MAMA RESCUE

Why Wa Migwi is like a mother to domestic abuse survivors

She goes out of her way to save victims from a hell she endured for 15 years. But above all, she gives them the courage to walk away

In Summary

• Since 2019, she's hosted 100 women, men and children survivors of domestic abuse

• Her organisation relies on donations from friends and social media followers

SGBV activist Njeri wa Migwi during an interview with the Star in Nairobi yesterday
SGBV activist Njeri wa Migwi during an interview with the Star in Nairobi yesterday
Image: DOUGLAS OKIDDY

Njeri wa Migwi is a mother who is full of life, and words are always flowing out of her, regardless of what when she has gone through.

She is a survivor of gender-based violence. She got married young and in the midst of it, she started experiencing physical abuse from her husband.

Together for 15 years, she endured pain from her husband, and as a result, she ended up losing part of her hearing.

 
 
 
 

On repeated occasions, when she would run away from her matrimonial home to her father’s, her now ex-husband would come back to her, throwing in sweet words, and off she would go.

She termed the behavior as trauma bonding. It occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change.

According to psych central, trauma bonding is a problem that many people trapped in abusive relationships don’t realise they’re experiencing because mental abuse often beats you down into ignoring various types of trauma as love.

Signs of trauma bonding in abusive relationships include: “He did not mean to get angry, it was my fault,” “He puts up with me and still loves me,” “He had a terrible childhood, I feel sorry for him,” and “I can help him change with love and support.”

“One day, I snapped and left my marriage and got divorced. The best decision I have ever made,” she said.

From living in a posh, five-bedroom house, and driving a BMW, for many the ultimate driving machine, she went and started life from scratch in a single room in Nairobi.

She says it was hard adjusting to her new life and building herself up, from hawking tomatoes in Nairobi’s CBD, to an interior designer and now a GBV activist.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

She has never looked back since and is now happily married to a man whom she says has been a great support system as she now largely focuses on her GBV activism as well as her interior design business.

Sadly, domestic abuse is viewed as the norm. We are trying to raise awareness. I do a rescue daily
Njeri wa Migwi

USIKIMYE

In 2019, Wa Migwi founded an organisation called ‘Usikimye’, with a mandate to become a one-stop SGBV care centre that provides comprehensive services to SGBV survivors.

These include psychosocial support, medical evaluation and treatment, emergency contraceptives for females of reproductive ages, forensic analysis, trauma counselling, paralegal services and transitional safe rooms.

When she started the organisation, the main goal, she says, was to sensitise and educate people on GBV, do marches and push the government to open shelters.

With time, victims started sending her messages on social media, telling her they are ready to leave their abusive relationships and marriages.

Since then, Njeri terms her daily life insane. She revolves mostly around courts, police stations, hospitals and rescues. Depending on the cases she receives.

“My first case was for a woman who told me she has reported her husband who was abusing her to a police station and she had no place to go.”

There has been an enormous increase in GBV cases, and her safe house is getting filled up. She wonders where she would get space for more victims.

“No one has a good story, no one wants to go back to their abusive homes,” she says.

During that time, she had hosted three women survivors in her home.

“We rented two single rooms. We informed people that we are opening a shelter and so we asked if they could provide with extra beds or anything that they could give out,” she said.

“That is when I came to realise there is indeed a huge need for shelters in the country. At first, we would offer counselling and host for only two weeks,” she said.

But the first woman they rescued went back to her abuser. And in less than three days, she was called.

And they realised the need of having victims stay in for longer, get more counselling and be in a peaceful environment.

She later found a safe house that now hosts victims of sexual and gender-based violence to enable them to take off and get therapy with any burdens on their shoulders.

HEAL AND RECOVER

Wa Migwi described her safe house as a place of recuperation and healing for women and their children who have gone through sexual or domestic violence.

“Different women come from different statuses in life. We aim to empower them with the little we have,” she said.

“We are always fundraising. We have opened 10 small businesses. They now have a place where they can fend for themselves. They are happy. That is what I would call a success story.”

For Njeri, empowerment comes from being able to change their whole lives.

Since 2019, she has hosted 100 women, men and children survivors from all walks of life. Her beneficiaries love calling her ‘mum’.

“Sadly, domestic abuse is viewed as the norm. We are trying to raise awareness. I do a rescue daily,” she says.

Her organisation has child psychologists for children who have undergone violence, therapy sessions, and yoga classes on weekends.

She narrates traumatic stories of GBV survivors, condemning the practice on her social media platforms, which have attracted a large audience.

Her organisation is, however, not funded. She mostly receives donations from friends and social media followers.

WHY THEY PERSEVERE

“Most women when you ask them, they will tell you they are there for their children. You are ruining your children’s lives”

She has advised women who are in abusive marriages to leave and start life over.

She also said  staying in a violent marriage has a negative impact on children.

“Children do not learn by being told, they learn by what they see. You are telling your children that marriage is violent, the language of love is violent, and they will therefore normalise violence,” she said.

“Most women when you ask them, they will tell you they are there for their children. You are ruining your children’s lives.”

Whenever she has time for herself, she prefers playing video games on her phone. She says it serves as a right mental distraction from all the horrific cases she comes across on a daily basis.

The Star spoke to a few victims, and they describe Njeri as the angel who is heaven-sent. They show a lot of gratitude to her for saving their lives and helping them start afresh and assisting them in any way she can.

ARRESTED FOR HELPING

On November 26, police from Buruburu police station raided Wa Migwi's safe house. They arrested the ‘house mum’ named Terry and summoned Njeri based on the premise that they had both spoken to the woman they were looking for days earlier, who was seeking sanctuary in the safe house.

“Long and short of it, I am being accused of counter-trafficking of persons. A woman reached out in distress because her husband had choked and beaten her, she got an OB at her local police station, she took four days before she reached us,” she said.

“Unfortunately, our shelter was full at the time, so we gave her food for her and her kids and she left.”

Wa Migwi's phone was traced since she had spoken to the woman. Terry was the last person who also spoke to her when she called her to pick her up from the stage.  They tracked and traced the phone calls.

“They raided our shelter and couldn't find us. I can't thank Amnesty Kenya enough and Amazon Chepkirui. They surrounded me with a contingent of lawyers and their staff until 3am at night, when Terry and I were released, and dropped me home,” she said.

The police accuse the safe house of breaking up families.

To support Wa Migwi and her rescue work, send donations to the following M-Changa number: Paybill: 891300 Account: Usikimye

Edited by T Jalio