Edith Murogo

Ms Edith Murogo, the director of Talia Agler Girls Shelter, during the interview with the Nation at the centre’s Lower Kabete offices in Kiambu County on November 26, 2020.

| Kanyiri Wahito | Nation Media Group

I have seen it all, says rescue centre owner over horrifying cases she handles

What you need to know:

  • Ms Murogo started her safe house in 2012 as a response to girls and women in distress.
  • For a decade, she struggled to secure funding to set up the safe house.

Ms Edith Murogo can speak without a break. At the mention of violence against women and girls, Ms Murogo quickly takes over the conversation. Her pace increases when she talks about experiences of victims who are trafficked in-and-cross country.

She only takes a break to remind us that “it never helps to talk and talk. All that is needed is funding and functioning systems to protect victims of gender-based violence”.

Ms Murogo runs a safe house. She started it in 2012 as a response to the distressing cries of girls and women in need of urgent rescue.

The trained teacher was running a resource centre — Centre for Domestic Training and Development — which she founded in 2001 for training domestic workers in Nairobi.

Instead of the girls and women coming for training, they sought refuge to escape from abusive employers.

“In my mind, I was focused on equipping them with housekeeping and life skills…educating them on their labour rights and many other things,” she says.

“Shock on me! I didn’t know that in their mind, I was their saviour. The number of girls and women who needed my help kept increasing from the initial 10. I didn’t know what to do with them since I didn’t have a shelter to accommodate them, neither did I know any.”

For a decade, Ms Murogo struggled to secure funding to set up the safe house.

However, in 2012, a donor offered to help her establish the 65-bed capacity shelter. Here, she houses girls and women who have been victims of sexual violence, in-and-cross country human trafficking for sexual exploitation and illegal business, for example, street begging.

Most of the women or girls, aged between eight and 23, are from western and central Kenya.

Others are trafficked from Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Heartbreaking cases

Some are physically challenged or have special needs, while others arrive there pregnant.

The shelter’s rule is to accommodate those above 10 years up to 30.The facility is also not designed to house those with disabilities. Some cases are, however, horrifying and heartbreaking that she is forced to bend the rules.

And so they modify their services, including creating a special room for them and employing staff to look after them. Their services are also limited in terms of provision of birth care to the rescued expectant girls or women.

As such, they have partnered with a gynaecologist who also runs a rescue centre for pregnant victims of sexual violence in Muranga County, about 100 kilometres from Nairobi. Once they deliver, she returns them to the safe house.

The women and girls here are either in primary, secondary or vocational training or about to join.

The safe house offers sporting, debating, dancing, music, as well as performing art activities.

This helps them to heal while uncovering and nurturing their talents. They are also trained on baking cakes and other confectionaries. They are equally equipped with beadwork, mat and soap making skills

But getting into this shelter isn’t a walk-in. The victims are all referrals from either the chiefs, police or children officers.

This is not only to keep the integrity of the safe house but to also ensure the cases are legit and are known by the State administration thus easier to follow up with justice and reintegration.

The management’s procedure is to keep the rescued from two weeks to utmost three years, as committed by court orders through the children’s officers. But the shelter has ended up having the girls and women for as long as eight years it has been in existence.

This is because they come from totally dysfunctional families. “I have seen it all,” says Ms Murogo who has rescued more than 1,000 girls and women.

“Some girls are brought here in horrific situations. And who are the perpetrators? Step-fathers, fathers, cousins, uncles... cases of step-fathers molesting step-daughters before their mothers and when you ask the mother, she tells you ‘the man is providing for us, there is nothing I can do’.”

Greatest nightmare

Her greatest nightmare is reuniting the girls with their families, she says.

“Reintegration is such a dramatic exercise,” Ms Murogo says.

“It tells just how our social structures are so broken. For instance, how do you reintegrate a girl with a mother who is still living with a man who sexually abuses her daughter in her presence? And the mother is unwilling to abandon the man because she has nothing to live on?” asks Ms Murogo.

Creating a cash transfer for the victims of GBV and mothers of the girls, sexually abused, alongside establishing adequate safe houses, sufficiently funded by the State can effectively protect survivors and prevent them from further exposure to sexual violence, she recommends.

“We have to think long-term from the moment these girls set foot in this safe house. But where is the money to support them? I receive referrals from the police, children officers and chiefs, but I don’t get even a single cent from the State to sustain them,” she says.

Ms Murogo is the convener of the National Shelters Network, which she formed in June, this year.

So far, 40 shelters from 15 counties have registered with the network that she says has already engaged the State in push for regulations formalising registration of the shelters.

Presently, they are registered as charities or self-help groups hence, difficult to attract special funding from the government.

She takes to task the government over the National Referral Mechanism, supposed to benefit victims of human trafficking with cash relief and shelter.

“The mechanism only applies in paper but exists in the air,” she says. “Where is the secretariat to report to? If at all it’s operational, then it should be inclusive of victims of GBV.”