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From Trauma to Triumph! Kiongozi´s Journey of Hope

August 2nd, 2023

Kiongozi*, 11, faced sexual exploitation by her uncle one fateful afternoon in Busia County, Kenya. Through the support of a focal person and TeamUp sessions, she regained her confidence and childhood.

Kiongozi at home

Life at home

11-year-old Kiongozi* lives with her parents, her 7 siblings and paternal grandmother in Teso North Sub-county, Kenya. They live in an unfinished structure house made of iron sheets. The house has no windows, thus lighting is inadequate during the day, and they have to use solar powered lamps at night. The house has three rooms; a living room and two bedrooms. A mud-walled hut in front of the home serves as a kitchen. The family fetches water for domestic use from a well, about three kilometers away.

The family depends on small-scale farming on their 5-acre piece of land, producing about 20 sacks of maize (2 tons) and approximately 15 sacks of beans (1.5 tons) every year. This provides enough food for them for a whole year. However, their financial struggles persist, and they can only eat what they can get their hands on. Kiongozi’s parents rely on casual labor on other people’s farms to supplement their income. Access to medical care is a grave concern for them since the nearest health center is located 4 kilometers away, with the roads to the hospitals only being accessible during the dry season. When it rains, the roads are impassable, and they resort to traditional herbs for their ailments.

Every morning, Kiongozi wakes up at 6 am to wash the dishes, sweep the home, and make breakfast for the family before heading to school. She attends a primary school, which is approximately 2 kilometers from her home. One of her teachers is her 38-year-old maternal uncle. She is an excellent performer in school. Her desire to improve her academic performance influenced her decision to seek private tutoring from her uncle who lives in a rented house across the road from the school. Kiongozi had grown accustomed to her uncle and could go to him at any time for academic assistance. 

Exploited at the garden

On one fateful afternoon, Kiongozi left school and went to her uncle’s house like she did every other day. She went in, did her homework, and then her uncle summoned her to the adjacent garden to bring him a plough for gardening. It was at that moment that he took advantage of her and sexually exploited her. He then handed her Euroe 0.067 and warned her not to utter a word to anyone. Kiongozi left her uncle’s house and returned home that evening, feeling shattered and in pain. She could not explain the traumatizing experience to her mother, father, or siblings. She tried her best to maintain a normal appearance as she continued her regular activities. “I was so worried since I did not know how my mother would react if she found out what her beloved brother had done to me. I kept asking myself if she would believe me.” she narrated.

Supported by the community focal person

In February 2022, Kiongozi saw a gathering of people in the office of the chief during one of her usual strolls through their village. The gathering happened to be one of the community dialogue-structured sessions organized by Terre des Hommes Netherlands under the JOFA CP Project.

She recognized one of her mother’s close friends in the crowd, who is a Community Focal Person (CFP) from the area. Having seen her mother’s close friend in the gathering and discussing child protection issues, Kiongozi bravely confided in her the following day. “I assured her that for me to support her, I would need to speak with other people, including her mother,” said the community focal person. “He is my brother, and I had no idea something like that could happen,” said Kiongozi’s mother upon learning of the incident.

Kiongozi was taken to the hospital for a medical check up and underwent critical medical tests. She was then taken to the police station where they were assisted by Gender Based Violence police officers and filed a case. A case plan was developed and counseling sessions were scheduled, with the Directorate of Children's Services (DCS) seeking the services of a pro bono psychologist to attend to Kiongozi. “She opened up to me and said she cried the whole night but no one noticed she was in pain,” recalled one of the counselors. Kiongozi managed to complete four counseling sessions with the counselor by November 2022. "Her confidence has improved and she can now smile and express herself," said the counselor.

Following reporting of the case to the police, legal redress commenced and the case was taken to court. As the court proceedings began, her uncle fled into hiding. Their extended family requested that the incident be dismissed so that they could discuss it as a family outside of court. When Kiongozi’s mother refused, they expelled her from the family. The perpetrator reappeared in late November, and the police apprehended him and he was arraigned before the Busia Law Courts. He was released on bond and is scheduled to appear in court later this year (2023) to face the charges.

Regained confidence

Kiongozi continues to be monitored on a weekly basis by the Child Protection Volunteer (CPV). The police also charged the area chief with ensuring that Kiongozi and her family are not harmed in any way. The chief designated the village elders to guarantee that court decisions are followed. “Now I am happy to be surrounded by people who love me," said Kiongozi. “I was treated with dignity by my mother's friend, in the hospital, by the police, and by DCS. These people have been my pillars of support. They remained in touch with me, and I now consider them friends.” She explained.

Currently in her third grade at school, Kiongozi has embraced the TeamUp sessions, held every Saturday from 11 am to 12 pm at Malaba Township Primary School. She is one of the 46 children (35 girls and 11 boys) selected to participate in TeamUp, a psychosocial intervention that adopts structured movement-based activities such as sports, play, movement, and body awareness games designed to promote children's psychosocial well-being.

According to the TeamUp mentor at the school, Kiongozi  is doing well and she is always on time for the sessions. Kiongozi has proven to be an assertive learner in the three sessions she has had with them, and she is confident that she will continue to improve.

“TeamUp has really helped me so much. We are taught very important attributes, to love each other and not discriminate against one another. Our TeamUp teacher guides us and gives us time to play," Kiongozi added. "I feel happier and relaxed after the sessions and the games," she said, "and I have also made new friends.” For the moment, I am holding up well, but I wish my uncle would face the law so that all the defilers out there can learn from it and stop this evil act." 

Speaking about her ambitions, Kiongozi said, "I want to start small, by sensitizing my team members on how to protect themselves, and then when I'm older, I'll be a peer educator as I pursue my career to become a teacher."

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