Rising from despondency to hope: The tale of a healer
“Violence against women causes trauma. It takes away women’s ability to make progress in their lives. It destroys families, breaks up marriages and increases the spread of HIV/AIDS.”
As she said these striking words I could see the conviction in her that drives her vision in life; to assist women and men alike to find healing from the trauma they incurred through their experiences with politically motivated violence.
Born 47 years ago in a family of two girls and three boys in Guruve, Zimbabwe, Abigail Kadaira has become a force to reckon with due to her determination. She recalled growing up without both parents as her parents divorced when she was only nine years old. Now she lives with her mother and her two nephews in the small farming town of Chinhoyi in the Mashonaland West Province of Zimbabwe.
Sisi Abby, as she is fondly known in many circles, has been a human rights activist for many years. She has been a member of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and served as the Vice Chairperson in Mashonaland West Province in 1999. When the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), an organisation fighting for a new people-driven constitution in Zimbabwe was formed in 1998 she became a member and served as Chairperson in her province for two terms from 1999 to 2003.
“At that time, I was one of only 2 women who served as Provincial Chairpersons in the NCA, “Sisi Abby said.
She participated in various protests demanding a new constitution for Zimbabwe with the NCA and demanding decent working conditions for workers with ZCTU.
“I wanted to claim my rights as a Zimbabwean, a woman and as a worker. That is why I became an activist,” she boldly stated.
As a consequence of her activism, Sisi Abby faced many reprisals. On 4 March 2002 the offices at Lomagundi Cooperative Union in Chinhoyi where Sisi Abby worked were bombed. 4 days later, on 9 March 2002, 4 petrol bombs and a huge boulder were thrown into her house. She lost property including her curtains, bedding and shoes. She also incurred costs repairing her damaged home. The perpetrators were never apprehended. In 2003 while attending a national planning meeting for the NCA in Harare, Sisi Abby was one of many activists that faced police brutality. She was heavily assaulted with baton sticks, stepped on her back with boots and suffered a miscarriage. She bled profusely for three months and never quite recovered her good health. She has never been able to have children because of that incident.
However this tragedy was also the beginning of Sisi Abby’s journey to more self-discovery and growth. Following her injuries sustained from the beating, Sisi Abby was identified by the Zimbabwe Community Development Trust (ZCDT) in 2003 as a victim of organised violence and torture (OVT) and was invited to participate in a Trauma Healing workshop in Harare.
“In the beginning I was suspicious of the process. I was like a caged person but then I started to open up. That workshop was the beginning of my healing,” she stated.
Sisi Abby’s healing came from the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life (ToL) is a program that brings together a forum of participants who are victims of politically motivated violence to speak out in small groups. By joining hands with their peers they share their experience of trauma in a safe space called a circle. ToL workshops take place over two to three days, consisting of a series of circles (dare in Shona). The circles are organised around the analogy between individuals in a community and trees in a forest. Participants discuss their roots (ancestry), trunk (childhood), leaves (important features) and fruit (family and future plans). ToL instigates a renewal in participants and allow them to find healing in their own time; helped by the knowledge that others who have been through the same experiences have found ways to deal with their trauma.
Having risen from despair and despondency to hope, from a victim to a survivor, today, Sisi Abby is a facilitator within the ToL.
“In 2006, I was asked to become a facilitator for the ToL. I started off as a volunteer. I would ask for permission from work to attend the workshops and as a trade union, they respected my rights,” she explained.
Sis Abby has facilitated more than 20 workshops. Each workshop had between 10 and 12 participants. These workshops have been in Chishawasha, Mutoko, Cassa, Epworth, Whitecliffe, Murehwa and Hurungwe hence they have covered both rural and urban areas. She empowers victims and survivors of OVT to come to terms with their traumatic experiences and to live their lives without fear.
“As a survivor I love this job and I do it with my whole heart because I am helping people who face the same problems I once faced. I also love it because we go deep into the grassroots working with all political parties and chiefs,” Sisi Abby said.
Sis Abby’s work involves working with women, some of whom have been raped, contracted HIV and bore children from rape incidences.
“Some of the women have not told their husbands because in the community people will reject you. I faced the same problem when I got hurt. People would ask what sort of a woman I was for doing what I did,” she sadly explained.
At ToL Sisi Abby now trains youths to become grassroots facilitators in their communities. So far she has trained 15 youths. She refers individuals with medical problems to the Counselling Services Unit, another organisation working with victims of OVT. The ToL now has partner organisations such as Aqua that run the trauma healing circles in the same manner as ToL.
Sisi Abby has also taken the trauma healing circles outside her work to her church, the Church of Christ in Chinhoyi.
“This year, I ran a circle with youths at church and afterwards I began a social club for soccer and netball to unite the community. I am going to have another circle before the year ends because those I involved in the first circle said it helped them.”
The downside of her work is the pain she feels when she hears the stories in the circles.
“After the circles, the stories weigh heavily on me. For instance I once had a circle in which all 10 participants had been raped. The ways in which they had been raped were different but their stories were all difficult to listen to.”
Despite the challenges Sisi Abby says she will not stop working with victims. In the follow-ups that she does with participants, many have indicated that the workshops helped them to come to terms with their experiences. They have requested that this programme be spread to help others who have not yet received help.
“I try to help them and I listen to them, she explains.”They trust me and this helps them to heal.”
She hopes that someday, all victims will receive healing.
“Zimbabwe is big. Many women need healing.”
As the interview came to an end I looked at this remarkable woman and could not help admiring her fortitude.