Kibera support groups healing survivors

October 2, 2021by CREAW

On this cold chilly morning, a group of women met in Mchanganyiko social hall in Kibera. As I approach the hall, I am welcomed by murmurs.  A group of 12 women, seat pensively, trying to create a rapport in pairs.

“Mmmm”, Catherine Mailu, CREAW’s project counsellor, clears her throat, to grab the attention of the dozen of women seated. They all turn to her, with eyes of expectation. All of them are known to Catherine, for she has walked with each one of them individually through counselling.

“Today we are going to have what we call a support group. We will all share our experiences and how we are overcoming the traumatic experiences we went through” explained Mailu.

Ms. Catherine Mailu facilitating a support group session

A brief session of introduction is conducted as an icebreaker. Their eyes now light up, with excitement. They know who is in the room.

*Hadiya, (not her real name) sits pensively at the corner. Her hands tacked in her hijab. Staring at others narrate their ordeal. She suddenly breaks down. Tears flow uncontrollably from her eyes. Then she wails. *Linda (Not her real name) suddenly stops recounting her affliction. The focus is turned on *Hadiya. The room is dead silent, as Catherine strokes Hadiya on the back to ease her.

Hadiya, has been in an abusive marriage for over 20 years with constant beating from her husband that led to their separation. Unfortunately, her 16 year old son, was affected by the separation and has become rebellious towards her mother, blaming her for separating from the dad.

Group members comforting one of their own during the session

*Hadiya manages to hold herself. *Linda, was recounting how her teenage son has gotten into drugs, due to the family conflict and stays away from home. Both women, feel relieved. They had bottled up their anger and anxiety for a while. The ladies herein support them with wise counsel on how to handle their children.

In a support group, members provide each other with various types of support, usually nonprofessional and nonmaterial, for a particular shared experience. Members going through the same predicament, come together for sharing coping strategies, to feel more empowered and for a sense of community.

“The teenagers are also going through a crisis. The home environment is hostile hence they find solace outside home. Unfortunately, they have gotten into wrong company” states Catherine, the project counsellor.

The session runs fairly well, with some clients breaking down but keeping strong to share their story. The women here, have gone through myriad challenges in life, but their uniting force is rising above gender based violence. The year 2020, was a double pandemic for these women. The COVID-19 pandemic was ravaging the country, whereas these women were being afflicted with their intimate partners psychologically, sexually and physically at home. Some, like *Linda, had to close her business, due to financial constrains, as well as her husband interference in the business.

With support from Mastercard Foundation, through the Response, Recovery and Resilience Project in partnership with GROOTS and The Collaborative Centre for Gender and Development: CCGD, *Linda and *Hadiya have successfully reopened their businesses. Linda, who is a hairdresser, has restocked her salon with more hair products.

According to Catherine, CREAW Kenya’s project counsellor, the common experience among members of a support group often means they have similar feelings, worries and everyday problems. Participating in a group provides one with an opportunity to be with people who are likely to have a common purpose and likely to understand one another.

Support group session ongoing