They scattered in every direction, some walking hastily, others literally running from one street to the other. They kept track of our movements. They thought we were the police or the children officers pursuing to arrest them. This had happened many times before; many of them have spent nights in police custody in their youthful lives. It was about 10 pm on October 2, 2013.
Thanks to Life Bloom’s program Mentor approach, two of our adult mentors, who have since left street life and now work as Program Officers at Life Bloom, were able to create a rapport with a couple of the girls. We talked a little that night from the corridors of a bar; some of them were drunk with alcohol. I was glad they could begin to realize that we are their friends, and had not come to arrest them. They are aged between 13-17 years. The majority of them are already mothers, they do not go to school, they live on their own in small rooms in the slums of Naivasha, and earn their living and support their children from proceeds earned from the streets of Naivasha: selling their bodies.
This is the world of teenage sex workers in Naivasha.
A week after this experience, I sat among the 24 of them at our facility in Naivasha: Life Bloom. The room is small in size, and some sat on the floor. Though a bit suspicious, they had agreed to meet as a group and share about their experiences.
I sense tension build up in my systems long before we started the session. I was aware that my emotions would be swaying in all directions in a short while. I kept wondering how we got “our” innocent children into this kind of life and living, many times I found myself fighting back tears of anger (towards our society) in between trying to front a re-assuring smile for the girls hoping to convey the message that “finally, you kids are home, this is your space, our space, where you can find your footing and move on with your life in dignity”.
“Tell us about yourself’’ I threw the inviting statement to the group:
The answers came: “My name is (Jane, Mary, etc). I sell my body at the lodging on Kariuki Chotara road, (or) I sell from the house where I live, I bring my clients home during the day. I do it from the streets, inside people’s cars, or just besides the big trucks at night.”
“When did you begin practicing sex work,” I asked.
“I was 9 years old; At fifteen; Last year; I don’t know because I started a long time ago,” the responses varied.
“How much are you paid?”
In flew the responses: “Sometimes 50sh (less than 1US$,) other times 200sh (2.5 $); Sometimes I have 5 men in 24 hrs, other times I go home empty handed, hoping to get clients the following day”.
“So how did you get into this trade?”
In came their responses, “I was introduced by my friends; my neighbors; my mother/sisters; I was house help and became pregnant of the man of the house, I was thrown out, I went to the streets, because I couldn’t go back home.”
The more they got into the sharing, the more these girls seemed to lose track of what the four babies who were in the room were doing. When they were served lunch, they continued to eat as their babies continued to cry; they didn’t seem the least connected to the babies, to motherhood. Our staff, Trizer, and another adult mentor, Carol, stepped in to feed the babies.
The girls disclosed how they lock up their babies in the houses at night, as they go to the streets. They talked about their own parents, some of their mothers work at the flower farms, others were sex workers too, and some of the girls are orphans. Some have been married over and over again.
My heart was pierced by their innocent looks, their referring to me as Teacher Catherine throughout the session. I kept thinking about how nice it would be to have these innocent souls in classroom one day, they looked very eager to learn.
They asked me questions too: some asked how they could get back to school, others wanted to set up businesses, others wanted to go back to their parents. A few others asked that the government set up policies that could allow them to be in the streets 24/7, and be assured of their security--they have known no other business in their lives, other than selling their bodies.
‘How do we engage these young ones to learn when we at Life Bloom are so limited in terms of resources and we at times aren’t even able to pay staff salaries?’ I kept asking myself. ‘How best can we share HOPE with them?’
What kind of a generation are we raising? I thought of what the future possibly holds for these and many other girls, the future of their babies, their natural need to live and experience their childhood like millions of other girls do by going to school. I thought of the many dangers and their level of vulnerability: domestic and international sex trafficking and sex tourism, which is becoming a fast growing and threatening industry.
Since Oct 8th, Life Bloom facility receives an average of two girls from the streets every day. They seem to know what they want with their lives: to get back on course towards living in dignity. I SEE HOPE: Life Bloom and her partners, both in Kenya and abroad, have supported more than 5000 women in the last 10 years! 703 of these women are beneficiaries of structured certificate courses supported by Project Baobab, Global Fund for Women, Global Women Water Initiative, The Presbyterian Church of Tacoma, Kenya Help, WCC/EHAIA, Circle of Concerned Woman Theologians-Kenya, Global Giving, and our many committed friends from Kenya and the USA, and many others.
And yes! There is more hope, and lots of it, too! When Life Bloom completes building the classrooms for the “One Stop Center” in Naivasha, we will offer trainings and other very needed services to at least 200 of our women and girls annually – we will have the ability for taking what Life Bloom does to a much larger scale. I and we hope that will happen soon….very soon! But we need much more support to get there!
THANKS ALL FOR BEING PART OF LIFE BLOOM'S JOURNEY SINCE 2004.
Surviving Seven Years of Abuse and Violation of Rights: Young mother now begins her journey to wholeness
Mary Wanjiru lost her mother at three years of age. Her father stopped working and relocated to a piece of land on the lower zone of Lake Naivasha, hoping to farm and raise his children. He supported their education through primary school. Mary completed class 8 when she was 17; she then married a young man. Mary conceived immediately and she started a green grocer business. The husband had a motor bike and supported his young family with proceeds from ferrying passengers on the bike. Realizing that Mary was able to get a profit from her small business, he abandoned his responsibilities. Mary was able to buy what she needed for the coming of the new born. After delivery she continued with her business, but by this time her husband had become an alcoholic and beat Mary up almost every evening. She would seek refuge at her father’s home, but her husband would conspire with Mary’s father, pay a little “fine”, and Mary would be made to go back. Before a year was over she conceived again, but the abuse did not stop. She gave birth to a baby with disabilities.
This was the beginning of bigger problems. Mary’s husband beat her up more often and told her that his family line didn’t have the history of genes for children with disability, so she should look for “the father” of the child and take the child back. Mary would be beaten and would seek refuge this time with her mother-in-law, who only told her that she agreed with her son on the baby’s paternity. Mary pray that her husband would change. All this time, she didn’t report any incidences to the authorities or seek help because she didn’t think it was necessary. As with many people in abusive relationships, she believed that that was the kind of treatment she deserved and it was her fault that she brought forth a child with a disability.
Her husband came home one afternoon from having demolished Mary’s green grocer business, stating that men were seducing his wife and she was entertaining them. That was the beginning of a new chapter in Mary’s life. Without the business she worked so hard for, she could not get any money to buy food for her children or to take her child with disabilities for therapeutic sessions at the hospital. Mary’s husband would often return home drunk very late at night; if she asked for money to buy food, she would be beaten and kicked out of the house with her baby. This cycle continued and Mary’s father continued to be seduced by Mary’s husband, as he would “pay a fine” and promise to change. This cycle became a way of life for Mary.
A distant neighbor who is a beneficiary of Life Bloom’s interventions learned about Mary’s ordeal. She dared and gave Mary’s husband and her father (who worked together as proprietors) a brief lecture on the rights that they denied to Mary and her children. She called Life Bloom and paid up Mary’s bus fare (and hers too, totaling about $5), to bring her to the office. Mary has been receiving counseling and the matter was reported to the police. Her husband was arrested, aligned in court and released on bail. Afterwards the matter was reported to the children department and the husband was summoned and was instructed to pay school fees for the elder child, (6 years old), medical fees for the second born, and Kenya Shillings 3000 per month for the up keep of the children. (One reason he was released on bond was to be able to earn and provide for the children).
Mary is now living at her father’s house and has reopened a green grocer business, while continuing to receive counseling and support from LBSI. As she picks up the pieces of her life, Mary wants to be trained in entrepreneurship and leadership skills and hopes to be a better mother to her two girls. Life Bloom has already embraced Mary and her children as new members of the already 4500 plus family.
Life Bloom’s main reason for existence is to support Mary and other women (and men) like her regain their dignity and provide an opportunity for a second chance in life.
This report has been compiled by Wanjiru, Trizah, Fiona and Catherine (LBSI Staff)
Over the last four months, under the direction of the Executive Director and founder, Catherine Wanjohi, Life Bloom has taken up tasks at a higher level, becoming active members of the Naivasha Sub County and Nakuru County committees in the areas where Life Blooms interventions are strong and recognized by the community and the government.
Through these forums, Life Bloom is now engaged at advocacy level to influence policy implementation and/or change through the government and other partner's platforms. This direct engagement is creating more platforms for the sex workers and other abused women’s and children’s voices to have a collective impact. In this way, visibility of the organization and Wanjohi’s works are also increasing, and community and stakeholders’ participation is increasing.
Key among the leading committees and networks are:
Life Bloom is involved in the following networks/committees:
Through the schools, the girls are empowered with peer mentor support skills. LBSI is the co-coordinator and in the executive committee of the Gender-based networking group in Naivasha. In the Area Advisory Committee and Probation department, LBSI offers counseling and helps in the re-integration of the survivors back to the family and society and follows-up in the progress either through the prison or community groups.
Through this, some women beneficiaries of LBSI are finding space where they are able to not only share about their transformation, yet also share their thoughts about what they believe works best for other women 's transformation as opposed to the board room created projects by some government departments and other partners. Members of the community with the most knowledge of the issues are participating in designing the steps for more positive outcomes. Fiona, one of Life Bloom’s beneficiaries and currently a member of staff, is the coordinator on issues of child abuse and assists in arranging for their safe custody in safe shelters and for counseling and legal action.
We lacked quite a lot in the past in this kind of participation and visibility. We believe that this network building is one of the most profound developments in the last couple of months, and this will of course see Life Bloom rise to a level where we can be seen as qualifying for support from the funding organizations and maybe the government as well as we move on.
Happy Holidays from Life Bloom Services International!
We invite you to view a video of Life Bloom's impact on Fiona Wanjiru, who you've read about in other project updates, and a message from Catherine Wanjohi on CitizenTV.
Read an inspiring story about Lucy Wambui, a beneficiary of Life Bloom and current Peer Counselor for Life Bloom.
We also invite you to view our holiday message hosted on Constant Contact.
In this season and in all the days throughout the year, we are grateful for your involvement with Life Bloom and count you among our family.
Warmest wishes to you this year, the next, and all to come.
Love, hope, and light,Life Bloom Services International
From the Executive Director, who visited Nancy of the Visionary Sister's group in mid-October:
To say that I was amazed would be an understatement. Nancy left the brothel on 3rd May 2012. She packed her clothes, left some behind, and left for an estate where she had rented a room.Nancy never looked back. Her sister was running a shop then (she is younger than Nancy and is one of the reasons Nancy joined sex work, to pay school fees for her siblings). Nancy joined her sister at the shop, initially for a pay, but after a few months her sister got married and planned to move to another town to join her husband. Nancy was already plowing her savings into the shop alongside her sister. By August, the sister sold her business shares to Nancy. Today, Nancy's shop has stock amounting to about $295, every shelf has items for sale. She earns about $129 per month in profit, giving her a very decent life by any Kenyan standards. This is such a great breakthrough. Nancy wakes gets to the shop at 5:30am and leaves at about 10pm! I marveled at her warm customer care skills, her swiftness, her sharp focus, and great arithmetic skills (she got these skills in the 5 months she went to school with the other 5 women in the Visionary Sister's group). Her current challenge is keeping records. We hope our partnership with Women Centers International will take care of this at the trainings and monitoring.The attached photo was taken at her shop: Catherine is with Nancy and Redempta, who has become a photographer, and is taken outside Nancy's shop.
We are blessed.
Catherine WanjohiExecutive DirectorLife Bloom Services International-LBSI
The Visionary Sisters are an outgrowth of Life Bloom Services International and are an example of the exemplary work that can be done by the women who LBSI trains for exit from sex work. Nancy had been trained through LBSI and brought others in her network along with her out of sex work.
The Visionary Sisters group members have regular meetings, and have recently been using the Internet to learn more about Women Enterprise Fund, the Government Department in the Ministry of Gender. Life Bloom has made progress to begin to work more cooperatively with the Ministry of Gender.
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