KENYA, Nairobi. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Spanish Human Rights NGO THRibune will build the first social reintegration center in Kenya in 2021. The center will give girls professional formations and continuous psychological support. It will be a safe place to help them heal a life of abuse and scarcity. Following a previous interview with UNODC Eastern Africa Region Representative Dr. Amado de Andrés, Transcontinental Times interviews Cruz Sánchez de Lara and Maria De Paz to know about the project and its challenges.
The Dagoretti center in Nairobi currently shelters 110 girls aged between 11 and 17. To clarify, girls can be incarcerated for minor crimes such as substance abuse or stealing food. Many are being prostituted by their families. After they finish a three-year maximum stay, they are socially stigmatized. “Those who have a place to go back to might not want to, around 60% have been abused within their communities,” says Maria de Paz. In addition, the lack of resources in both their communities and the government-run centers, facilitate recidivism: up to 52% according to the latest UNODC reports.
Helping improve life conditions
“These girls are heavily punished by life. When we first met them, they wouldn’t look us in the eye” says Cruz. She is a lawyer, UN Executive Advisor for the Eastern Africa Region, and founder of Human Rights NGO THRibune. Cruz explains “no one escapes unscathed from violence, no matter how strong you are.” And these girls are very strong; they are survivors.
Her organization is run by seven women, all volunteers, who promote existing projects with their resources. Their ambassadors scout for them in 18 countries. For example, they collaborated with local entities such as APRAMP, facilitating the social reintegration process of human trafficking survivors. And also internationally, with Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro in Colombia for example.
Cruz is “a hearts headhunter” and describes TRHibune as a network. They offer visibility, funding, and human resources to projects. “All the money we raise goes to the projects, we receive nothing. I invest in young people. In Human Rights, there has to be a generational change.” She refers to Maria de Paz, who chose the project in Nairobi, and to Wambui Kahara, UNODC Regional Youth Advisor for Eastern Africa.
THRibune meets UNODC
Maria and Wambui visited the Dagoretti center, where UNODC had envisioned a project. Together, they assessed their real needs and the collaboration began. “Governments in Africa don’t work directly with NGOs. Therefore, partnerships with International Agencies are crucial,” says María.
Dagoretti center ran a sewing formation program but they lack continuity and resources. The living conditions of the center are deficient and there is no support for the girls after they leave.
THRibune raised in Spain most of the money needed to build the center in a space allotted by the Kenyan government. This is a pilot; the model could be replicated elsewhere.
#Designing Dreams was the first initiative launched in 2020. Local designers give the girls sewing and design classes. Other formations will include cooking and hairdressing. “We talked to NGOs developing IT formations as well (…) to avoid gender bias,” says María. But electrical supply and internet connection are not reliable. So, they focused first on securing an income for the girls in their current context.
The sustainability of this project is a major concern for both UNODC and THRibune. The center must run locally. “Many girls only speak Swahili and whoever helps them has to connect closely with them. This is paramount to creating a sustainable ecosystem,” says Maria. Some of the matrons in these centers are ex-detainees. “Who better to help other women in the same situation”, says Maria. However Cruz stresses that in order to help they first need to heal. And this process does take time.
COVID-19: compromise in Kenya and poverty in Spain
The pandemic has delayed construction work until 2021. Girls at Dagoretti are in lockdown; they no longer receive classes. Now, only the UNODC can communicate with them. “It is hard not to be able to reach them,” says Vicky Tardón. She will move to Nairobi to supervise the project’s budget.
COVID-19 second wave increases the inequality gap worldwide and recrudesces already pressing social issues. So volunteers at THRibune faced the hard question. “We will meet the compromise we have for these women. But more and more people are facing poverty in Spain,” says Cruz.
So they decided to have a local association for women in danger of social exclusion, Ammer, making the masks they sell for funds. In addition, all mask production is local, only fabrics are bought in Kenya. THRibune also destines 10% of benefits to a food bank in Madrid. Their network helps women throughout the entire process. They’ve even created a solidarity chain with sweatshirts.
An agreement of wills from above
While uncertainty rises, Cruz is concerned about COVID-19’s effect on mental health. “The economic crisis plus the individual and collective crisis are a ticking bomb. We need to work together (…), with a positive message full of strength. (…) We need to build, not destroy. (…) I am hopeful, I see many people in representative and institutional positions who want to build.”
“Take the 2030 Agenda. Corporations are changing as they need to support causes. (…) The money will educate us, with a business mentality change, the world changes from above. The problem is that necessity is bellow and power above.”
How THRibune has adopted their fundraising model to COVID-19 reflects their motivations and empathy. Also, that they are engaged and listening to what surrounds them.
Since a healthy non-abusive relationship requires reciprocity, the power above might need to listen to the real necessities of those below. For, as THRibune’s networking and partnerships show, once there is a “an agreement of wills” the executive steps are easier to take.