Sitawa Wafula is from Kenya, an only girl in a family of four, Single, Lover of God, food, art, travel and moon watching. She is a poet and mental health and epilepsy crusader who recently got awarded for the East Africa Philanthropy Awards and Spark Kenya Change makers program. She also own an events company, Events by Sitawa and a jewellery line O-collection. She spends her days creating awareness about mental health through talks, her blog and media engagements after dropping out of Actuarial School due to a mental health condition which She developed after a rape ordeal. In this heart-to- heart conversation, Sitawa tells us the story of her life and how she turned her misfortune into an avenue to serve as a bridge of hope and source of inspiration to others.
What is your motivation for doing what you do?
Rape and Mental health are considered taboo topics in Africa, that and the fact that I did not have someone to talk to when I got raped and the lack of information in matters concerning mental health. I want to create a different environment for those to come. Also the responses for those who read my blog or hear my story really motivate me to keep going.
Can you give a vivid account of your rape ordeal?
(Kindly read about it on my blog http://sitawa.blogspot.com titled Sunday 15th)
Have you forgiven the culprit of your rape?
Yes I have forgiven him
What was the effect of this ordeal on you
I got really depressed and later developed a mental health condition – bipolar. On the flip side, I got really curious about my condition and got in mental health advocacy which has won me an award among other recognitions.
How were you able to pick yourself up?
A rape ordeal is a permanent scar that only I see. It was very hard at first, I contemplated suicide, attempted and failed and after that discovered that God has a purpose for my life. God is definitely my anchor. I decided to spend my life making things better for myself and others like me and that has turned out to be something bigger than myself.
How are you able to cope with the gory memory and the mental challenges that come with it?
It is a combination of my relationship with God, support from my family and those in the mental health movement, and the knowledge of what does not kill you makes you stronger.
Do you think poetry or art and literature in general is a viable or potent tool in fighting both sexual violence and mental health issues?
Yes I do. When you go to a group and say you want to perform or showcase art, you are more likely to get an audience as opposed to saying you want to talk about rape and mental health.
Looking back, would you have preferred things had not gone this way for you?
Well yes I do wish I didn’t get raped and sometimes I wish I could have gone ahead and finished my Actuarial Science studies and lived my life doing Mathematics, Probability or Statistics, but again this is what is my plate so I give my best to it and leave the rest to God and God can never give you more than you can handle.
How is your work helping you recover from your ordeal and have you fully recovered
Yes, Yes it is very important for anyone to share their stories. I never knew I was to go to hospital or the police or see a counselor when I got raped because that information was not readily available for me. Now I make sure that information is available for others and the responses I get reassures me that I am on the right path, that I am making an impact in people’s lives…it is also therapeutic for me.
What do you think African government should do in relations to the issues of Sexual violence and Mental Health?
Discussion, open air discussions. Rape and Mental Health are seen as taboo topics and it needs everyone’s involvement and the government needs to take that first step in opening up forums for these discussions and encouraging them to go on in work places, in schools. Awareness of the two topics needs to be on top gear and also policy. African governments need to give legislation on the two issues and make sure they are implemented.
Do you think you will ever recover?
It is a gradual process that I am taking one day at a time. I will get there if there is a destination.
What challenges do you face today as a result of your predicament
I forget things most of the time, I still get relapses once in a while which ground me for weeks or even months, I cannot go to places with flashy lights , really loud music, caffeine and alcohol also make me trip so they are a no-no.
Has there been any direct and or indirect positive impact as a result of what you went through?
Yes there has been. I have become a force of influence and a voice of authority in mental health in my country and know with interviews like this, it shows that other African countries are recognizing the work I am doing.
What advice will you give to rape victims across the continent and to other ladies to keeping safe?
They are not alone, it is not the end of the world, there are some people like myself who went through it, thought the world has come to an end and made it victorious. If I can do it, anyone can.
How far do you want to take your advocacy work?
Across Africa…there is great need to break the stigma and myths associated with mental health across the continent and that is how far I want to take my advocacy.
What is the way forward for you?
Partnership building, visiting more countries to share and learn on best practices, more advocacy campaigns and creation of Africa’s Premier Mental Health information hub and app.