BURUNDI: TRAFFICKED FOR MARRIAGE

Genevieve (not her real name), aged 22years, hails from Bujumbura City, Ruzimba village, Burundi. She was trafficked to Kenya for marriage by a well-known Church Minister in collaboration with two Burundian women who belonged to his church in Nairobi, Kenya.

Genevieve comes from a very humble background, her father died while she was young and she has been brought up by a single mother with a lot of difficulty. She has two younger siblings who deserve a lot of care because her mother is also sickly and she cannot meet their basic needs. This made Genevieve to drop out of school at class five and started looking for petty jobs to meet the needs of the entire family.

In early March 2017, two Burundian women who were well known to her family members went and requested her mother to allow Genevieve to travel to Nairobi and do business with them. The two also introduced Genevieve and her mother to the alleged Pastor (albeit virtually) as their spiritual father who ministered to them while in Nairobi. This touched Genevieve’s mother who agreed to release her daughter to travel to Nairobi. The two women further informed Genevieve’s mother that the Pastor was interested in marrying a Burundian lady since he claimed that they were of good character, hence their request to consider Genevieve for marriage to the Pastor.

After several telephone conversations with Genevieve’s mother, the Pastor promised to support the facilitation of getting the temporary passport and transport costs of Genevieve to Nairobi. Out of the sheer promise for better life in Nairobi, Genevieve excitedly accepted to consider the marriage offer.  Afterwards, she prepared herself and left for Nairobi hoping to find the two Burundian women waiting for her. On arrival, she found the Pastor instead waiting for her at the Nairobi bus terminus and he took her straight to his house. Shantel was however shocked to find the Pastor waiting for her without the Burundian ladies who had promised to also give her a job on arrival.

When she asked the Pastor about the two Burundian ladies, she was told that they were very busy with church work and that he would take her to them the following day. On arrival at the Pastor’s house, the whole story changed as he instructed Shantel that from that moment onwards, she was his wife and that she should never move out of that house without his consent.

Nature of Exploitation

Within a short period of time, Genevieve was expectant; which marked the beginning of her many problems in the cohabitation. She used to spend many days and nights without proper food and she was at times battered and forced into submission. The Pastor threatened to get her killed. Genevieve further reported that the Pastor had severally used men to seduce and try to sleep with her as a trap. Genevieve eventually developed signs of depression and she was admitted at Mama Lucy hospital for further medical care and observation, where she was diagnosed with high blood pressure.

During delivery of her child, she couldn’t give birth normally due to the high blood pressure. This forced her to undergo a Caesarian Section to save her life and that of the child. Two weeks post-delivery, Genevieve was summoned to the Chief’s office for having threatened to kill her husband using a kitchen knife. Everyone present during interrogation was against her, hence she didn’t give her side of story. The Pastor eventually left her in their matrimonial house and moved out to live at another house at the church he was administering. He further started moving out with other young girls whom he used to send to Genevieve to confront her and threaten her. Genevieve was eventually locked out of the single room she used to stay in with her 10 months’ old daughter for defaulting on rent payment.

When the matter became unbearable, she was offered some money by her estranged husband for bus fare to travel back to Burundi; even though it wasn’t enough. Genevieve did not have any travel documents so she could go nowhere and yet she had no place to call home. She roamed from house to house looking for well-wishers to host her as she tried to right her travel papers.

Intervention

Genevieve’s case was brought to the attention of CHTEA by a Community Volunteer (CV) based at Mukuru slums, Nairobi. Screening was carried out which confirmed Genevieve to be a Victim of Trafficking [VoT] for marriage. A rescue and rehabilitation plan was developed before any repatriation thoughts could be considered. She was asked to develop a business plan of her choice as transitional accommodation was arranged for her. She eventually proposed to begin an eggs’ business within the precincts of where she lived. A single room of accommodation was also secured for her, with an advance payment of three months’ rent for both accommodation and the business location. This was happening as she was undergoing counselling.

It never took long after establishing her business to move on with her life. However, shortly afterwards, a distress call from an unknown caller summoned her to the Sub County Children’s Office in Kayole. She honored the summon only to find out that her former husband had gone to the nearest police station and complained that Genevieve had stormed his Church and defiled his name besides chasing away all church followers. He further claimed that Genevieve had launched a fight with some church members. This, he claimed had happened even after he offered transport for her to travel back to Burundi.

By the time she got to the children’s office, she found that the complainant had left the police occurrence book claims with the concerned children’s officer. Genevieve was called upon to answer the charges placed with the police report but she disputed all. Genevieve was escorted to the Children’s office by a ‘’guardian mother’’ Noella, who also disagreed with the police claims since Genevieve’s engagements over the same period were totally different. Genevieve was let off with a caution that she should never call her estranged husband with regard to the welfare of the baby based on the fact that she had refused to travel back to Burundi. As well, the Pastor was called on telephone and warned not to call Genevieve and that he needed to give Genevieve time to heal and take care of the baby.

The same evening and in contravention of the Children office’s directive, Genevieve claimed to have received a call from the Pastor threatening her that he would take action against her since she had refused to travel back to Burundi.

Further Intervention and the Way Forward

Genevieve made a decision to notify CHTEA about the threats of her former “husband”. She was terrified by the threats since she had thought that the children’s office had given clear instructions to both sides. CHTEA took up the matter. The first port of call was the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) where it was agreed that the Pastor gets summoned for clarification of the matters reported to the police. It was however agreed that CHTEA would carry out the first level of engagement/investigations, then provide recommendations to the DCI in case it required further action.

At an appointed date, both parties were summoned to appear before a team of CHTEA officers. They arrived on time and they each had one witness ……the Pastor arrived with a fellow female Pastor while Genevieve arrived with her guardian mother, Noella. The meeting started at 3pm and lasted almost 4 hours. The conversations were both animated and emotive to both sides. The CHTEA team was basically digging in to understand the whole truth; assess that against all previous decisions/actions and finally develop intervention options for a lasting solution. All options were possible including providing criminal recommendations to the DCI.

When the sharing begun, Genevieve was given the first opportunity to explain her case. She did so with a lot of detail. She however avoided certain facts which could put her in bad light when it came to a final judgment. First, it was clarified that Genevieve had initial intentions to travel to Nairobi for business, even before she was approached about the Pastor’s marriage proposal. Secondly, she travelled by herself to Nairobi but not in the company of the two Burundi ladies as earlier reported. She spoke of the Pastor’s abuse once he assumed the role of a husband. She spoke of an initial short-lived period of blossoming love but that all this changed once she got pregnant. She accused the Pastor of infidelity and neglect during and after pregnancy.

According to her, the final straw was broken when the Pastor moved in with his church’s chairlady. He stopped spending time at home and he abrogated his responsibility towards his family once she gave birth. Eventually, the Pastor took this matter to the Children’s office where he handed in ten thousand Kenya Shillings as a contribution towards Genevieve’s journey expenses to Burundi, which she never did, allegedly due to lack of travel documents and inadequate fare.

On his part, the Pastor confirmed that he had initially taken Genevieve to be his wife but that many things changed within a short time. He claimed to have taken very good care of her and that he had sacrificed everything to make her happy; to which Genevieve admitted.

The Pastor however opened the can of worms when he said that Genevieve had defiled their matrimonial bed twice and on both occasions, she neither apologized nor reformed. He also spoke of the violent side of Genevieve especial    lly in respect of his work and the fact that he had regular meetings with his female congregants. “She physically assaulted me in front of the church just for failing to recognize her”, he claimed. He further claimed that he had faithfully been paying Shantel’s monthly upkeep allowance of eight thousand four hundred Kenya Shillings ever since they separated. This, he had been doing at a great cost to his church ministry e.g. selling church equipment. Most of the above issues had never been revealed to CHTEA by Genevieve.  Upon further inquiry, the Pastor admitted to having re-married and that his marriage with Genevieve had hit rock bottom and was not redeemable.

Observation from the two witnesses

Noella, Genevieve’s guardian mother and alleged trafficker accomplice confirmed that the Pastor had asked for a Burundian lady to marry and that she only shared this information with Genevieve, only to learn later (after 3 months) that Genevieve had already travelled and lived with the Pastor in Nairobi. She also got to know of their squabbles when the Pastor invited her to counsel Genevieve every time they had a disagreement. She expressed her exhaustion towards the same and was ready to let Genevieve travel back home irrespective of the shame that this would draw towards her family.

On the part of the lady Pastor, she was utterly shocked at the level of both deceit and pain visited upon both parties. She repeatedly requested that both parties consider forgiveness and reconnection to their former selves for the sake of their baby. She further insisted that there was no way they could permanently break their union as long as the baby remained a fact to their lives. She indeed asked that they both commit to forgive each other as a first step to healing, even though they may never re-unite. Genevieve in particular was deeply offended on confirming that had re-married…..she cried painfully and shouted a few very emotional and harsh words.

Case closure and repatriation of Genevieve

After many months of follow up on Genevieve’s case, CHTEA finally offered to repatriate her upon her request. As this report was being filed, Genevieve finally got her child’s birth certificate from her estranged husband and she was finally headed back home with more hope and optimism to begin a new life using the support extended to her by CHTEA.

Genevieve’s case is a showcase for the high cost associated with counter human trafficking interventions. Simple as it may seem, this case has cost CHTEA in excess of KES100,000 (US$ 1,000). It presents a master piece of how complex human trafficking/modern day slavery cases can get……a depiction of how normalcy in life can be abused by traffickers, trafficking networks and the merchants of absurdity.

REFLECTION ON COVID-19 BY THE MEDICAL MISSIONARIES OF MARY

The theme for our country meeting for this year is “Embracing the future together with hope”

We are encouraged by Pope Frances to:

  1. To look to the past with gratitude
  2. To live the present with passion
  3. To embrace the future with hope

We have chosen as our theme to “Embrace the future together with hope”. What does this mean for us in the light of our present realities?  I suggest we can take up these three admonitions with great hope, courage and strength. There are two books written by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe titled “Things Fall Apart” and “No Longer at Ease”. You will all agree with me that Covid-19 has turned our world upside down. And we are no longer at ease.  Every aspect of our lives – socially, physically, economically, psychologically, spiritually etc. etc.  has been affected.

At the initial stage of covid-19 our fears were great. The image that comes to me when I think of it is the upper room” experience. (Jn. 20:19) The disciples were behind locked doors, trembling and praying.  Much like the disciples we found ourselves locked down in our homes, uncertain, helpless, lost and afraid. The fear became great when we heard that Covid –19 was merciless on the old and people with health conditions and as such they should stay away from public worship, gatherings and avoid any visitors, etc.  A sense of being alone overcame us and a heavy depression clouded our vision.  We became confused and anxious as if we had lost our way on the cliff of a steep mountain side.

But the disciples did not remain in the upper room forever. As soon as they received the Holy Spirit their lives were changed, they could see things in a new way. They began to preach the gospel with boldness and in different languages. It is said that after any critical life experience we never return to who we were before.  Much like the disciples we found ourselves isolated, uncertain and afraid. Yes, the pandemic has imprisoned us with great fear. It has brought untold hardships – we are confronted with pain and suffering. Many have lost their lives, families are grieving; there is economic hardship and in its most extreme form has hit the poorest people most severely, schools and churches closed for many months. There is increased domestic violence, human trafficking and abuse of women. We have become obsessed with hand washing, we cannot even greet one another with a hug or hand shake; we distance ourselves from each other. The things we always took for granted is calling us to appreciation and gratitude. We are no longer free in so many ways; we cannot walk into a store or places of worship without facial masks. We are not free to embrace one another in a gesture of friendship. The energy and togetherness we experience when we come together for meetings is missing, not even to speak of the fresh air we take in as we walk on the road.

In spite of everything, we should not despair. There is hope as we seek mutual wellbeing and holistic care for one another, and in the face of all these, God is calling us to faith and trust. We cannot remain in the upper room forever – caged in our fears.  We are now becoming aware of its transmission and prevention. We are coming out of our fears and finding ways of living and working, taking precautions and keeping connected without taking unnecessary risks of traveling long distances. People are connecting through zoom conferencing, Masses are streamed online now for the vulnerable ones in our midst. There is creativity and innovation in doing business. People are taking more precautions.

There is a saying “never let a crisis pass you by without taking advantage of the opportunity to change, learn and evolve”.

In the midst of all these what is our call as MMMs for now and for the future?  Do we sink or rise?  What are we learning from our experiences?  In what new ways is God calling us?  I suppose some of these answers will emerge as we engage with each other during our discussions.

Pope Francis says “Covid -19 is not God’s judgment, but a call to live differently. He said that God is calling people to faith, which is not just believing God exists but turning to God and trusting Him”.  It is a time to decide to live differently, live better, love more and care for others. We are being called to renew ourselves as new persons, as new families and as new communities and people. We are being challenged to form new habits through daily prayer. From this pandemic we have seen that our lives are interconnected and sustained by one another and that no one reaches salvation by themselves alone.  I’m sure you noticed how much we cared and protected one another during the initial stage of the pandemic. We reminded each other to obey all the instructions put in place by the government officials to prevent contracting this deadly disease.

Our MMM Constitution urges us to be attentive to the cry of the poor (Const. 5.6); in faith and humility, respond to God with creative fidelity.  We are called to reflect on the signs of time. In hope and love be ready to walk in paths that are new. (Cons. 2.5, 6)

What new life are we being offered in the light of our experiences?

We are being called to consciously reflect on what is happening in our world today in an effort to embrace the possibilities that lie ahead. To face our fears because, Fear taken to its extreme is crippling. We are being challenged to accept the new reality or the new normal which is not normal at all.  To change our behavior to protect ourselves and especially to protect others; to reach out to the poor and vulnerable groups in our society.

Pope Francis calls us to reflect on how you, individually and as a community, might best make it possible for you to allow yourself to be open to the Spirit, making this time – one rich in grace and transformation.

I end this reflection by saying part of our chapter journey prayer.

“Loving God with our hearts burning we journey. With turmoil and uncertainty surrounding us, we trust in your grace to help us respond with wisdom and courage to our new realities. Help us to listen to the Spirit deep within our hearts and to share our hopes, fears and dreams with one another in faith. Grant us the courage to choose directions that lead to life in all its fullness for all peoples. Fill our hearts with compassion and love. We pray that we may have the power of the Spirit for our hidden selves to grow strong so that Christ may live in our hearts. Mary Mother of God and our mother pray for us to GOD, that this great suffering may end and that hope and peace may dawn anew. Embrace all your children in distress and pray that God will stretch out His all-powerful hand and free us from this terrible pandemic” Amen.

The author of this article is Sr Teresa who is a member of the Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM).  She has served in Malawi, Nigeria and Kenya

The Rescue of 75 Kenyans from Lebanon (Special Appeal)

Following ‘Terry’s’ story in our 3rd Newsletter edition of July 2020, the situation in Lebanon continued to deteriorate especially after the big explosion at the port of the capital city, Beirut on 4th August 2020. This was followed shortly by a full government resignation which gave rise to an increased military presence on the control of the civil space. Demonstrations rocke