When Genevieve De la Reux landed in Kenya from her country, Australia for a volunteer internship in 2014 she didn’t know what to expect. This was her first visit to Africa but during this short stay she fell in love with the country.
The founder and executive director of The Genevieve Audrey Foundation, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to rescuing children from the heartbreaking world of sexual abuse, is not your typical white girl in Africa on a holiday.
Passionate about the need to make a better world for children, Genevieve first worked at Jamaa Mission Hospital in Buruburu where she offered psychological support to patients. Later she was attached to Kikuyu Mission Hospital and it is here that her passion to care for abused children was birthed.
At Buruburu she interacted with some of the sexually abused children who came to the hospital in search of medical help.
“I was touched by their plight and my heart went out to them, having been a victim of physical and sexual assault in my younger years. I thought it wise to start an organisation to help such victims,” explains Genevieve, a psychologist.
Although she would later go back to her country Australia, she kept returning to Kenya to find out how these children were fairing on.
Child abuse in Kenya
Genevieve says that she was aware of the statistics on sexual violence in Kenya but was surprised to learn that it was more rampant than what she thought. Even further surprising was the fact that a lot of the victims did not receive the medical attention they deserved.
“I realised that even after physical treatment most hospitals were not offering the victims psycho-social support in terms of counseling and therapy, or even a safe place for them to heal. Some cases were too severe and leaving the victim without any psychosocial support only made things worse for the victims.
The reality is that if sexual abuse is not well treated the likelihood of the victims being haunted by the events forever is always very high,” she says, adding that post trauma is very severe and most of those who don’t go for counseling either become perpetrators of sexual violence, engage in prostitution or bury their sorrows in alcohol or drugs.
At the Genevieve Audrey Foundation they rescue, re-house, educate and completely support young girls who have been victims of violent sexual abuse and rape, many of whom get pregnant. Currently they have accommodated girls as young as nine years old.
Genevieve opens up about her personal experience of being abused. “As a young girl at the age of 11 years, I went through physical and sexually abuse at the hands of my parents.
As a result, I ran away from home and got help from a good Samaritan who accommodated me until I turned 19 years and was able to fend for myself. If it were not for the help I received, I bet my life would have turned out very differently. The damage caused to me by my parents affected me later in life and made me suicidal,” she shares.
She says that her past has played a big role in shaping her to be the person she is today. She has dedicated her life to be a mouthpiece for the less fortunate and stand up for them.
At first she thought of starting an organisation in Australia to offer a lifeline to abused children but the stringent laws and lack of good will from the government to punish
penetrators discouraged her.
“You can’t compare Kenyan laws to those of Australia in as far as punishing sexual abuse perpetrators is concerned. The laws in Kenya are good only that often the legal process is a long and tedious one and sometimes the evidence may get lost in the process,” she notes.
Genevieve says that if it were up to her, she would advocate for sexual perpetrators to rot in jail or get hanged as most of the times they hardly reform. She further notes that the government needs to be firm on the perpetrators as the trend is slowly growing and `needs to be curbed.
According to Genevieve, it is everyone’s mission to be on the lookout for sexual violence incidences especially against children and intervene so as to prevent as many children as possible from having to undergo the horrendous ordeal. Currently, she is working to stop child trafficking incidences, as she believes all children are entitled to a decent life.
“In Kenya there are many incidences of child trafficking with the Coast region reported to be the most affected but all efforts need to be made to put a stop to it. It is up to each one of us to stand up for the children,” she says boldly.
Despite her noble efforts, it has not been without challenges. She points out that before she started her organisation she had partnered with different non-governmental organisations in Kenya. To her disbelief, she learnt that some of them were not working for the benefit of children.
“Corruption is very rampant in most NGOs in the country as some people lie to donors that they are using the funds given to help the children while the truth is they use it to enrich themselves,” reveals Genevieve.
Currently she is working closely with Agnes Pareiyo a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and United Nations Woman of the Year as her advisor. “I realise that people are not always genuine even those who come in the organisation as volunteers. Hence the reason why I have looked for an advisor and so far so good,” she observes.
Agnes is the founder of Tsaru Ntomonok initiative that works within the Maasai culture and surrounding community to eradicate the practices of female genital mutilation (FGM) and early childhood marriages by educating girls and their families.
Genevieve who refers herself Naisula on facebook points out that it is Agnes who gave her the name Naisula, a Maasai name for a warrior. “I told her my personal story and she told me I am supposed to be called Naisula,” she says amused.
Genevieve is currently working in three counties – Narok, Kajiado and Nairobi, which she terms as some of the most affected by child abuse cases.
“We currently have 81 children under our care. I am committed to educate them to university level and for those who will not go on with education after form four, I am determined to ensure that at least they pursue their dream courses,” she says.
Genevieve points out Dr Catherine Hamlin, founder of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, as her role model. Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is dedicated to the treatment and prevention of childbirth injuries called obstetric fistulas.
Genevieve has been running the organisation on her own but now she has opened doors to well wishers who would like to support the course.
“I am urging people who would like to help with second hand clothes, money or any form of gifts to do so,” she concludes quoting the famous African proverb, ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child.’