By NJERI RUGENE
On the morning of June 26 this year, a teenage girl left home to attend the funeral of her grandfather in the Tingolo village of Butula, Busia County.
She was a 16-year-old reservoir of energy, the wind on her sails so strong that she knew it would be just a matter of time before she left her restive village and headed to the big city to pursue a career in the corporate world.
Even at that young age, she knew what she wanted to be. And no, it was not a doctor, or a lawyer, or a pilot as they always dream, but a CEO. Of which company she was not sure, but she had these constant images of herself sitting on the far end of a boardroom, her lieutenants on each side of a huge table as they discussed the strategic interests of the firm she headed.
But on this day something heavy weighed her down.
She had lost a dear grandfather, and today they would bury him. As happens in any village when an old man passes on, Tingolo had gathered to bid farewell to its patriarch.
The girl sat in silence, watching as the village performed the last rites on the fallen man.
It was more of a celebration of a life well lived than a mournful event, and in her mind she hoped she would live a life as industrious and long as that of this great man of Tingolo.
The ceremony over, she bid her folks goodbye and headed home, as jolly and sociable as ever. Sadly, she never got to rest. Six men attacked her on the way, beat her up and gang-raped her for hours.
And then, in the cover of the night, and the girl already unconscious, the attackers decided to conceal their heinous act by dumping her where no one, they hoped, would ever find her: deep inside a 20-foot pit latrine.
The girl, whom we shall only call Liz as we cannot reveal her identity for ethical reasons, spent the night inside the latrine, severely injured and traumatised. Luckily, she survived, and two weeks ago we traced her to Eldoret.
To say what is happening to Liz is sad would be a gross understatement.
Months after the incident, the happy-go-lucky girl who hoped to one day become the CEO of a leading company is now confined to a wheelchair.
Doctors say she might have broken her spinal cord either during the rape ordeal or after she was thrown in the pit latrine. And, as if that is not tragic enough, the Standard Seven pupil has developed obstetric fistula, a condition that leaves a woman with a leaking bladder and, in extreme conditions such as hers, leakage of stool as well.
On the day we met her at the Gynocare Fistula Centre in Eldoret, she struggled to put on a brave face, punctuated every now and then by an on-off smile.
The plasticity of that grin, however, was not hard to notice because, let’s face it, this is a girl who is going through a nightmare so horrific it chills the bones to even imagine.
“She has changed dramatically,” her 37-year-old mother muses, as if to herself, the pain her daughter is going through evidently taking a toll on her as well. The ordeal has left the girl an emotional wreck, her innocence and dreams shattered by people that, she says, are well known to her.
And, to add insult to injury, it appears that no one, not even the police who are supposed to aid her judicial quest, is willing to help her carry this load.
The attackers have been left free to roam her village, to taunt her even. Liz, therefore, only has her mother to clutch onto. And that, in these circumstances, is a pain too hard to stomach.
“My wish is to see justice done,” she sobs. “I want my attackers arrested and punished.”
This is how her life took this sad turn: She had spent hours serving visitors who had attended her grandfather’s funeral and, at the end of the long day, decided to walk the distance of about two kilometres to her home and sleep the fatigue away.
The assailants attacked her half-way home. Terrified and alone in the dark, she screamed for help but none came.
The young men first beat her up to shut her up then took turns raping her. Before she lost consciousness, however, Liz recognised three of the attackers, and two weeks ago she insisted she knew them not only by their names, but also their homes.
Neighbours who had heard her cries of help — and who, for some reason, did not come to her rescue at the time of the attack — gathered before dawn and mounted a search, which eventually ended at the pit latrine.
When she came to, she explained what had happened to her and named three of the attackers she recognised, then she was rushed to hospital.
Ms Linner Too, a counsellor at the fistula centre in Eldoret, says the girl arrived at the hospital just as she was beginning to relapse into a pyschological and emotional abyss.
“She was traumatised beyond words,” says Ms Too. “She sounded very bitter and refused to talk to anyone. After a lot of counseling, we are glad she is improving.’’
The weeks that preceded her arrival at Gynocare Fistula Centre were a nightmare for Liz and her family. Everybody who should have cared — from local medics to the police and parents of some of the assailants — appeared to have conspired against her.
LET THEM CUT GRASS
When she was rescued, for instance, she was taken to the Tingolo Administration Police Camp to record a statement.
As luck would have it, villagers frog-marched the three suspects she had identified while she was still at the camp. But her relief at the arrest of the three quickly turned out to be a disappointment.
“The three, for some strange reason, were only ordered to cut grass around the police camp and set free shortly after,” says Liz’s mother. “In the meantime, the police told me to take the girl home so that she could take a shower before taking her to hospital.”
At Musibiriri Dispensary, with one of the culprit’s mother in tow, the medic on duty could only prescribe painkillers for Liz. Then mother and daughter went back home to nurse their respective pains.
And now, satisfied that their crime would be swept under the carpet, all the attackers have returned to roam the village. As if their presence is not harrowing enough, some of them and their parents continue to harass and intimidate Liz and her family, says her mother.
“They often call purporting to find out how she is faring. They promise to give us something small for medical expenses and then go under until the next call,” she says, singling out one instance where the father of one of the suspects humiliated her husband when he went to the man’s home to collect some money he had been promised to help take Liz to hospital.
“He angrily sent him off shouting that the crime was committed by a group, not just his son,’’ she says.
As all this happened, Liz’s condition deteriorated and, after a few days, she could neither stand nor walk. The mother sold what she says were her most valuable possessions — four chicken — so she could seek specialised treatment.
But four chicken cannot help cure obstetric fistula and spinal damage, so the family leased out their farm for four years to off-set part of the medical bill.
At the Butere Hospital, where Liz was first admitted for a week, doctors did not detect anything amiss with the girl and only prescribed physiotherapy.
But that did not help and, eventually, she was referred to the provincial hospital in Kakamega, where keener medics discovered she had developed obstetric fistula.
Touched by the girl’s plight, an official of the Mumias Muslim Community Project took her to the Gynocare Fistula Centre in Eldoret, where she has since been getting specialised attention.
“This is one of the saddest cases I have ever dealt with,’’ says Dr Florentius Koech, a consultant neurosurgeon and lecturer at the Moi University School of Medicine.
“You look at her and see the worst kind of despair. She has a serious spinal injury, she is leaking urine and stool because she has also developed fistula, and the family is too poor to afford the spinal surgery and other necessary and related medical investigations.’’
Dr Koech says that while he and the centre are ready to give her free service for most of the basic investigations such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which costs a minimum of Sh15,000, Liz is likely to be discharged without her spinal injury being treated if the parents do not raise the fees for it.
It gets worse: Dr Hillary Mabeya, one of the country’s only eight fistula surgeons, says corrective surgery for fistula cannot be repaired before the spinal injury is fixed “because of pressure on the spine”.
“I am in a dilemma in terms of how to start management of her condition,” he says. “She will need to undergo very expensive tests to be able to tell which parts have been damaged. She most likely will need double surgery to repair the effects and injuries on the spine.’’
Luckily for now, Dr Mabeya, who also heads the Reproductive Health Unit at Moi Referral Hospital, Eldoret, is a bit reluctant to let Liz go untreated. “We are still keeping her here in the hope that help will somehow come to enable the spinal surgery.”
But the two doctors and the management of the hospital are an unhappy lot and find it curious that the tormentors and attackers of the 16-year-old girl are yet to be arrested, three months since their horrendous crime.
“The question we keep asking here is how a crime like that can go unnoticed by law enforcers,’’ says Dr Koech. “What saddens us most is the fact that the matter was reported to the police, no action was taken and the assailants continue with their normal lives in the village. The girl is devastated.’’
Mr Jared Momanyi, head of programmes at the Centre, is more infuriated. He says he alerted the office of the Busia County Governor when the girl was brought in and are yet to get a response.
“I informed the Governor’s office because they understand the administrative units within the county and would help make a follow-up,’’ says Mr Momanyi. “They have not got back to us since. These attackers need to get arrested and thrown behind bars, where they belong. The girl needs justice.’’
Mr Momanyi says he finds it a mystery that although a report was made at the Tingolo AP Camp, indications are that no statement was taken from the girl. “Are they also not police who know the law? Why did they opt for a kangaroo court?’’ he wonders.
The two doctors and Gynocare, however, are not the only ones shocked by failure to bring to book Liz’s abusers. Busia County MP Florence Mutua expressed her dismay when DN2 called her last week to seek her comment on the matter.
“Are you for real?” she asked. “Are you sure this serious crime happened in Busia? How come no one has taken action?’’
Within 10 minutes, she had called Gynocare Fistula Centre, pledged to meet costs of Liz’s initial medical tests, and called the area’s police boss to explain the mystery.
“I am very upset that we have such boys in Butula. The police are now on it and I have made it clear that arrests have to be made,’’ the ODM MP told DN2 from Nairobi. “I am very disturbed.’’
As at last Sunday, however, Liz had not received any of the help promised. Her mother, a fishmonger, thinks they have been denied justice — and continue to be harassed and intimidated by some of the attackers and their parents — simply because they are poor.
“Any time I bump into any of them, I always wish I was a policeman,” she says. “You see, if I was a policeman, I would arrest them.’’
As for Liz, she prays that the devil that has visited her will be dealt with, so that she can return to school, get back to work and keep her dream of becoming a CEO alive.
Touched? Send your comments and inspirational messages to Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Email the writer at email@example.com