This night, I am closing my eyes, to imagine a world free of violence; an activity I have done severally with teenage girls and boys, in the sprawling shanties of Kibera, in Kenya. My mind, however, refuses to reflect on all the sessions I’ve held, educating young people about the dangers of violence and how we could all play our part to prevent it. This has been my own unique way of healing and rising....
A vivid picture of a young woman, strolling along the busy Tamale-Yendi highway, in Northern Ghana, stubbornly refuses to leave my mind. It’s Sunday afternoon. Dressed in a long and loose blue dress, I am walking slowly, away from a hair salon, half of my heart direly missing home, my people, particularly my mum and dad back in Kenya. The other half is here in Northern Ghana, a place I have called home for the past 6 months. A place inhabited by very warm and kind-hearted people. In fact, their kindness has moved me to tears, severally.
I have been here, in my role as a youth specialist, working hand in hand with the people of Northern Ghana to alleviate the plight of girls, many of whom are betrothed at the age of 10-16 years and married off to men, old enough to be their grandfathers. Many who cannot make a choice of going to school because they have to go to the market and ferry goods for people, as porters. They are breadwinners in their families. Others who cannot be allowed to hold any leadership positions in school; because, well, only boys can be leaders! Also, many who suffer the pain and shame of scratching their private parts, day in day out, often getting distracted from concentrating in class, because they contracted some vaginal infection since joining secondary school! Half of my heart is here, because like them I have been there, experienced it, but somehow managed to pull through…and now that I have the chance, I am doing all that is humanly possible to help make a difference, hand in hand with them.
Suddenly, my attention is distracted by some noise, weird noise, male voices. My nerves begin to sense danger…this is not the friendly place I have called home for the past six months. I look back in haste, only to see about 15 men lined up by the roadside, frantically waving at me and catcalling. Yes, they are catcalling me! To confirm, I turn around to see if there’s another woman. No, I am the only one walking along that road , on this Sunday afternoon. Thump! Thump! Thump! My heart threatens to escape my body, in fear. I know violence too well! I have interacted with little children … victims of rape, and was left helpless because all I could give Angela was a cuddle! She was too traumatized to talk. She was 4, and had been raped by her father… yes, her FATHER.
I hate to say this, but again, I know violence too well! Because, through my organization TAP Africa, I have interacted with hundreds of teens, while weaving stars to light up the darkness of violence in their lives. During pairing up sessions, they shared horrifying stories of encounter with violence, behind closed doors. In Machakos, they confided in us about incidents of rape on girls by their relatives. Thank goodness, we reported the cases to the authorities, and perpetrators were nabbed! In Kibera, they narrated stories of encounter with violence, casually, as if it was a norm!
You know, I know violence too well, because as a young woman I have been there and suffered it in an abusive relationship, that almost became a death-trap! My sister, how would I say I don’t know violence, when at only 19 years I had to choose between my job, my only hope for a university education, or endure prolonged sexual harassment by a boss. Tell me, how would I say I don’t know violence so well, yet it seems to me that at only 4 years, like Angela, my life sentence to violence was written!!
In that moment I sense danger and begin to wonder if I should take to my heels…but where would I be running away to? This is not my country. The only people I know are my colleagues, and even then, I do not know their backgrounds, believes, behaviors…and in that moment I realize I am alone, miles away from home. I make a sharp turn around and start walking towards my house briskly. While on the way, I call a good friend and narrate my predicament amidst sobs.
This is the third time, a man has supported me with kind words, after an incident of violence. In those 3 incidents, those great men never doubted me for a second, they believed me, and that made a whole difference! This is the world I hope for...
I Imagine how many countries I’d freely go to without having to watch my back, just because I am a girl! And how many young people, girls, could potentially benefit from my skills, experience, and passion, as a result of my unthreatened mobility. Imagine, how enthusiastic I would be to climb the career ladder, if I did not have to fear that some boss might demand sexual favors for me to stay in that position? Now, just imagine what kind of a care-free, courageous, peaceful, and happy young woman I’d be, if those nasty images of the violence I have experienced did not keep on resurfacing on my mind, every time and then. I mean, how can we ever say the world is a beautiful place when young women and girls, sometimes boys and men too, have to constantly live in fear of what could happen to them, just because … their gender betrays them?
Thanks to violence, from the age of 4, I was terrorized with an image of hell! Any time I find myself walking alone on a clear road, my entire body seems to be aware of the potential danger I may be in, even if it’s on a tarmac road. I keep looking back to just ensure that no one is following me. Sometimes, if I see a man is behind me, I’ll stop and wait for him to pass, then I’ll continue walking, hastily, hitting my toes on the rocks and hard surface. Then, when I realize the man has gone, I run away towards my destination. I have done this countless times!
Someone would say “It’s good to be cautious because you are a girl.” But I ask, “Why can’t I be free to close my eyes and stroll along an unbusy road, while taking time to enjoy Nature’s blessings of green vegetation, cute little birds, cotton-white clouds, blue skies, and those beautifully scented flowers?”
Just why can’t girls be free to move around...without having to watch their back! Without constantly being terrorized by images of hell from their experiences of violence and harassment. From catcalling!
It is precisely this experience that has led me here, to use my voice and speak against violence. Since 2016, TAP Africa, an initiative I founded to develop the capacity of young people to champion positive change in their communities, has been gathering girls and boys in safe spaces in Nairobi’s slums and rural areas, engaging them in guided conversations about the topic of violence. Thousands of young people have learnt about the dangers of stereotypes and gender discrimination, as root causes of violence. They have also learnt about how to read the warning signs of violence, developing respectful relationships, and preventing violence. In these spaces, we have composed songs and poems to prevent violence; weaved stars to light up the darkness of violence in our lives; amplified our voices by telling our stories in podiums, radios, magazines, and newspapers.
My conviction is this: when young people, both girls and boys are educated about violence, its forms, roots, signs, and prevention, we sustainably address violence, because they (young people) not only learn how to cope and heal from their experiences, but also are aware of the effects of violence, hence, avoid and prevent it when they grow up.
This year, TAP Africa in collaboration with The Shima Foundation, is creating safe spaces for youth on campus, to weave stars and light up the darkness of violence in their lives, while engaging in guided conversations and learning about violence.
“A World Free of Violence” is possible if you and I joined hands to educate young people, boys and girls, about the dangers of violence.
To learn more and support TAP Africa’s work in addressing Gender Based Violence with young people in Kenya, kindly go to our website: www.tapafrica-1.org or contact me via WP Message segment.
In solid sisterhood and brotherhood, we can all rise to create a World Free of Violence! Blessings in your journey.