Our Smile Beyond Covid-19
The reality of living through the COVID 19 pandemic has expressly struck socio-economic structures in our country. As a shelter, we have been exiting rescued women and rescuing more following the influx of SGBV cases since March -13 -2020 when Kenya reported its very first Covid-19 case.
As a shelter, we recently transitioned 2 women and reintegrated them back to the community. One of them, a mother of 2 (Ella) is now pursuing a Diploma in Social Work and the other one, a mother of 1 (Jeddy) is working in a cake shop. We are currently hosting 12 women and 13 children and we have been able to cater for their basic needs through donations and vegetables produced from our farm..
October 20th, we celebrated Mashujaa Day (celebrate heroes), a national holiday celebrated in our country to celebrate veteran heroes. Although the day honours the country's heroes who fought for freedom from colonial rule, it represents much more than meets the eye. As Agatha Amani House, we had an opportunity to celebrate our residents who are heroes in many ways.
Currently, 6 of our residents are pursuing certificates courses in Business management and marketing, sponsored by European Business University (EBU). This is a great milestone to our beneficiaries. " This will be my second certificate to own in my life apart from my birth certificate." Say Jeddy, one of our residents. The knowledge is equipping them with entrepreneurial and business skills.
We have been practicing Permaculture which involves the cultivation of plants and rearing of animals in natural ways. Stewarding the land as we steward the souls and hearts of women is a fulfilling and a beautiful thing for us. Our shelter embrace farming as a way of being self-sustainable. We have been producing our own vegetables, eggs and milk. We also continue to use biogas for cooking and solar energy for lighting. Sustainability is one of our key projects.
We also recruited a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer who is helping in monitoring all our projects progress and impact. We have 2 volunteers with us who are helping with different roles; at the shelter and farm as well.
Thanks to donations from U.S. and international supporters. With the help of Donations received and matched by GlobalGiving, we have already started establishing our Food and Eco Forest.
Agatha Amani House (AAH) continues to grow and adapt to current challenges and opportunities. The COVID pandemic poses a serious threat in Kenya, with rising numbers of cases and vaccines grossly insufficient to meet the need. New lockdown restrictions have been implemented in western Kenya, where Agatha Amani House is located.
In response to this concern, AAH has worked hard to complete the “taka” quarantine rooms which will allow new survivors to be admitted while protecting the current shelter residents and staff. Elke Cole, an international expert in eco-friendly construction led an on-line Natural Building workshop in conjunction with the construction of the taka structure at AAH. This structure will be dedicated to the memory of Father Bob Terrill, an Episcopal priest from Kansas who was a long-term supporter of the vision and mission of Agatha Amani House.
The residents have also benefitted from leadership training where they are encouraged to identify their “careabouts” and to realize their role as “pillars” in their family and community. In addition, teambuilding exercises help to grow important interpersonal skills.
Currently, 12 women and 11 children reside at AAH (with an additional baby on the way). Wanjigu (not her real name) is a new resident who was referred to AAH by a community worker following her rape by an uncle and her continued lack of protection by other family members. Wanjigu has begun her journey toward physical and emotional healing and strength. “E”, an AAH graduate, continues to be a success story in safe and independent living in the community. A former AAH volunteer has raised sufficient funds for E to complete her first year of college.
New staff are in place to support the mission of AAH. A farm officer now assists the permaculture officer with the flourishing permaculture program. A shelter caretaker provides necessary support to residents while also assuming some important administrative duties.
Thanks to donations from U.S. and international supporters, we were able to secure a match from GlobalGiving to begin our Food and Eco Forest campaign. We look forward to engaging a teacher so that we can learn about planting and cultivating fruit trees on our new property – a means to greater self-sufficiency and environmental stewardship.
Agatha Amani House continues to be a busy place as we continue to grow and provide enhanced opportunities for survivors and their children. We began 2021 by taking physical possession on January 1st of an adjoining acre of land, which more than doubles our current size. Construction of a fence and entry gate will secure our property and provide privacy for our residents. The fence is 9-strand barbed wire covered by heavy gauge vinyl sheeting. Bougainvilla and trees will be planted inside the fence as an added barrier that will be beautiful as well.
We are proud of the success of our survivors who have completed our program and successfully transitioned to violence-free lives in the community. For example:
P now lives independently and works as a hair stylist;
A is employed at a supermarket and lives independently with her baby;
N secured a full scholarship at a vocational training center; and
E obtained her high school certificate, after clearing up school fees owed for some years.
Our Jijenge Transition Program continues to provide 3 months of financial assistance to survivors to assist with their expenses as they re-establish themselves in the community. Residents earn this money through additional responsibilities in their last months in the shelter, and these funds are set aside for their use once they leave the shelter. Jijenge is Swahili for “build yourself up.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a big rise in domestic violence in Kenya. We are grateful for the continued support of donors who assist us in providing refuge and hope for survivors seeking a safer and healthier future.
As the COVID pandemic continues, the leadership and staff at Agatha Amani House (AAH) have been intentional in implementing strict health guidelines within the compound and limiting staff and residents to only essential travel outside in the community. Any workers coming in from the community to assist with projects are also required to abide by these same guidelines. Thus far, Agatha Amani House has remained free from COVID.
We are once again accepting new survivors to our shelter by providing them a separate quarantine room for 14 days before joining the residents in the main house. To date, the room has been used for 3 new survivors and their babies.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Agatha Amani House is filled with excitement and activity. One reason is the addition of a new underground biogas digester that provides sufficient energy for our cooking and heating needs. Two new cows, along with our existing three, provide the necessary fuel for the larger biogas digester and offer us the opportunity to sell the excess milk in the community. The cattle shed has been expanded to accommodate our new cows, and a “loft” is being built above it for storage.
Construction is underway on an environmentally-friendly TAKATAKA House on the grounds in order to provide an additional room and office. Non-biodegradable materials such as plastics, glass, and polythene papers are put within the walls for insulation, then covered with a mixture of mud and straw – a process where everyone can help. The completed structure is one in which we all can take pride.
Most exciting is the news is that Agatha Amani House has purchased an adjoining acre of land after a lengthy process of negotiation, title search and transfer. We will take physical possession as of January 1, 2021. The additional land will provide increased capacity for our permaculture farm, and expanded programs and services for survivors and their children in the future.
A recent graduate of Agatha Amani House, Neema (not her real name) came to AAH experiencing severe depression and paranoia, which had resulted in her baby being taken from her. AAH helped arrange crucial mental health intervention, while providing psychosocial support and care. With her improvement, AAH accompanied Neema to court where she was successful in regaining custody of her child. She is currently employed and living safely and independently.
In these difficult times, we are more grateful than ever to those generous donors who support our work to provide healthy futures for survivors of gender-based violence.
Our work at Agatha Amani House goes on during the three-month lockdown due to COVID-19. We continue to serve our current residents, but have not taken new survivors into the shelter since the virus outbreak due to risk of infection. We utilize remote screening to advise survivors in the community of the options and resources available to them.
AAH is grateful to be approved for a GlobalGiving microgrant to address challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Planning is underway to build a quarantine room separate from the shelter house where we can house and safely integrate new residents, as well as our furloughed staff members as they return.
Self-sufficiency is a goal we strive for, and it has been a benefit during these challenging times. Cultivating crops and livestock within the shelter compound have provided for most of our food needs. Through a grant from Urgent Action Fund-Africa, we are constructing a new biogas digester to replace our old one, which will better generate sufficient clean energy for heating and cooking. The grant also covers the purchase of two additional cows and an expansion of the cowshed.
In the midst of these challenges, we celebrate the success of one of our graduates. Imani (not her real name) fled an abusive marriage with her child. The fact that she is deaf created an additional barrier to independence, but during her time at Agatha Amani House, she was able to heal and to develop strength and resiliency. She is now self-sufficient, working in a mini-factory which allows her to provide for herself and her child.
As AAH strives to adapt to a “new normal”, we are grateful to those donors who support our work to provide healing and hope to the survivors of gender-based violence.
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