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Byron Shire
May 16, 2021

A loyal friend is what many people need in this sometimes brutal world

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Members of the Rafiki Mwema community. Photo supplied.
Members of the Rafiki Mwema community. Photo supplied.

It can be overwhelming. So many people need help in this ever growing world from the simplest things like clean air and water to just stopping on the street to check if a stranger needs our help; so hearing the story of children who have, in many cases, been savagely sexually abused in Kenya can be almost paralysing.

Fortunately local Lennox Head resident Sarah Rosborg was anything but paralysed and when she learnt that the Rafiki Mwema orphanage in Kenya was running out of funds and she got straight on board. The orphanage is part of the Play Kenya organisation set up by Anne-Marie Tipper from the UK and uses play and attachment techniques to deal with trauma and Rafiki Mwema means ‘loyal friend’ in Swahili.

Sarah has been working with and raising funds for the orphanage, that dedicates itself to supporting young girls who have been sexually abused and assisting boys who have been living on the streets, for four years.

The girls who come to Rafiki Mwema have always been sexually abused,’ said Sarah.

Members of the Rafiki Mwema community. Photo supplied.
Young girls who have been brought to the Rafiki Mwema orphanage for care. Photo supplied.

‘We are the only home in the area that specifically care for this type of trauma and sadly the need for us is beyond huge. There were 11,000 (yes, thousand!) cases of sexual abuse that were reported in the town we work in last year alone.

The children who we care for at Rafiki Mwema are always brought to us via the children’s department or police. Many of our girls have been so brutally raped that they have had to have reconstructive surgery.

The boys who come to us come straight from the street. The boys have lived a living hell. Many have run away from home at the young age of five as it was safer for them to live on these brutal streets than it was for them to stay at home.’

Using play, through a technique called PACE (Playful Accepting Curious and Empathy) that has been used in both the UK and the Sates, each child has a key worker that supports them through their time at Rafiki Mwema and their transition home.

‘Many have horrific internal injuries and need to have hospital treatment, they need to attend court to give evidence, they need to know someone is there for them,’ continued Sarah.

The orphanage has 45 staff and finding the right staff locally can be difficult said Sarah.

‘We are asking them to therapeutically parent these children in a way that goes against their core beliefs. We have zero tolerance to staff beating, shouting or shaming the children. We offer them love, acceptance and training and we know that they play the biggest part on the journey of these amazing children.’

Changing attitudes

The Rafiki Mwema property Kenya. Photo supplied.
The Rafiki Mwema property Kenya. Photo supplied.

There are currently 68 girls and boys in the care of Rafiki Mwema. The girls are based in two houses on the 14 acre ‘Doyle Farm’ given to the group by a local couple and the boys are in two houses that they rent in the town.

‘We are currently working to build the boys houses on the farm so we can get everyone on the same property,’ Sarah continued.

Around 110 children have returned home to safe relatives or careers through a three month step down program where staff work with the family and community and have daily vistas once the girls return home and then continue having weekly contact.

Though the program is helping to change attitudes Sarah said, ‘Many people still believe in the myth that having sex with a virgin will get rid of HIV+ status. Also, people believe that if the child has been abused, then they are used goods and will often be abused by many in the future because she has already been ruined.’

There have been two incidents where children have been re-abused despite precautions said Sarah.

‘One of the first girls that came to us and was raped by a stranger when she was five years old.  She returned home when she was seven after years of therapy, hospital visits, court cases.

‘On one of our checks we found that the father had raped her. This was because he believed she was used goods. It was absolutely heartbreaking and traumatising. She returned back to us immediately and the father was prosecuted.’

Those children unable to go home remain at Rafiki Mwema until they are adults. However, the program would like to look at building huts on the farm for these children where they could live with foster parents.

‘This way they can have a “family” of their own but still be parented therapeutically, which is very important for children with such huge trauma,’ continued Sarah.

Greatest success

Members of the Rafiki Mwema community using the video link system. Photo supplied.
Members of the Rafiki Mwema community using the video link system. Photo supplied.

Eight years ago Anne-Marie was asked to support two eight year old boys, who had been kidnapped and repeatedly raped by a street man, who were scheduled to give evidence in their case. In the court room ‘The rapist was allowed to challenge, question, shout and get right into the face of theses baby boys,’ said Anne-Marie.

‘He called them liars and said that they had accepted chips from him so why were they complaining now. The boys were amazing and this rapist is housed in the Nakuru mens prison for a minimum of 25 years.

That day Anne-Marie made a promise to herself ‘that no child should ever have to go through that again. No wonder children froze in fear and didn’t give evidence and rapists walked free. Their fear must have been immeasurable.’

After years and being told that that her plan was ‘ridiculous’ Play Kenya have succeeded in providing the first video link system in Kenya. This consists of a ‘soundproofed room, with recording video equipment, which mean vulnerable witnesses are protected,’ said Sarah.

‘Anne-Marie has fulfilled the promise she made that day and Play Kenya intend to have video link systems installed around Kenya.’

If you would like to donate or find out more about the Rafiki Mwema orphanage click here.

‘People feel overwhelmed that there are too many people in need in the world and they feel that they cannot make a difference. So they don’t do anything. This is not true,’ Sarah concluded.

‘One person can make a difference. Don’t do nothing because you don’t think you can make a difference in this world. Start small. Find something you are passionate about and never give up.  Never stop working or stop fighting and most importantly never stay silent, speak up for those who cannot.’

A dollar donated for every espresso martini drink you buy

The Balcony Bar & Oyster Co’s in Byron Bay has come on board and is donating $1 from every full price espresso martini you buy to Rafiki Mwema from now until the November 6. 

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