when my grandmother took me in. I did not get proper care and there are many time s, I would wander off in the village alone crawling on the road until someone noticed me and took me back to my grandmother. Due to the neglect I never got a proper diet and the nourishment that is essential for a child’s growth and this led to me developing a diseases “Osteomalacia and Rickets” which for some time caused partial paralysis and I could not walk for a while.

ArtWork-21 (Medium)

By Nicholas Asao Gaitano

Days went by but nothing changed until a good Samaritan whom I would later come to call ‘Danny’ Dholuo for grandmother saw me crawling in dirt all alone and decided to intervene but since I was far from home and could also not speak well she decided to take me with her to Nairobi and raise me as her own. She stood by me as I underwent months of physical therapy until I was now able to walk and talk. By this time I was now old enough to join school. She stood by me and made sure I went to school every day, she still reminds me to this day how she would carry me on her back when it rained so that I did not dirty myself as I went to school and how we fell in the mud once.

I finished my primary school and passed scoring 371 marks which qualified me to join a national school. Unfortunately, my guardian fell sick and was also really old. She decided that now I was old enough to know who my family was she then proceeded to ask and try to trace my family so that I would be reunited with them. It is then that I came to learn I had an aunt who lived in Kibera. She wanted me to get to know my family well and promised to take me to school as soon as the school year begun but this was not to be as soon we got to her house I was declared an enemy of the public I was not to speak to anyone or even move out she then told me that I would now help her make money by washing clothes all day and giving her all the money I got.

Before I even started I ran away to my neighbor’s house who was able to get me help from an organization called Polycom that deals with girls rights and is based in Kibera. I was taken to the chief’s office who then decided to give me back to my aunt and this time she decided that since I could run away at any time, it would be better to hide me with her brother who lives in Kitengela. However, that was just a decoy for her to take me back to my grandmother in the village where I would now be the one responsible for taking care of my aged grandmother. It wasn’t long before the organization that helped me before reached out to HAART and explained my situation. Together with the chief from Siaya they were able to rescue me and bring me back to Nairobi where I was placed in a shelter and now I am in school studying hard and pursuing my dreams of becoming an architect. I believe that this is now my opportunity to show those that invested their time and effort in rescuing me that they did not waste their time and resources.

By Abel Mogambi

When My Home Became a Prison

I remember being 11 years old and locked inside my parents’ house. Outside, people stood guard to ensure I wouldn’t escape. They were going to cut me and I had no choice. I underwent what they call female genital mutilation. I had only just finished my sixth grade exams. Immediately after they started negotiating my bride price.

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Photo by Rehema Baya

My name is Simu* and I am now 17-years-old. I come from a large Masaai family; my father has four wives and I am one of his 35 children. My sister and half-sisters before me were also cut. It is performed to prepare girls in our area for marriage. Just one month after the trauma, as my wounds were still healing, I was woken up by five men in the middle of the night. They took me from my bed and forced me to walk for many hours on the cold, dark night. One of these five men was my husband-to-be.

As we walked along the road I reflected on how insignificant I was to my parents, and even contemplated suicide. My dreams of finishing school didn’t matter to them at all. Incredibly, as the sun began to rise, I spotted a World Vision van driving along the road. I made a break for freedom and the staff inside the van were able to care for me and reinstate me in school using threats against my disgruntled parents that they would be taken to court if they tried to interfere.

In the short term I stayed with a cousin but had to endure the complaints of my father every time he had to sell a cow to pay for my schooling. He said the sale of each cow was the same as having one eaten by a lion or die from sickness since educating a girl was a waste of resources.
Several years later, at the end of 2015 and once I had finished my schooling, my parents said they had forgiven me and took me back in. But almost immediately my home became a prison once more – I was effectively under house arrest with my mother guarding me night and day. Before long I overheard my father discussing with a relative of the man they originally intended me to marry that he was to come for me once more; I had no choice but to run away, so borrowing Sh200 from my brother along with the Sh300 I already had saved I took a bus to Nairobi not knowing where I would go – only that the only other option was that I die.

Once in Nairobi I borrowed a phone and called a cousin who agreed to take me in. After a few days, he contacted HAART after finding them on Facebook. I was very anxious initially and wasn’t sure whether the two women from HAART would be able to help, but eventually they placed me in a shelter, to avoid my family tracking me down, before taking me to a boarding school in September last year.

I am now studying hard and pursuing my dreams to become an engineer at a university in the US or one of the top universities here in Kenya. No one can disturb me now or interfere with my dreams. This is my opportunity and I will not let myself or those who have rescued me down; HAART believed in me and saved me from my parents.
* Name was changed

By Winnie Mutevu

Social media and human trafficking

A new video from IOM explains the connection between human trafficking and social media. It’s something that traffickers use primarily for recruitment, but we also use it to fight human trafficking; to create awareness and get in touch with victims and hopefully ensure they are rescued.

Yesterday we were actually able to rescue a young girl who had been trafficked for domestic servitude and she was also physically, psychologically and sexually abused. We found her through facebook and we managed to rescue her together with the local authorities and she is now in a shelter.