“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.
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.
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.
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.* I am one of 30 correspondents in 2011 of the VOF program*