Rafiki Mwema x Sienna

We have created a nail polish for Rafiki Mwema, a charity providing therapeutic care for young girls and boys who are victims of violence and sexual abuse. 100% of the profits made from the sale of the Rafiki holographic silver glitter polish will go to Rafiki Mwema, to help provide these children with the upbringing they deserve. Here is their story.

Rafiki Mwema – Loyal friend

18-month old girls raped and shunned by their community is a harsh reality that Sarah – operator of the organisation, faces on a near daily basis. Rafiki Mwema means Loyal Friend in Swahili, and loyal friend is what the people and staff are to their children. We sat down with Sarah to hear her story and the story of the 61 Kenyan children she’s taking care of.

Sienna Byron Bay and Rafiki Mwema

Rafiki began through a need for a therapeutic safe house for young girls who had fallen victim to rape and abuse. They needed a place to live, receive therapy and support as they go through the court, medical and healing process. Pre Rafiki, founder Anne-Marie witnessed these girls going into a ‘Remand Centre’, similar to a prison, where they could be raped again, or held for up to 9 months awaiting their court date. Anne-Marie saw the need for a therapeutic safe house for the girls to come to. Her dream was to give these girls somewhere to go and to educate their family and community that it is not their fault.

“Often the families disown the child because they’ve been raped. We watch the families with the children, we teach them it’s not their fault and how to look after their daughter after she’s been through that trauma.”

Where it all began

When Anne Marie started Rafiki Mwema, she put all of her efforts into creating the safe haven for children in need of therapeutic care. She soon ran out of money and with little knowledge of fundraising, was faced with potentially closing Rafiki Mwema. At that point they had 25 girls who would have to be dispersed back to their communities, orphanages or back to the Remand Centre. Anne-Marie contacted Sarah asking for help.

“I had my own business, my own family and (after an horrific car accident) a body full of aches and pains, I didn’t have time for the charity […] I thought, that can’t happen. They don’t have anywhere to go. They are so damaged they can’t go anywhere except stay with us.” — Sarah

Sarah created a logo and Facebook page and then asked the community for sponsors for all the girls. Within 3 months all the girls were sponsored, and Sarah had created the Rafiki Mwema charity. Today, Rafiki Mwema comprises of 2 houses for girls and 2 houses for boys.

Rafiki Mwema young boy

Boys are welcomes into the Rafiki family

The boys at Rafiki Mwema are from different situations to the girls. They come from the streets. They’re boys who have either run away from home or have been kicked out of their homes. The youngest is 6, the oldest 18. It began as a nourishment program for the boys on the street. Anne Marie would provide breakfast and dinner for the boys. One day when she went to check on them, the police and street men were raping and abusing them. The horrific scene made her act quickly.

“Anne Marie called me and said Sarah, I’ve just rented a house and I’ve put 10 boys in there.”  — Sarah

At that point they were struggling to keep the girls home running, but through local community help, the boys program has now grown to the King’s Castle, and Princes’ Palace. Unlike the girls, the boys are unable to return home. They stay with Rafiki until they are 18, and are supported through schooling and therapy.

“One boy said he was dropped off to boarding school when he was 5 and no one came to pick him up when it was school holiday time. He walked into town, and now he’s 15. No one picked him up, so he doesn’t know if his family died, or if they forgot about him. He doesn’t know anything.” — Sarah

Rafiki Mwema boys

Growth of Rafiki

“One weekend I got another call from Anne Marie saying we had two girls in hospital. They were 4 and 6 and had been raped brutally by their uncle. They had been left with the aunty and uncle, but the aunty had gone, leaving the girls with the uncle. He had been raping them, mentally abusing them and physically abusing them. They were in hospital to have reconstructive surgery. But we didn’t have room for them at the house. We literally didn’t have any room for one bed for them to share a bed.”

This ignited the push for a second girl’s house. Sarah went back to the Facebook community, and created a Go Fund Me account asking for $20,000 to rent a new house and cover costs for 3 month’s rent, staff fees and furnishing. Over that weekend, more than the full amount was raised, and the second home started. Since that weekend, further fundraising by the Australian community, has led to the second house next door to Rafiki Mwema, Queen’s Castle, opening. The Queen’s Castle houses the teenage girls, and the Rafiki house for the younger girls. A small hut, called Malkia Mtoto (meaning Small Queen in Swahili) has also be built next to the Rafiki house, and acts as a transitional house for highly traumatised young girls when they first come into Rafiki Mwema care.

Rafiki Mwema Founders

The opening of the second Rafiki Mwema house, Queen's Castle, was due to the tireless work from Australia by Sarah.

Therapeutic Care

All the therapeutic staff are locals, who speak in Swahili and offer the children routine and a strong foundation for their time at Rafiki. They are all trained in DDP therapy (Dyadic developmental psychotherapy), and are screened before coming in contact with any children. It’s a very caring therapy; connecting with the children’s emotions, acknowledging how they feel and how hard it must be. Each child is assigned a key-worker, who acts as a parental type figure, and stays with the child throughout their time at Rafiki. The key-worker attends court proceedings and medical appointments, as well as providing the therapeutic care crucial to the child’s recovery.

sienna Charity Collaboration Rafiki Mwema

Going home process

“Our main aim is to always have the kids go back to their families, if the abuse didn’t happen in their family, and if their family can look after them and accept what has happened to them. The only way we can figure that out, is they are with us for therapy, court systems, medical and whatever else they need. When we think they are doing well mentally, that’s when we start the step-down program.”

The step-down process takes three months. During that time, children are taken back into their community with the Outreach staff. There is a team of 10 Outreach staff who take the children on home visits, watch the family and talk with them. The family also come to the therapeutic home, where they do therapy together and are taught how to deal with the child’s trauma. So far, Rafiki has had 63 girls return home. When they first return home, they are checked on twice a week, two weeks later they are checked on once a week, and one month later it’s once a month, with phone calls every week. They girls are checked on until they are 18.

“We make sure we go there and talk to the child in front of the family and talk to the child away from the family, privately. We’ve been in situations where the child hasn’t been ok, but has been too petrified to tell us.”

Three girls have had to return to Rafiki since going home.

“One girl went home and we didn’t know she was being abused because it was too far in the village and we couldn’t get in there. We couldn’t get access to it because we didn’t have a 4WD, so I raised money for a 4WD. When we finally found her, she was being tied up outside her house and raped by all the village men. Her mother tied her up. There are a lot of girls who will never leave us because they’ve got nowhere to go or because they are too traumatised”

Rafiki Mwema Young Girls

Advances for the children’s court system

In the court systems in Nakuru the abuser/perpetrator can question the victim. The children have to go through the ordeal of facing their abuser, often vomiting or soiling themselves in fear, before having to testify against the very person staring at them. Sarah and Anne-Marie had the idea to start what they call the Rafiki safe link. The safe link means the perpetrator is in the court room, and the child is out the back in a safe room with their keyworker. A video and screen is set up so the child can see the courtroom and vice versa, however they never comes face to face with their abuser. They can testify while in the safe room also. Having this implemented was a huge advance in the court system the children faced.

“We got it passed. We raised the money. When I was there in November we had the official opening. It’s a simple thought but it just hadn’t happened. We would never let a perpetrator question a child here, but there…”

Court room Kenya Rafiki Mwema

The future for Rafiki

At the moment, it’s costing around $15 000 a month to run Rafiki Mwema, and they are not yet making that amount. Sarah is pushed to her limit on what she can do with Rafiki, but has big plans for the future.

“What we would love to do is have foster pods set up on our land for kids who are with us but can’t go home anywhere and are too traumatised and little. We have an amazing therapeutic home, but a foster home is always going to be better… What we would love is to have little huts set up on our land. We want to buy the land next door to set up therapeutic foster huts for these children so they can live there forever with their foster mum and grow up that way.” — Sarah

Hearing about these children’s stories is heartbreaking, and the work of Rafiki Mwema both inspirational but also vital for these children’s future. Sarah’s devotion to Rafiki, she describes as an obsession, and it is clear to see the monumental impact she is having on the Nakuru community.

“If I just watched all this shit and did nothing, I wouldn’t be alive. This is only one thing. I can’t do everything but I can do this, so I focus on this and I see the change happening. People have said to me “but you’ve got one girl coming in, that’s not really making much difference”. But I think it is a difference. I’ve got 60 kids with all their friends, all their family, all these people watching, and you don’t know how big it will go. Even if it was just one person, isn’t that enough?” — Sarah

Every month, we give Rafiki Mwema a donation to sponsor ‘Elizabeth’ – a child in Kenya. The situation these young children face is horrific and we wanted to help as much as we could. We no longer create our Rafiki Mwema polish, so this is how we continue to support them.

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