Pauline Kimeu’s heart broke every time she came face-to-face with a victim of child trafficking at the coast.
The look of defeat in their face haunted her and it this experience that pushed her to embark on a mission to rescue what she describes as “the terrorised innocence of African child at the Coast.” For the 48-year-old catholic nun, her dream of rescuing thousands of children predominantly girls who fall victim to child trafficking came after the successful completion of Bakhita Children Rescue Centre in Kikambala, Kilifi County.
The journey that culminated in the construction of the centre started through a casual conversation with an Irish volunteer aboard a Nairobi-bound KQ flight 10 years ago.
“I remember I started talking to a woman seated next to me on the plane. I knew she was a volunteer and I was aware of a number of projects they had done in Kenya. So I engaged her and she agreed to assist me.
That is how the idea of starting this rescue centre was born,” she says. They kept in touch and eventually resolved to come up with a meaningful project to help children in the society.
Last year, the Irish volunteers established the Bakhita Children Rescue Centre, a modern home where girls rescued from child trafficking networks and other forms of child abuse at the Coast find a safe haven.
The name Bakhita is derived from a Sudanese girl, Josephine Bakhita who was abducted by Arab Slave traders in 1869 and sold as a slave in different continents. She was forced to walk barefoot about 960 kilometres to El Obeid and was sold and bought twice before she arrived there. Over the course of twelve years (1877–1889) she was resold again three more times and It is said that the psycho logical trauma of her abduction made her for she accepted a new name giv en to her by the slave masters, Bakhita, Arabic for lucky. She was also forcibly converted to Islam.
“At the end she found herself in Italy where she was sold to a Christian family and became a catholic nun. Bakhita went through all the pain that an abused person goes through and at the end she became a woman of value in the society.
So she is a good model because the children look up to her,” says Pauline.
A nurse, Sister Pauline says she gave up her profession for community service. Having been in the community service for close to two decades, Pauline came face-to-face with the stark reality that defines the extent of child abuse at the Coast and saw the need to find a practical solution to the problem.
She says many parents at the Coast unknowingly or knowly traffic their children to relatives they trust only to discover their mistake when it is too late.
She singles out a case of a six-year-old girl from Kisumu Ndogo in Taveta who was rescued from the streets of Mtwapa 12 years ago after being subject ed to sexual abuse by a group of foreigners who would in return pay her mother some cash.
“The girl was in total shock and could not utter a word by the time she was rescued. When she started narrating her ordeal, she explained that her mother took her to Mombasa where she started selling her to men,” says Pauline.
The girl’s plight made Pauline redouble her efforts to help others in a similar predicament.
“When you live with the communities and see what they do you realise there is a problem. Whenever you allow your nine-year-old girl to go and help her aunt who stays in Majengo, you don’t follow up to see what she is doing…and you don’t listen to her when she tells you mum I wake up at 3.00am and sleep at midnight. And this is exactly what happens here at the Coast. I have seen girls suffer in the hands of their so-called aunts…in the process some are defiled by their uncles and suffer in silence,” she says.
Unfortunately, she says, complaints from the victims are either ignored or not taken seriously since sometimes parents tend to imagine that the child is looking for excuses to dodge responsibilities.