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Sandra Owaka

“My name is Sandra Owaka and I am a survivor of gender based violence.  My place of birth is Nairobi.  I got married in 2006 and was blessed with two kids.  I gave birth to my first born child in December 2007.  My second child was born in November 2011.

The abuse begun in December 2007 after the birth of my first born child.  This was an election year and my husband was one of the participants.  He started acting unusually during the time and became physically violent and verbally abusive.


Life became difficult for me and my children.  We had to shelter at our neighbors as we sought refuge as the increase in violence became a risk to our lives.  In 2016, my spouse became sick and was admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital.  He appeared to show symptoms meningitis.  As well, he was tested and diagnosed for drug-induced paranoia.  He was referred to Mathari Mental Hospital. 


During this time, I was rejected and isolated by members of society and family due to the stigma associated with his condition.  Before he could make a full recovery, his family had him discharged from the hospital, accusing me of bewitching their son.  He went to his home village and after a year he came back to Nairobi and got back to drugs.  He relapsed back to his mental condition and almost took his life.


Eventually, I took him back to hospital and he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  For a year and a half he got in and out of hospital without improvements. 


During this time, I was demeaned of my personality and self worth. The situation drained my energy and made me to isolate from members of my family and society.  I always had pity on my spouse and kids.  At some point I accepted the outcome of staying in the marriage and a possibility of facing death in the process.


I got into a depression that led me to start using drugs to cope with the stress I was feeling.  My children, being exposed to what was going on, also got into a state of depression.  They were involved in the fights with my spouse.  I separated from my spouse after a fight, under the influence of drugs, that almost took my life.


During the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic, I got sick and was diagnosed with depression.  I was put on anti depressants and was admitted to Mama Lucy Referral Hospital.  There, I realized that I had a mental health condition and got well.  I accepted the fact that mental health was real.


Due to what I had gone through, as part of my recovery, I decided to do awareness on mental health and GBV.  I noticed that my marriage had deteriorated due to drugs and mental illness.  I started a group to help women experiencing GBV, reaching out to four families.  Sadly, one of the mothers I reached out to died at the hands of her husband who was drunk and mentally ill. 


At the first meeting, which was November last year, I had women talk about their experiences of GBV.  I noticed that in the community many women were having these issues but were not ready to share because of the stigma and judgement.  They were afraid that they would be seen as careless and naive.  These women had all been abused repeatedly.  One woman at the meeting did not have any teeth because of her husband had beat herher.  She was drinking to cope with her trauma and had even forgotten about her own family.  Another woman had a broken leg from abuse which had not been treated and had been swollen for two years.  She was taking alcohol to deal with the pain both physically and emotionally.  She was going from one house to another for shelter as she had no home and her husband had taken her kids away.  Another woman, the husband was addicted to alcohol and they would fight.  One of her children decided to become a thief and had been beaten by a mob when he was caught stealing.


After these women talked, they felt that they knew they were not alone and now had hope in their life.  They could overcome their problems.  Most of these women needed therapy to go back to family amd since then I have been continuing to counsel them.


Last year, together with my colleague Felix Kokonya, I started Akili Bomba.  There was a friend of mine from Maasai Mbili in Kibera who had passed away due to alcoholism and depression.  I felt sad about his death as it reminded me of several things that had happened in my own life.  I met Felix at the funeral and he was composed. Everyone was calling him pastor.  I was shocked as I had known Felix before as a gangster in Kibera who was addicted to drugs and alcohol.  I was shocked and asked him how he had overcome his life challenges.  After the funeral, we went to Kibera Town Center and I sat down with him to listen to his story about overcoming addiction and mental illness through prayer.  During the conversation, we decided to start this organization as we believed we could use our stories to help heal other people in the community.  That is how Akili Bomba was born.


Akili bomba has been active in the community now for almost a year npw.  We have been doing counselling, advocacy and sensitization to mental health stigma.  We have 250 profiled members that we have been following.  They have gone through GBV, drug addiction and suicide – we have lost two of our members to suicide.  We have helped one of our members who had health problems by bringin him to a hospital and he is now in recovery.  We have helped to restore marriages.  We have members who have stopped drinking and using drugs.  We have been helping people on living in the streets to look for homes.


My hope for the future is that people living with mental illnesses will be free from the stigma and we will have a community that embraces such people.  We want people to know that mental illness is not hopelessness.”