MENTAL HEALTH

Amisa's grief led her to found Nivishe healing centre in Kibera

The foundation has been nominated for the Sh10 million Chegg.org Global Student Prize 2021

In Summary
  • The Global Student Prize was launched earlier this year and is a sister award to the Sh100 million Global Teacher Award won by teacher Peter Tabichi in 2019.
  • She started Nivishe to build community resilience using community based mental health interventions.
Nivishe Foundation founder and executive director Amisa Rashid Ahmed during an interview at Kibera on January 27.
MENTAL HEALTH: Nivishe Foundation founder and executive director Amisa Rashid Ahmed during an interview at Kibera on January 27.
Image: WILFRED NYANGARESI

Amisa Rashid was not allowed to cry during her father’s burial. A sheikh told her it was not right.

“I was confused as I did not understand that there was a wrong way to grieve,” Amisa told the Star.

Amisa, then 21-years-old and a student, kept wondering how other people dealt with loss without being allowed to grieve the way they desired.

“I asked myself so many questions on how to cope with loss and grief, how to take care of my mental health and also offer support to those who need it,” she said.

“I don’t know why I was told not to cry because it is not in the Islamic religion. It is probably a cultural thing. All in all, I am glad I was told because it steered me towards finding a solution,” she added.

In 2017, Amisa started the Nivishe Foundation where she visited different institutions to talk about mental health.

“I had just finished my degree in Arabic and Islamic studies but enrolled for a higher diploma in counselling psychology,” she said.

It was then that Amisa discovered that coupled with the unfulfilled grief, she had been harbouring mental trauma from the clashes in Kibera.

“I belong to the Nubian community which is marginalised and therefore growing up, I was exposed regular episodes of conflict from tribal clashes to post-election violence,” she said.

The 27-year-old said she healed herself and then grew to offer support to others in marginalised and vulnerable communities through Nivishe.

Nivishe Foundation founder and executive director Amisa Rashid Ahmed during an interview at Kibera on January 27.
SOCIAL COHESION: Nivishe Foundation founder and executive director Amisa Rashid Ahmed during an interview at Kibera on January 27.
Image: /WILFRED NYANGARESI

“Nivishe is a Swahili word meaning ‘dress me’. Therefore at Nivishe, we holistically cloth people by building community resilience.

"We use community based mental health interventions and trauma informed programmes as tools for social cohesion,” she said.

Even though her journey stemmed from losing her father, Amisa said, systemic issues such as poverty, insecurity, tribal clashes and violence especially gender-based motivated her.

“Mental health is often mistaken to be evil spirits especially where cultural and traditional practices are rife.

“Instead of seeking professional help, victims are prayed for, exorcised, or isolated. At the grassroot level, the interventions are very individualised and need a deeply empathetic approach,” Amisa said.

Nivishe achieves its agenda through four programmes; community mental health talks via a local radio station in Kibera; mental clubs in schools; psychosocial support for people living with disabilities; and psychosocial programmes with teenage mothers.

 “More than 40 per cent of the people who come to our center for counseling heard about the programme via the talk show.

"For the mental clubs, we hold sessions with students, teachers, administrators and parents, separately, to ensure every aspect of mental health is addressed,” she said.

Amisa said Nivishe is currently working with five schools with the most vulnerable pupils in Kibera while partnering with other organisations and stakeholders for other programmes.

“I was born and brought up in Kibera therefore I understand which schools are worst affected by issues of mental health,” she said.

Working with children, she said, requires keen observation on behavioural, social and environmental changes as children cannot solidly express their challenges or know what affects them negatively.

“Since children are not able to express themselves clearly through words; you have to be observant to identify any changes,” she said.

Amisa also said they run a teen mothers programme once a week, to help integrate them back to the society and heal them.

She says teen moms face stigma or rejection from the community.

“We attach them to economic empowerment programmes in partnership with other organisations. We also support victims of gender-based violence,” she added.

Five years later, her labour has bore fruits with the recent recognition earning her a place as a top 10 finalist for the Chegg.org Global Student Prize 2021.

The Sh10 million award is to be given to one exceptional student who has made a real impact on learning, the lives of their peers and on society.

She was selected from more than 3,500 nominations and applications from 94 countries around the world. The award is a brainchild of the Varkey Foundation.

The Global Student Prize was launched earlier this year and is a sister award to the Sh100 million Global Teacher Award won by teacher Peter Tabichi in 2019.

Currently she is pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and management at Strathmore University, Nairobi.

As a master’s student, Amisa blends academics with her work as a counselling psychologist and mediator specialising in community building and trauma healing.

Amisa’s ambition is to bring about a paradigm shift in mental well-being and quality of life.

She also wishes that women and girls pursue leadership positions, both within the community and in other organisations.

Amisa's Nivishe Foundation, a youth and women-led organisation aims to build community resilience through mental health awareness and trauma-informed resilience programmes.  

(Edited by Bilha Makokha)