”The first time I visited this place [HAART shelter] I was thinking – it just has it all for those girls. It is a place for healing and it is just a homely place… It is just what they need and it is a place with silence… I totally loved it”
The idea of creating a HAART shelter came about when I was meeting another employee at HAART through a different job. I remember; I was talking to her and asked – “why is HAART not starting their own shelter?”
I remember that after we had that conversation and she said; “You wait. We will think about it”
One month later, she called me and said; “Yes, now we thought about it and yes, we are going to start our own HAART shelter – Would you be interested in coming in and for an interview?”
Immediately I said yes and went to the interview. I really got happy when I heard they had identified a place for victims of trafficking. I now work for HAART Kenya as the shelter manager. It is a shelter where they deal with girls who are victims of trafficking up to the ages of eighteen years.
We now have the capacity to hold up to twenty girls. But in the future we want to have the capacity for around twenty-six girls. At the moment we have eight girls at the shelter and eight girls in the boarding school. We actually also have three babies at the shelter and one in school with her mother.
Additionally at the shelter we have a lady who cooks and cleans for the survivors. We also have a housemother who takes care of the babies because we have girls who are young mothers, and they need help, because of the vulnerable situation in which they are and have been in. To be around the girls we have a residential social worker who must be present. She is here for social activities with the children such as life skills, playing games, exercise and school training. We also have a woman who is a local social worker. She helps all the survivors in the shelter. For security we have a guard all day and night. Sometimes there can be five of us and in the night we are usually two.
We have a full and active program for kids in the daytime with different activities. The shelter has items which any normal household would have, but also items for creative activities. One of the girls is very good at knitting and here they have the opportunities to learn various skills which they can use later in life.
The main reason the shelter exists is to provide a safe place for victims of trafficking to stay.
We are rescuing the children from trafficking, together with the police and the area children’s officer. The local administration, the chief and the communities’ leaders are also involved.
In the first week that a survivor comes to the shelter we complete the medical screening process. This is to clarify what their medical and the nutrients state is. We work with the medical section regarding this process but it could be good idea to establish stronger partnerships so the cost can come down and the help is easier for the survivors to receive.
We also identify any physical damage or chronic diseases such as hepatitis, HIV or diabetes so we can help them to get into a medical program and tackle the issue.
After the medical screening is complete we start up psycho-social support with our psychologist. The survivor can have up to ten sessions. If it is possible after three months we go to a family visit to assess if we can reintegrate the child back into the family and the community.
For the future we have great aspirations. We have a dream of building a bigger shelter for which could host to one hundred children. We see the need out there and we could easily have one hundred children. There are many victims of trafficking. For the time being however, we can only help around 1 % and that is heart-breaking to know. There are so many children out there who are not going to have the help they need.
Generally the amount of time survivors can be with us ranges from three months to one year. On occasion it can be up to three years if the government support us. It is important to remember that all cases are unique and our main focus is to have respect for the children/girls and give them a place and time to grow, heal and feel safe again. That is why the shelter was created.
By Christine Macharia