post

7. Usikimye and addressing Gender-Based Violence in Kenya

Interview with: Stella Busolo Khachina
Discussing: Usikimye and addressing gender-based violence in Kenya

Stella Busolo Khachina and Deborah Cummins


  • Timecode
  • Transcription
  • Resources
  • Guest
  • [3.44]Growing up in different parts of Kenya
  • [4.47]Cultural views of separation and blended families in Kenya
  • [8.00]Situation for members of LGBTQI community
  • [12.46]Starting Usikimye from a desire to humanise femicide statistics
  • [14.43]Opening the first GBV safehouse in the country
  • [19.49]Starting the second GBV hotline in the country
  • [24.49]Ideas of masculinity and challenges working with male survivors
  • [28.20]COVID impact on economy & link with transactional sex
  • [31.30]Collaborating with local chiefs and other local leaders
  • [37.20]Lessons for international agencies in collaborating with grassroots organisations
  • [41.53]Modes of partnership, power dynamics, and localisation
[00.04] – Deborah Cummins

When we want to connect with each other, how do we cross the great divide of different worldviews, cultures or religions? How can we work together effectively? Well, first: we need a bridge.

Welcome to Bridging Peoples. In this Bridging Peoples podcast, we explore the human side of aid, development and social change work. Join me as I chat with researchers and practitioners about their work around the globe. I’m your host, Deborah Cummins.

What do you get when you combine two powerful women, a common cause and a Facebook page? Well, in the story that I share in this podcast episode, what you get is a pretty impressive social movement and community based organization called Uzikimye, which in Swahili means Do Not Be Silent.

 

[01:05] – Stella Khachina

And surprisingly, nowadays we get calls from the local government. We get calls from the police, because we told them: ‘we are not here to make you look like you’re doing a bad job. We are here to support each other.’

 

[01:21] – Deborah Cummins

So I’m privileged today to be talking to an incredible woman. Her name is Stella Busolo Khachina, and she’s a fierce advocate for survivors of gender-based violence. She is the Director of Operations and co-founder of community based organization called Uzikimye, that’s gone absolutely gangbusters over the past couple of years. And she’s an impressive and genuinely likeable human being. Stella, welcome to the podcast, and thank you so much for joining me.

 

[01:52] – Stella Khachina

Thank you so much, Deborah, for having me here. I’m really excited to be here today.

 

[01:57] – Deborah Cummins

Thank you. So, Stella, I understand that congratulations are in order. Uzikimye has just won a national award for your contributions in Kenya.

 

[02:10] – Stella Khachina

Actually… so we’ve won a couple of awards. So we won Humanitarian Organization of the Year 2021. We were awarded by the National Business and Leadership Awards: it’s an award for mostly businesses and foundations. And surprisingly, we did win it, even though we are a grassroots CBO. And then my co-founder in the organisation also won Human Fights Defender of the Year Awards, which was given by Defenders Coalition and the Swedish Embassy. And then we were also runner’s up as one of the organisations that is working on gender equality and equity in Kenya, awarded by the national government. That was phenomenal. And then my co-founder was also nominated as Person of the Year 2020 by Star Magazine, and she was nominated alongside the CEO of Equity Bank Limited, which is the biggest… I think right now, should be the biggest bank in East Africa. There’s a lot of recognition that we’ve had; we’ve had at least six nominations.

 

[03:29] – Deborah Cummins

That’s so great. And it’s so well deserved. Congratulations. So, Stella, can we begin by talking about your story? What’s your background? What type of community do you come from?

 

[03:44] – Stella Khachina

Actually, I come from a community of pastoralists. I was born with a mother who comes from a community that actively practices FGM…

 

[03:58] – Deborah Cummins

FGM being short for female genital mutilation, for anyone who hasn’t heard this term before…

 

[04:05] – Stella Khachina

Yes. But I think what I got lucky with is my father was coming from a different community of farmers and things around that. So I grew up in West Pokot, it’s in Rift Valley, and we moved to Western Kenya, which is the other side of the country. And then we’ve moved around quite a bit. But my childhood has been very different, I think, from most people because of the moving around – because it’s also something that most Kenyans don’t do. Because a lot of people have their own land, and they settle down in one space.

So that was my childhood. I brought up myself, because my parents used to work a lot. And then my parents also went through a whole process of separation, which is still something that was pretty new at that time, and was pretty new for us. And I ended up staying with my dad, for I think, two years, before I now moved to stay with my mom. So I have three sisters and one brother, a half sister, and then the others are just siblings.

[05:23] – Deborah Cummins

Right. Were they younger?

[05:24] – Stella Khachina

Yes, they were younger. And I have an older sister. So the older sister didn’t grow up with us. She grew up with my grandmother, because my mom got married with her. And I technically moved around by myself since I was 14, because my other siblings were with my mother.

The thing about that – I see where these families, I think in the global north they’re called ‘blended family’… So that is a concept that now Kenyans are starting to embrace. But then, most people would prefer to leave their children with their parents when they got married. So that’s what happened to us.

So I actually only knew I had a sister when I was 17. But it’s been amazing: we are really close. But generally, it was me because I’m the one who – when my parents separated – I opted to live with my dad. So there was a lot of moving around, and bringing up myself that was involved.

[06:40] – Deborah Cummins

And I guess as well, the moving around that you described, it must have really opened your eyes quite early to the diversity of cultures and ways of living within your country. Would you say that’s right?

[06:55] – Stella Khachina

Actually, yes. Because I moved around in different… Because what happens in Kenya is we do have tribes. I think we have around 48 tribes. And I think by the time I was 13, I had interacted with almost every tribe. It brought me the diversity – to see different cultures, and I’ve always been the kind of person who’s very curious. So most of the time when I get into a town, I try to talk to… Let’s say I’ve gone to Diani, which is the coastal region, I try to talk to fishermen, to people on the ground in the community level. And it’s something that I started when I was young: I like a lot of chit-chat. So I think that kind of shaped my resilience, even in the work that I do. And it also gave me the zeal, I think, to be a humanitarian, because the work also entails moving around a lot.

[08:00] – Deborah Cummins

So, Stella, I understand as well that you’re very active in promoting the rights of LGBTQI community in Kenya. Can you tell me a little more about this?

[08:13] – Stella Khachina

So actually, I am a member of the LGBTQ community. I like to say that I have gone through the stages of being queer. And when I say ‘through the stages’, I have had to discover who I am, and also face the possible homophobia in the country. This is something I rarely tell people, but I got married pretty early. I kind of settled down right after campus, which was when I was 21. For us, it’s a big deal, because that is the time you need to get a job, you need to do a lot of things. And at that moment, I already knew that I’m bisexual, but at the same time, being in a heterosexual relationship was, you know, ‘a known’. And so, I stayed there for roughly four years, until 2020 when I actually came out as lesbian. And then, basically started discovering myself and discovered that I’m non-binary.

And I think part of what helped me was Usikimye. And initially, we had started a movement with my co founder that talked a lot about feminism and queer advocacy. And I think that journey also helped me to realize, and come out. So I think my journey with AfroIDEA and Usikimye has made me realize that there’s a lot of things that people in the queer community – especially people that come from underserved communities or marginalised communities – face, that a lot of activists have the privilege of having. So even my process of coming out was easier, because I already had a career going; I had a house; I had the important basic things.

But a lot of queer people, when they come out, they get thrown out. We’ve had to rescue at least nine girls last year, because the minute the parents discovered that they were queer, they tried to marry them off. And when I say girls, it’s girls below the age of 18.There’s a lot of times that queer people have been beaten up. We have a lot of times that queer people have been outed in their work spaces, and lost their jobs. We have queer people that are kicked out by their landlord, and even had a case where somebody was beaten by their landlord for being queer. So there’s a lot of violence around the community. And that’s why Usikimye started queer advocacy, and the safehouse aspect of just making sure that you are able to protect members of the queer community through AfroIDEA.

But basically, that’s what we do. And we are trying to normalize conversations around the queer community, and showing people that… There’s this assumption that the queer community is just about sex, because every time people have a conversation, they just talk about how people are having sex in the queer community, and no one talks about anything else. It’s like: ‘people are just queer because they want different sexual experiences’. We’re trying to educate people on a lot of things. And given that I’m nonbinary, there’s also a lot of stereotypes around just being nonbinary, just being queer altogether. So that’s why I’m passionate about it. Just for the homophobia, because it brings a lot of violence and a lot of hurt.

[12:22] – Deborah Cummins

Thank you for sharing so vulnerably. This is a really nice opportunity: you’ve mentioned Usikimye a couple of times, can you tell us a little bit more about this? Why did you and your co-founder begin the initiative, and what was then, and is now, your main focus in doing this work?

[12:46] – Stella Khachina

I met my co-founder through Facebook in 2019; I started talking to her in 2019. My co-founder is very vocal on social media about very many challenging things. But one thing that struck me was the fact that she spoke about being a survivor, and the struggles that she went through. And what she went through, it was very similar to the things that I’ve seen my friends, my family go through. And so I reached out to her on Facebook, because I wanted to hear more about what she wanted to say, and I wanted to ask her if she thinks we can start a Facebook page to talk about femicide.

So in 2019, we had so many cases of femicide: we had over 500 women on mainstream magazines posted to have lost their lives through femicide. And for that, it means those are very extreme cases to get to the magazine. So when we met we decided that we’re going to humanise the data, because a lot of people were not taking the issue seriously. And we thought: if we could bring these people and talk about their lives – the women that lost their lives – and talk about it, then people would start to see how serious gender based violence is.

So surprisingly, when we opened the Facebook page, we opened it on 29th December 2019, by February we had over 10,000 people follow us, and talk about femicide. But now what happened is people started asking us for referrals: “I’m going through gender based violence. My husband just kicked me out, and he told me if he finds me in the morning he’s going to kill me, what do we do?”

So now we were faced with a different challenge, of people asking for referrals, people want to know if there are safehouses. And there was none. Like, we were looking for safehouses, and there were none. So people started actively asking us for rescue support, and would post on the page. If you go to the Usikimye page, we still do it. And we tell people: “this person needs support and everything.” And people are like: “oh, we could give you transport so that you can go and take them to hospital.”

That’s how Usikimye started. So when we did the first case, people donated some money, we went and picked up the lady. We had to find out which hospitals actually provide support, because we were thinking maybe the medical bill would be too high. So that’s how Usikimye started doing rescues. And then by April, we had housed people in our own houses, because that is the time that COVID-19 has just gotten into the country. So there was a lockdown. And you’d find a woman would call you because they’ve been thrown out, to go to the police station. They don’t have anywhere to sleep.

So I was living in a two-bedroom. And what happened is, I would bring people to my house. And I told Njeri, and Njeri would bring people to her house. And we said: this is not safe. And there’s a time a friend of ours gave us a huge donation to give to one of the women who had been kicked out, and really beaten, and things around that. And I told Njeri: maybe we can rent a small place that not only this woman could stay, but for other women that might need to stay. So we actually started our safehouse on a $30 a month property, and we got three of those. And that’s how we started the safehouse. But generally, we had just started the Facebook page to talk about gender-based violence and femicide.

And I’m going to talk about my co-founder for a minute, because one of her stories is the main reason that inspires me to keep doing this. So my co-founder went through a lot of abuse in her marriage, to the point that she’s partially deaf, and she almost lost her life. She got married and had a baby at the age of 15. Like, she’s gone through every aspect of GBV that you can think of: early marriage (that is, child marriage), she’s gone through. She’s almost lost her life. She’s become partially… she’s actually disabled because of it. There’s a lot of things. She lived on the streets. She’s been sexually abused as a survivor, while running away for her life.

And these are the issues that we’ve seen a lot of survivors faced over the last two years – a lot of women lose their lives trying to leave an abusive marriage. And that’s why we started the safehouse, and we keep having more safehouses. Because the fun fact is: we were actually the first safehouse as well, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

[17:59] – Deborah Cummins

There were no other safehouses?

[18:01] – Stella Khachina

No. The thing is, you would expect to have a government safehouse, but we do not have any. It’s only now that the government is trying to set up safehouses. Two years later, when grassroot organisations have been setting up safehouses without support, any kind of support or resources from the government. So there was no any other safehouse, because we struggled to get safehouses. But the good thing is, once we started normalising having safehouses, now we don’t have a shelter’s network, where we do referrals for each other. And then the other thing that was lacking was a referral pathway. And now Usikimye is creating and has a referral pathway.

We do have 47 counties in Kenya. And if you ask me, you need support in whatever county. We have crowd-sourced for places you can go for hospital support, which organizations can help to get a safehouse, that is something that has been lacking. And I mean, we are in 2022 now, and we didn’t have those things. I mean, gender based violence is in the shadow of the pandemic, and people go through it, but the fact was: there was no safehouse, there was no referral pathway, there was nothing. And even for the… We do have a GBV hotline, it’s actually the second GBV hotline in the country.

[19:22] – Deborah Cummins

Wow. Which was the first?

[19:25] – Stella Khachina

The first one is the government-funded hotline, which is called 1195. And what happened is for us to open this hotline is because, even with the… Like we used to actively work with them, they would call us, we would call them, and people would call us. And we had to direct them to 1195 because it’s gotten to a point where, if any GBV case is mentioned in Kenya, the first organisation they go to is Usikimye.

So now when they tagged us, and they didn’t have the GBV hotline, we’d have to direct them to 1195. So we were like… My co-founder and I were given an award for using social media for social impact, and changing the community.

And we looked at each other and we’re like: “you know what, we have $9,000 here. And in as much as we’ve been volunteering for so long, and I do say we have needs, we also are doing so much work because our phones are always ringing. We need to figure out how we can have a program where people can man these calls.”

Because, especially my co-founder was going crazy. She’d receive over 200 calls in a day, and it just became too much. So we set up the call centre, we used the money that we won, and we set up the call centre. We asked people who wanted to volunteer, to volunteer. We actually got seven people to volunteer, and they’ve done so faithfully for the last five months. And each month we do about…  Last month it was 1436 calls coming through the call centre.

So even with the call centre, we need more resources for rescue support. We can’t have one government hotline and one NGO hotline. There’s a lot of things that I think the government should do to provide more support, and efficiency around providing dignified and survivor-centred response. Because, also, that’s our model. We don’t want to retraumatise anyone. Yeah. So generally, that’s an overview of Usikimye.

But what inspired us to start is because both of us have been in situations of violence, personal abuse, situations of financial abuse, emotional abuse. I haven’t gone through extensive physical abuse. But also, when I say that, it means that I’m thinking even a little tiny bit of violence isn’t violent. Because in a society where everything is so violent, you have to go through a life threatening ordeal to actually consider yourself as a survivor. That’s what inspired us to start this: personal experiences, and also as a queer person, I’ve seen the violence that is centred around the community.

[22:19] – Deborah Cummins

It seems as well that you’ve clearly tapped into a great need at this time. Obviously, a need among survivors of gender based violence, but also tapping into a community that really want to support the work that you’re doing, and address the issue of gender based violence amongst their communities, their families.

[22:44] – Stella Khachina

Well, I think right at the moment, actually, my cofounder is called Njeri Migwi, I forgot to mention that. So one of the things is right now we have a community of, I think, 85,000 people. And we’ve had young boys two months ago send us a song that they’ve written about Usikimye, and how violence should end. And this is the second artist, the second song, that has been written around ending violence. And they’re like: ‘Usikimye’, because usikimye means ‘do not be silent’ in Swahili.

And we got the song from the boys. And I remember thinking, these are young boys, and they sat down and they could have sang about anything else. But they decided, you know what? We’re going to sing about usikimye and gender based violence. And we’re going to send it to Usikimye, and tell them: “Hey, this is our contribution to ending gender based violence”. And if 16 year olds, 17 year olds, can do that, it means that we are actually, actively, doing the work. And people are actually very eager to end gender based violence, to the point that younger people can actually do it. For me, I think… It just made my heart beam.

[24:09] – Deborah Cummins

Absolutely. That’s fantastic. As soon as our conversation is finished, I’m going to go and look up that song. Is it on YouTube or something?

[24:18] – Stella Khachina

Yes, actually, I’m going to send it to you because we have two songs. I’m going to send you the two songs.

[24:26] – Deborah Cummins

That’s so great. So for anyone listening, if you want to check out these videos, we’ll include links in the shownotes and also on the podcast page https://bridgingpeoples.com, under the resources tab.

Now, Stella, I understand that in addition to working with women and children, Usikimye also works with male survivors. Can you talk a little bit more about this?

[24:51] – Stella Khachina

I think one of the things that we have a challenge with, when it comes to male survivors, is a lot of male survivors are brought to us when they are on the verge of: either they get the support, or they’re going to lose their lives. And I think, basically, that is because we do have a culture where it’s not manly to ask for help, or to be abused, and things around that. One of the cases we’ve had, many of the cases actually, are sexual abuse. We’ve had a lot of men who come to us after they’ve been abused, have been brought to us, either because they’re trying to commit suicide or they got into a streak of violence, or they actually almost lost their mind.

Because men in this country have been socialised to think that even if you’re abused, it’s your fault that you’re not man enough. So most of our male survivors are also our hardest cases, because they come to us when it’s the only, last option that they have left. One of the things that we tried to do this year, is set up a men’s shelter. We tried to run a fundraiser – and that shows you how bad things are. Normally, when we run a fundraiser, people support: ‘oh, we need a fundraiser for ABCD’. But we did run a fundraiser for the men’s shelter, and I think we raised at most $150. And that shows you how people actually think: ‘why would a man want… you know, why do you want to go stay at a shelter, and you’re a man? So that was our biggest failed project, because no one saw the need to support it.

So that actually shows you the community perception of violence on men. So one of the things that we’ve been doing is we have a Men Against Violence program, in the informal settlements in Nairobi. What we do is we actively engage young men and boys in helping to end gender based violence. But at the same time, we are trying to find ways, that we’re also empowering them with doubt. It’s been deliberate that this is a program centred around teaching men: (1) if you’re abused, it’s not your fault. And (2) also how to be an advocate against abuse on women and girls.

So what we do is we use community programs like cleaning programs. Slums have a lot of dirt, a lot of garbage. You know, it’s just a slum. And what we’ve been doing is we’ve been keeping the community clean, and it’s working very well. And then the other thing we do is we partner with organizations, and get them jobs.

So we had a couple of boys, I think 30 boys got a job. There’s a company called Mr. Green that does recycling. And so we actually have boys working there. And then we also partnered with a security firm, where every boy who is part of our program is tried to place in casual jobs. So it really helps. And also the same boys will come once a week, in shifts, to help us with the feeding program.

So we do have a feeding program, where we feed children. Because during COVID-19 we had two crises. We had girls exchanging sanitary towels for sex, which led to an increase in teen pregnancies, and just a lot of things centred around sexual and reproductive health rights, and abuse of girls. And then we also had children actually trading sex for food. So one of the things we did is we partnered with the Sikh community, and they provide 800 plates of food every day. And people come to our office, and we give the 800 plates of food. And then we also give girls sanitary towels, we give 72,000 sanitary pads. We have a program called Adopt a Binti, which means you adopt a girl. So for $1.00, what you do is you make sure that you provide 3 sanitary pads a month. So those are either three girls or two girls sharing three packets of pads.

So that has actually drastically reduced our work when it comes to teen pregnancy, because now kids know that for four days a week I have somewhere I can get food from. And for four days, I would have somewhere I can get porridge from. So at least you’re sure of a meal in a day. And we actually have a video of kids saying, “I am concentrating more in school.” “At least I know I’m going to have a meal for a day”. We had a parent come to us and tell us, “thank you: I’ve been able to buy my daughter a new uniform because I’m saving a lot when my kids are coming to eat lunch at your place, because at least they’re having a meal for a day.”

So now the boys that we are doing the Men Against Violence program, they are the ones that serve the food. And they are the ones that actively teach the girls dancing. Now we are making sure the community feels like this is their program. And that is the model that we’ve had since 2019. If you look at Usikimye, and you look at the comments, people actually own the organisation. It’s not that they’re just there to see what the organisation is doing. So I think we are one of the organisations that the community has actively funded for two years, over and over. Because you come with a case, you state what you need. We have people give us as low as ten shillings, which is I think it’s $0.10 or something like that. And these are people living under $1.00 a day, but they’re like, “you know what? I know if I have an issue, I’m going to go to Usikimye. So let me help this person that is in trouble now, because somebody else is going to help me.”

That’s the model we’ve been using, Deborah, and I think it’s the best thing that we ever did. Because people ask us, “how do you do it without being funded?” And we reply: the Community does it. The entire community is taking care of each other.

[31:17] – Deborah Cummins

It’s really quite incredible, Stella, what Uzikimye’s managed to achieve. I’m wondering, can you dig down a little bit deeper into the approach that you took in working in the local community context? Specifically, I’m interested in whether there were any points of tension in working together with local leadership, or various locally respected elders, and how you managed to deal with any of those points of tension if they arose?

[31:50] – Stella Khachina

Yeah, actually, when we started the organisation, I think we clashed a lot with the local government. We did. And I think at some point we realised that we needed a different approach. Because initially, what happened was we were very frustrated, because we didn’t understand why… You’d take a case, let’s say, even to the gender desk, and they would not have the same urgency that you do. So I think what we realised is also, there’s a lot of fatigue in the GBV space, actually. Because a lot of times, you find, of course, most times survivors go back to the abusers and things around that. And even with children, you find that a child will be molested by the father, and the mother is unwilling to testify or things around that.

And I think what we realised is even with the local government, and the local leaders, they had seen so much and they were fatigued. So one of the things that we did when we opened our office in Soweto is we went to the chiefs, and we told them, we said, “we understand that you handle so many cases, and we just want you to know that there is free psychosocial support, at any time that you need, provided for you.” And that was the first time we actually saw them smile or laugh with us.

[33:20] – Deborah Cummins

That’s so smart. You’ve been their allies.

[33:23] – Stella Khachina

Yes, we did. And they are like: “yes, we handle a lot of cases, and organisations come here, and they don’t realize how much we have secondary trauma, and how much we have to watch the same survivor over and over being beaten, and things around that”. And we’re like, “listen, we also deal with that. And we understand that sometimes you need somebody to understand that, and be empathetic towards the fact that you’re burnt out. And so we are here to provide any kind of support. And also, if you have any cases that you feel like you can’t handle, we’d be happy to also look at where we can support things around that.”

And surprisingly, now that we get calls from the local government. We get calls from the police, because we told them: “we are not here to make you look like you’re doing a bad job. We are here to support each other, so that if you have a case and you feel like this is too much, or we have too many cases, we can’t take 20 survivors to the hospital, Usikimye can assist you to take four survivors to the hospital. And maybe talk to MSF, who will take like two others.”

So at the end of the day, all the survivors have been taken to hospital, by the different GVB stakeholders. So that’s what we’ve been doing actively. And we created allies, and made sure that instead of being frustrated with each other, we are working with each other. It’s still a struggle, because of course, we have people that look at NGOs… So we do have a lot of people that assume that nonprofit organisations just start initiatives to get funded. And I think once they start understanding, or you make them understand, that you’re just as fatigued as they are with resources, with everything, you get to a point where you’re like, I just want the same thing as you. And I think that has worked for us.

Of course, we have resistance, especially if sometimes we find we’ve had cases where the perpetuator is the police and so we’ve clashed to them. Or the perpetrator is the local chief. And what we’ve also done is, I think we founded a community that is so strong, to the point that there’s also a bit of fear of repercussions. Because, also, our Facebook page is very strong. Once you post a case that we aren’t able to handle, they tag  the big bosses.

So, I think people have gotten to a point where they’re like, “you know what? I don’t want to end up on Usikimye as well, so I might as well do the right thing.” And I think it has also straightened them out a bit. So I think what we’ve done is we’ve done a lot of research, we’ve done a lot of community support. So when the community supports you, then a lot of bodies will work because they’re like: “the community will hold us accountable.” And then we’ve also done a lot of work that can be shown. Like, we have done the work and people can see these people actually working. If I call this call centre, I’m going to get support. So there’s a lot of us being allies to them, but also a lot of them being in a place where they know they’ll be held accountable. So those are the two things that we leverage on there.

[36:50] – Deborah Cummins

It really is pretty incredible what Usikimye has managed to achieve on such limited resources. There might also be a temptation to consider Usikimye’s story as a complete success story. Which of course it is. But it’s not easy. It carries costs for you, and for your co-founder, and for other people who are working in the organization. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit, Stella, about how you see Usikimye fitting into the broader aid and development sector in Kenya?

[37:27] – Stella Khachina

A lot of grassroots founders, we live like the beneficiaries that we support. And people don’t understand that aspect, because there’s a lot of things that we need, a lot of visibility, actually, and a lot of educating to people around the kind of work that we do. There’s just a lot of things that grassroot organisations need – and I think most of it is around visibility, and people just learning more about how they can be a part of, or understand, what organisations like Usikimye do.

Because I think the fatigue comes from people not understanding how much grassroots organisations actually support the community. I think most of the time, I make sure I talk about is: people need to be more aware of grassroots organisations, and the role that they play in communities, and even in the aid and development sector, because most of the time we are the ones who are doing… If anyone in Kayole wants to be rescued, they’re going to come into the office. But a lot of times, people don’t even know that fact. So I think there’s a lot of… I like talking about visibility, so that people can understand the realities in the ground.

[39:06] – Deborah Cummins

Are there things that international organisations could do, to help to ease that burden, and work more effectively with grassroots organisations like Usikimye?

[39:18] – Stella Khachina

Even with international organisations, one of the things that we do joke about, but it’s not a joke, is the fact that we need more community-centred initiatives from international organisations, when it comes to GBV. Because I think a lot of the solutions that we see when it comes to GBV – there’s a lot of challenges that I feel… there needs to be a lot of research from international organisations on what is happening right now, and what can we do differently? Because if up to 2019, people are not talking about gender based violence, then it means something was not working.

There needs to be community-centred research on what would work, and how can we work with grassroots organisations, to make sure that… because most of the grassroots organisations, they are the ones who understand. Because they interact with these people, they’re members of these communities.

I don’t know how to put it, but I think they should maybe partner more with grassroots organisations when making decisions on programs. A lot of times, I do not have decision-making power, because I know if I make a decision and I haven’t consulted this partner, then there’s repercussions to it. There’s a lot of documentation that I have to do, and that is because we were not involved in the process of designing the program. So I think a lot of times, organisations design programs, and then they come to local organisations to implement their own way as ‘partnerships’. That is something that I’ve seen happen quite a lot. And what that does is: (1) it wastes a lot of time and resources, and then (2) it actually frustrates the partner, the local partner. Even, I think at some point kids them around, because we’ve seen local partners that even regret getting into partnerships. They’re like: “if we’d known that this is… because we are not doing any work for the community. We just feel like we’re just doing this program, but not the right way.”

So I feel like even though people are talking about localisation, like how easy is it going to be for the partners that are providing the resources to actually let go of the hierarchy, and the power dynamics, and be like: “listen, we have raised this much money, and would like to hear your thought process on which program would work if we want to reduce domestic violence in informal settlements, and which informal settlements do you think would benefit from this program and actually have an impact?” And then listen to the local partner talk about their experiences, and what would work, and be open to suggestions. And now coming as a partner, where you’re supporting the local organisation in things like structures, where you feel like there is a gap. Because most of us are already doing the work. Maybe the things that might be lacking is the structures, which do not affect the kind of work we do anyway.

Because the other thing we do have that I talk about is unrealistic requirements from international partners. You find that an international partner says that they want… We’ve had incidences of an international partner saying that: “oh, yeah, we do have $3,000 that we want to give, but you have to be an NGO.” And realistically: $3,000, if you want an NGO, when a lot of us who are CBOs, that is an amount that we try and struggle to raise in six months. And we still do a lot of work. So you’re setting an amount that would benefit an organisation that is already doing the work, but you’re bringing unrealistic expectations.

So you find that: for an organisation to be an NGO, it has to be really big. They have a budget of sometimes millions of dollars. But the kind of work that you want to do in the community is done by grassroots organisations. So what happens is, a lot of times, you end up giving the NGO the money and then they end up sub-granting to us. So there’s a lot of money that has been lost. A lot of time, a lot of business, that is lost in the implementation process. And even that means that there’s a lot of things in the design and the implementation that is not right.

So we’ve had incidences of people wanting to implement a program, but they do not understand the reality of how organisations work. So I think they need to show flexibility of: “We want to see your work. We are not putting a cap on how many years you should have worked.” Because Usikimye has only existed for three years and we’ve helped thousands of people. But a lot of times, even in giving of grants, the main reason we haven’t been given any grants in the last two years, is because there’s a lot of things we didn’t qualify for. It’s either, we haven’t existed for three years. It’s either, we don’t have a board. It’s either, because you find that we are just a select group, or a community-based organisation. Or we’ve only had a bank account for one year.

But you’re not looking at the impact. You’re not looking at the community.  People are looking at the wrong things when they’re offering support. And we are victims of this over and over. People ask us, “why are you not funded?” We are like, “because donors have decided that they’re going to stay old school. Even when we’re talking about localisation. And we’re looking at the system and a lot of it has not been working. I mean, if you’re looking at, let’s say: yes, you’re offering 1000 people rescue support in a month. Yes, you might not have existed for three years, but we can see the work you’ve done. Yes, there’s a lot of ways that donors need to be flexible in their partnerships. And then also, when setting up in partnerships, they need to be realistic.

I mean, if you have money, I think the one thing we like saying is: surely you can spare a bit of funding for research? Because times are changing. So if you’re able to grant people grants, you should also be able to do research at the community level. It’s about time that people actually do research again.

Okay, we want to fund an organisation. Okay, so we have self-help groups, we have CBOs, we have NGOs. So this amount: what could be the requirements that we put for this for this program? Who are actually doing the work in the community? So I think with partnerships, it’s a lot there. But what I would tell people is honestly, we need new approaches. Because even as we’ve had to figure out new ways to tackle GBV, they can too. They can figure out ways to actually make sure work is being done the right way.

[47:20] – Deborah Cummins

Stella, I just love your passion and your fire. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you.

[47:26] – Stella Khachina

Thank you so much.

[47:28] – Deborah Cummins

So if anyone is looking to support Usikimye, where should they go?

[47:34] – Stella Khachina

I’m going to send you a link, because we’re actively running a fundraiser. We are a little behind on fundraising, because the one thing we also lack is the network. I think, also, Kenyans are getting donor fatigue. And we started off a fundraiser some time last month, so we’d be very happy if you shared, because we need to raise operations money to do the work, actually this year. And for the link, you can give for as low as $1.00, and you can also decide to become a monthly donor as well.

[48:15] – Deborah Cummins

Great. So for anyone listening, we’ll include links in the shownotes and also on the podcast page at https://bridgingpeoples.com, under the resources tab. So, Stella, thank you again so much. It has been an absolute pleasure.

[48:31] – Stella Khachina

Thank you so much. Thank you for giving me the platform to just talk about this. It’s been a while, actually, since I talked about my work and I’m really glad to just have these conversations, because it also makes me realise that we are doing the work. It makes me realize that there’s a lot that also still needs to be done. But just talking about it, I think refreshes you on: “Stella, you’re doing the work.” So this was much needed.

[49:11] – Deborah Cummins

As we discussed, you’ll find all of the links for Usikimye in the shownotes for this episode, and also on our website, https://bridgingpeoples.com.

And while you’re there, why don’t you check out our Bridging Peoples Academy and Network? This is a space where we come together to discuss what it takes to work effectively at the local level, where we bring together cutting-edge research and practical insights to support each other in working better locally.

Thanks for listening. I’m Deborah Cummins. This is a Bridging Peoples podcast.

 

Stella Busolo Khachina is an international aid practitioner. She grew up in West Pokot, in west Kenya. Together with her co-founder, Njeri Migwi, she started a social movement and community-based organisation to address gender-based violence called ‘Usikimye’, which in Swahili means do not be silent.