Annual report 2019-20Read now
It is not very often that I feel a sense of disillusionment after spending time with communities that Trócaire is working with.
However, this is how I felt last week after spending a few days in the slums of Nakuru, the fourth largest city in Kenya, about 160km from the capital Nairobi.
Trócaire’s gender empowerment programme in Nakuru supports women and children who are victims of violence in the slums. Women, girls and boys face widespread abuse in many of Nakuru’s slums as a result of poverty, a lack of livelihood options, alcohol and drug abuse.
During my visit to Nakuru I heard countless cases of senseless, inhumane violence, including the rape of children as young as five or six years of age; of children forced into prostitution from the age of nine or ten, of teenage girls being abducted, raped and subsequently contracting HIV.
One such incident that shook me to the core was that of a gang rape of Christine, a 14 year old orphan.
Christine was looking after her three younger brothers when three men abducted her, locked in her in a small shack and repeatedly raped her, then left her for dead.
Tragically Christine died soon after her attack. The three attackers who were identified by her brothers and were arrested for the attack.
But they were then freed following the intervention of a leading political figure in Nakuru, who was connected to one of the men.
Christine’s grandmother and her three young brothers have been traumatised by the attack and left utterly disillusioned with the justice system.
Trócaire is now supporting them in their pursuit of justice.
The case was reported to one of Trócaire’s local partners in Nakuru and with our support they are now following up on the case and are providing legal support to Christine’s grandmother to ensure the three attackers are brought to justice.
It will be a long struggle to see justice done for Christine but the family knows they are not alone and that we are willing to stand with them as they fight for Christine.
Elsewhere in Nakuru we are supporting post rape care, along with counselling and psychosocial support to victims of violence and to people living with HIV, who are still generally stigmatised for their HIV status.
This support has allowed them to deal with the physical, psychological and emotional trauma that they carry.
We are also working with local community groups, the local county government and the police to ensure there is greater awareness around violence against women and children, to ensure that women and children know their rights and what to do in the event of being a victim of abuse, while also ensuring that those in authority are aware of their duties and responsibilities when it comes to managing cases of violence and abuse.
I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for our staff and partners in Kenya who day after day are working with and supporting victims of violence and abuse.
Unlike our work in say agricultural or humanitarian programmes, where the impact can be visible in a relatively short period of time (crops grow, people have food aid that keeps them alive), this work is slow, challenging and emotionally draining.
Despite the dreadful attacks and the high prevalence of violence against women and children, there is hope.
Meeting young children who were born with HIV who now see a better future for themselves as a result of the support they got from Trócaire, and young mothers in their late teens who have been supported to go back to school to give them a better opportunity of escaping poverty gives me hope that life in the slums will improve for some.
However, my abiding memory as I leave Nakuru is that of Christine and the innocent children I saw running around the streets wondering what dangers they face when night sets in.
Eoin Wrenn is Trócaire’s Head of Region for Horn and East Africa which includes Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan