For many victims of abuse, finding a safe and conducive place to live is one of the most limiting factors prevailing against leaving an abusive relationship. This is perhaps why a Non-Governmental Organization, Heal the Hurting Foundation, recently launched a purpose-built Shelter for Abused Women in a quiet suburb of Lagos in affiliation with the Ministry of Women Affairs.
WO catches up with the NGO’s Founder and Executive Director, Olayemi Adekoya, who shares her touching story.
What is the essence of a Shelter?
The majority of these women after going through so much violence end up remaining there due to the fact that they do not have anywhere else to go to. So we came up with the idea of a model home where victims can stay for 3-6 months to recuperate and get empowered before we release them back into society. What we have presently is a five-bedroom apartment.
What are your general objectives?
It’s basically to give a new lease of life to victims of domestic violence. We want a situation whereby when we get those survivors we can provide counseling for them. The first thing is to make sure their mindset is alright.
Counseling takes a lot of time until they are psychologically okay. Most of them don’t have a means of income so apart from providing a place for them we also equip them with skills as well as soft skills so they can become economically stable.
At what stage do you let go of them, having so empowered them? What of those who have not been able to stand on their feet?
Most counseling will last 3-4 months. They should be able to have a second chance to relive their lives, more than where they are coming from where they didn’t have a source of living because they were constantly brutalized.
I don’t think they will not be able to move ahead after 3-6 months but when they cannot we liaise with DSVRT and they take over from there. The most we can do is 6 months.
Of what advantage is the care home?
Apart from the care home, we have an in-house counselor providing psychosocial support to survivors day in day out. A lot of NGOs are working with the Ministry of Justice in Alausa (Lagos State) so most of the cases usually come from there. I will be in charge of the home. There will be someone in charge of advocacy.
Will the women come in with their children and other dependents?
Well if somebody has a little child, definitely that baby will be with the mother. In the home, there will be a family room if you have a child. It’s going to be run like a hostel.
We tend to assume that many women stay in domestic violence situations because of financial constraints but many times especially with African women it is because of other factors such as social and because of their children.
Do you think you should be excluding such women?
We are working with DSVRT and they are more organized. What we do is to take that child and put him in a school close to the home. The child will definitely continue with his or her life. We will take care of the child.
I am not in the field but I can already see so many challenges. You will be dealing with broken women and their various challenges. How will you cope with that?
There is the Child Protection Unit and other agencies we can leverage on. I was a victim of domestic violence and I can remember for a long time I planned to get out but I couldn’t. I was kind of in chains because I couldn’t leave my children behind until I got to a point where I couldn’t manage any longer. I just broke out and left because it was getting to the point of death. So the only thing I needed right then was to survive, get out of this trauma, and stay alive.
I remember when I left; it was a big challenge to me getting a place to stay. I even went to DSVRT then and they couldn’t take me. I knew right then that I was a fighter.
I struggled and got things done. I used to live in a mansion, everything was in place for me but when I left I went to stay in an uncompleted building with my children. It was horrible but I knew I had to survive.
Since then I put myself in the shoes of every other woman that is passing through all I was passing through. All they will do is just stay there. It’s either they die or get maimed- they are nothing.
I decided that as long as I live I will stand up for victims of domestic violence. I completed the building and decided to dedicate it to that cause because that is the reason I am still alive. I plan on building another one and if it doesn’t work I am not working.
Did you have any support?
I had my family and one or two friends but friends cannot be like family. The family will always take you back even if that is the last thing they will ever do for you.
We put so much emphasis on the abused and not the abuser and his psychology. Have you ever thought of working on the abuser? They say prevention is better than cure.
The first thing you have to look out for is, don’t mingle with an angry person. Even the Word of God says so. Once you start seeing signs of aggression or he is accusing you of things or even inflicting emotional trauma then you should back off. Try as much as possible to watch out for the signs, this is what I would advise young women. Definitely, if he’s aggressive it will escalate to him being abusive in the long run.
Sometimes there are situations where aggressive men change with intervention, so how would you know the difference. That is part of our intervention program.
If a woman is faced with abuse refuses to speak out then there is nothing you can do because it has to do with consent. So many things will come in, even religious, so the woman can say she doesn’t want to prosecute. We are raising awareness.