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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.”

Listening to her striking words, I felt the conviction that drives her vision in life; to assist victims of organised violence and torture (OVT) to find healing from their trauma. Born 47 years ago, one of five siblings, in Guruve, Zimbabwe, Abigail Kadaira is a force to be reckoned with. She recalled growing up in a broken home as her parents divorced when she was only nine years old. She now lives with her mother and two nephews in the small farming town of Chinhoyi in Mashonaland-West Province.

Sisi Abby, as she is fondly known in many circles, has been a human rights activist for many years. She is a member of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). She served as Vice Chairperson in her Province in 1999. She also joined the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), an organisation fighting for a people-driven constitution in Zimbabwe, at its inception in 1998 and served as Chairperson in her province from 1999 to 2003.

“At that time, I was one of only 2 women who served as Provincial Chairpersons in the NCA, “she explained.

She participated in various protests demanding a new constitution and decent working conditions for workers.

“I wanted to claim my rights as a Zimbabwean, a woman and a worker. That is why I became an activist,” she boldly stated.

As a consequence of her activism, Sisi Abby faced reprisals. On 4 March 2002 the offices at Lomagundi Cooperative Union in Chinhoyi where she worked were bombed. 4 days later, 4 petrol bombs and a huge boulder were thrown into her house. She lost household property and incurred costs repairing her damaged home. In 2003 while attending a national planning meeting for the NCA in Harare, Sisi Abby was heavily assaulted by the police with baton sticks, stepped on her back with boots and suffered a miscarriage. She bled profusely for three months, never quite recovered her good health and was never able to conceive because of that incident. The perpetrators in all incidences were never apprehended as impunity rules.

However, this tragedy began Sisi Abby’s journey to self-discovery and growth. Following her brutal attack she was invited to participate in a trauma healing workshop in Harare facilitated by the Counselling Services Unit, an organisation working with victims of OVT.

“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 (ToL), a program that brings together victims of OVT to join hands and 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. The circles adopt 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 allows them to find healing in their own time; helped by the knowledge that others who have been through the same experiences found ways to deal with their trauma.

Having risen from despondency to hope, from a victim to a survivor, 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,” she explained.

Sisi Abby has facilitated more than 20 workshops covering both rural and urban areas. Each workshop has 10 to 12 participants. She loves knowing that her work transforms victims into survivors who can live without fear and trauma.

“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,” she said.

Sis Abby works with women, some of whom were raped, contracted HIV and bore children from rape.

“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.

Sisi Abby trains youths to become grassroots facilitators in their communities. So far she has trained 15 youths. She refers individuals with medical problems to the CSU and partner organisations such as Aqua that also run the trauma healing circles.

Sisi Abby has also taken the circles outside her work to her church, the Church of Christ.

“This year, I ran a circle with youths at church…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 victims’ stories.

“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 is determined to continue working with victims. She follows up on participants in her workshops, many of whom have given positive feedback on the usefulness of the workshops to instigate healing. She receives requests to spread the ToL to others who have not yet received help.

“I try to help them and I listen to them, she explained.”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.

*This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.*



Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Great story

What an inspiring profile! She is truly a determined woman who is doing so much for her community. Great writing flow as well!

Keep up the good work,


"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

MaDube's picture

Thanks Rachael

She really is an inspiration especially after all she has been through.

Thanks for the support. It is very much appreciated.

olutosin's picture

Welldone sissy!

Always, I love to read your post.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town


MaDube's picture

Thank you sis Tosin and

Thank you sis Tosin and always your unwavering support urges me on.

Thank you so, so much.

parwana fayyaz's picture

Dear Friend:

There are very few women with the idea of healing women's lives in countries like Africa and Afghanistan. Your interviewee is a woman of thoughts and believes. As she says, “Zimbabwe is big. Many women need healing.”
Thanks for sharing,
Keep the good work!
Parwana Fayyaz

MaDube's picture

Thank you Parwana. You are

Thank you Parwana. You are right, the work she does is very sensitive and very few people are willing to do it. But she is doing it knowing how much risk she is putting herself into and despite the strain that listening to so many stories of pain also affects her emotional well being. She is strong, what else can I say.

ikirimat's picture

Brave woman

This is a strong story. Healing is something that is very important and yet often neglected by many. So Sissy's contibution in society to helping this women heal the wounds of rape.... is commendable. Yes one at a time.


Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

MaDube's picture

Thanks dear Ikirimat. What I

Thanks dear Ikirimat. What I admire most about Sisi Abby is her resilience and perseverance. The women she has managed to help are few, the resources to do so are few but she is determined that one way or the other all women should receive healing

usha kc's picture

Dear Rumbi, your writting

Dear Rumbi, your writting always heals me and now the tale of Abby, a great healer and woman with great heart has been healing me more to be empowered.

thank you sis.

MaDube's picture

Dear Usha. Thank you for your

Dear Usha. Thank you for your encouraging words.I am glad the story of sisi Abby has uplifted you because I am sure that is what she wants. She aims to leave behind a legacy that she did something to help women who are in a dark place to see the light again.

Okeny-Lucia's picture

A hero within,You have said it all

I am deeply touched by the courage and strength of this lady! Where does she get the time and energy to do all that? I see untapped leadership ,where the society thinks otherwise.
Thank you Madube for telling this story.
Well put,with flow of events that takes you through the environment in Zimbabwe.I saw myself there and landed again in Kenya to the familiriaty of rape issues.

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

MaDube's picture

Thank you sis Lucia for your

Thank you sis Lucia for your encouragement.

Sisi Abby is indeed a heroine, one of the (previously) unsung ones and thank God for World-Pulse we have been able to highlight the wonderful work she does.

Fungai Machirori's picture

Good work!

Off to a winning start! Congrats

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

MaDube's picture

Thanks maiguru

I noted your tip on the story itself. Thank you for that. Indeed, there is no clear point when I show that I had an interview with her right until the end. I will make sure the next time I write a profile I will make it clear at the beginning that I was having an interview. Thanks for your support.

BlueSky's picture

True Hero

What a trumpeting example is Sisi Abby. She has led a LEADING life and is now leading others through their most difficult times in life, into a healing place where they too can have new beginnings built upon self-discovery and growth. You have to admire so much, people who give their lives to helping others, one at a time, and one after another. That is True GrassRoots Leadership.

Wonderful article, and great photo!

MaDube's picture

Amazing woman

Yes. She has done a lot in grooming women at the grassroots to be involved in activism work and she continues doing a lot to help those who faced the consequences of their activism. She is simply unstoppable.

malba66's picture

Healing is activism and I am

Healing is activism and I am so grateful that you chose this story to share. Thank you!

MaDube's picture

Thanks Malba

At a time when Zimbabwean society is talking about transitional justice, Sisi Abby's role is a crucial one. Even though there are continuing violations against women in her (our) community she tries to help them in the little (big) way that she knows how.

Celine's picture

Good work Rumbi! Your profile

Good work Rumbi! Your profile is good.

Sis Abby is an inspiration.


MaDube's picture

Thank you sis Celine. Sisi

Thank you sis Celine. Sisi Abby will be happy to know that the women on World pulse have so much respect for her and are supporting her work in this fashion.

Caitlyn's picture

Thank you for such an amazing

Thank you for such an amazing story. You write beautifully, and your strong, clear voice made this piece all the more remarkable to read. It is painful to hear what so many women in her country have gone through, but thank goodness for women like her who work so hard to heal them. Thank you again. Love.

MaDube's picture

Thank you Caitlyn

Women in our country went through and are still going through tough situations. Many of them have emerged strong like Sisi Abby but there are others who are just failing to cope with their trauma. As Sisi Abby said, many women need healing but the resource people are few. On my end I am fighting to push the government to put into effect some form of transitional justice mechanism, be it prosecutions or a truth commission as long as it gives women the remedy they want.

Stella Paul's picture

Everything's said!

The disadvantage of being away is that by the time you return, everyone has said everything you wanted to say. How unfair! Anyway, I can send you a hug for NOT letting this story remain untold or unshared. Much love!

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

MaDube's picture

Hey Stella

The thing is we can never run out of words and if words could run out you my dear would not be such a great writer today because your words would have run out yesterday. Thanks for the comments and support; always.

Maddy M.'s picture

Thank you, Rumbidzai, for

Thank you, Rumbidzai, for letting us know about this brave woman, Sisi. She is an incredible survivor. You did an amazing work in writing her profile.

God bless you,

MaDube's picture

Thanks Maddie

Incredible is the word to describe her. I wish everyone who has read this story could meet her and take part in one of her circles because the circles also work in healing all kinds of trauma, even the kind that is not derived from political violence. Thank you for reading Sisi Abby's post and thank you for your support.

mrbeckbeck's picture

Amazing woman!

Ah, Rumbie... what a great profile you've done here!

Believe it or not, the Tree of Life organization is familiar to me. Last year, one of our Correspondents, Bounce ( wrote about ToL in a couple of her assignments. Clearly they do very very important and necessary work, and I am so impressed to read more about it here through Sisi.

She is an inspiring leader, healing her community as a radical act. In such a repressive place, her work is brave. You've done a great job at showing the complex situation, while staying focused on her humanity and her life's journey.

Thanks! And, please, connect with Bounce and see what you two can do together!

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

MaDube's picture

Thanks Scott

And please accept my apology for my really late acknowledgement of your comments on my post.

Oh yes, I am sure you have heard quite a bit about Tree of Life. I just briefly checked out Bounce's profile and she works at Kufunda Village where the ToL workshops are usually hosted in Harare so I am sure she knows a lot about it too. Thanks for your comments and suggestions, and indeed Sisi Abby is one of those really amazing women whom you look at and wonder where she gathers her strength from to do what she does and be who she is.

Thanks :-)

Emily Garcia's picture

This is wonderful, Rumbi! I

This is wonderful, Rumbi! I feel so grateful to be able to read this inspiring woman's story here today. Great job and thank you for sharing!

Best wishes,


Emily Garcia
World Pulse Online Community Lead

MaDube's picture

Thank you so much Emily and

Thank you so much Emily and my apologies for the late response. I am happy Sisi Abby's story inspired you, if it had not then I would have done a bad job of representing who she is and what she does, which is just simply inspiring.

Thanks so much,


Monica Clarke's picture

Well said

Well done, Rumbi. I have read and re-read your article and I wish that I can one day meet Sisi Abby myself. Would I like that!

Love and hugs from Monicai in France

Monica Clarke, Writer & Storyteller, bringing human rights alive.
I wish you 'Nangamso', that is: May you continue to do the good work which you do so well.
(A blessing from my ancestors, the Khoikhoi, the first people of South Africa).

MaDube's picture

Thank you dear Monica.

Thank you dear Monica. Meeting Sisi Abby wont be too hard. If you just pay us a visit here in Zimbabwe, she would love to meet with women who work to empower other women like you.

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