Part of our mission here at YAWN is to celebrate Young African Women who are making significant impacts in their community, one day at a time. Join us as we celebrate our pioneer of the Monthly Young African Women (Monthly YAW) series. We got a chance to interview Suhaila Aboud from Kenya!
Please tell us about yourself and your work
I am a Gender based violence activist, founder of GenderHealth Africa, a clinician and a counselling psychologist. I am very passionate about women’s and children’s rights; prevention and response to survivors of gender based violence. In my everyday life, I strive to empower women that I encounter and encourage young girls in achieving their full potential in life. In my work not only do I provide empathetic and quality clinical care to survivors, but I try at my level best to ensure that they are able to access justice for the crime committed against them; I have on many occasions served as an expert witness in Kenyan courts to give medical evidence for the survivors that I cared for post rape. I wish to live in a society free from violence and where all perpetrators of violence are made accountable for their actions.
My first job after completing my Diploma in Clinical Medicine and Surgery in Kenya Medical Training College, was with Medicines Sans Frontiers France in the second biggest slum in Kenya known as Mathare. Mathare slum is known for its high poverty levels, crimes and violence that render women, girls and children especially vulnerable. After working for a year with survivors of sexual violence, I went back to school to study a Bachelor’s Degree in Counselling Psychology so that I am better placed to help survivors deal with their trauma, at the University of Nairobi in Kenya and to understand gender dynamics led me to pursue a Masters in Gender and Developmental studies at Kenyatta University. I am also pursuing a second Masters in International cooperation and Humanitarian studies at KALU institute in Spain.
I design and implement trainings at the International Peace Support Training Centre in Kenya to selected personnel from the African Union Mission in Somalia and the Eastern African standby force; military, police and civilians that have a high likely hood to carryout activities related to planning, preventing and responding to SGBV in Peace Support Operations. I facilitate sessions on Survivor centered approach, health response to SGBV, Protection of civilians, Psychological consequences of SGBV (Sexual and gender based violence), Self-care etc.
Am also currently working as a homebased consultant within a roving team in United Nations Population Fund, in the Humanitarian and Context Branch as a CMR (Clinical management of rape) Specialist, I get deployed on missions to different countries across Africa to give technical support to UNFPA country teams in response and prevention of GBV during critical moments of an emergency. I conduct capacity and facility assessments, capacity strengthening of health care providers, mapping of CMR services and ensuring survivors receive quality clinical care just to mention but a few.
How do you give back to your African community through your work?
I believe in volunteerism. I have volunteered so many times in many different ways in my life. From working in community based health facilities in the slums, to providing psychological care to children in need in my neighborhood, to training fellow health care professional on clinical management of rape, to mentoring a number of mentees in my field of work etc. I believe that I need to leave a positive legacy of my life and I believe I have all that it takes to do so. I open as many doors as I can. And while giving I receive so much in terms of feeling fulfilled in my life and connecting with people from different walks in life.
How do you balance your work and family?
It has never been easy to find a perfect life and work balance especially in the first years of my career when I felt like there was a lot to learn and to prove on my abilities and competences. But it gets better with time, am seeing that as I grow much older I realize more that self-care, family time is as important as work and I strived to schedule quality time to rejuvenate and re-energize myself and spend with my family and friends.
List three keys characteristics that are necessary to achieve success?
- Believing in yourself
- Having goals that you work towards
- Keep changing strategies and readjust to get results. Do not stop until you reach your goal.
What role did your African values play in your journey to success?
As an African I have always been taught to value people, to keep positive connections and networks. This has helped me a lot in my career. It enabled me reach to opportunities that I never imagined I would, because someone saw an opportunity that I wasn’t aware of and told me to go for it. I believe that each person is unique and that through our diversity we all have something to give and receive from others and am proud of this value as an African.
I also grew up seeing women to be very resilient and never giving up. I learnt a lot of this from my own mother and my grandmother, these values propel me to believe that I cannot stop unless I achieve my goals. I have tried things so many times in my life! Applied to so many jobs, internship opportunities, scholarships and fellowships you name it! And I never gave up even when I got tones of regrets. I just told myself that it’s not yet my time or my opportunity and instead of it discouraging me, it gave me strength to try more so that I get closer to what I was destined to!
Looking back, what advice would you give your 21 year old self?
To my 21 year old self I would say “Love yourself for who you are, don’t judge yourself so harshly. Live each day at a time. Have fun with loved ones, travel, meet new people and try out as many experiences as you want without fear! This is the time to find yourself and a time to make mistakes in life they may not matter too much 10years later!”
Did you have any mentor(s)? How did you find your mentor(s)? What’s your advice to young women and girls seeking mentors?
I have really struggled to get a mentor! Shout out to all those men and women that I really admired professionally and I inboxed, emailed or sent messages to in LinkedIn, I only meant well. I wanted someone to lean on as I find my career path. I was so thirsty to have a mentor in my line of career to guide me but it proved to be so hard to get someone to commit themselves in helping me. I anyway kept trying until I got 3 amazing women.
Out of my 3mentors, only one knows that I consider her as my mentor! The other two I talk to and I ask for their opinion and guidance without them knowing that they’re my mentors. I chose to do this with
these two for fear that when you ask someone to be a mentor it is seen as great responsibility and many busy professionals shy off from committing their time. So I figured maybe I shouldn’t tell them for now but wait till I have built a very good relationship with them. I however still treat them and l ask them for the same support as I ask my “official” mentor and they have been all great support in my growth.
Having mentors has really helped me build my confidence in my abilities and competences. They have been able to give me professional advice in situations that I didn’t feel I had enough experience especially when handling sensitive issues or making decisions that needed genuine different opinions.
How did you discover your purpose?
I happened to be in the emergency team that responded to the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007/2008. I cared for children, women and men that had been physically, psychologically and sexually violated. I couldn’t forget the how traumatized they were and I wanted so badly to be part of their healing. This exposure that I had awoke a strong passion in me and I become an activist that wanted to protect my community, my country and everyone from perpetrators of violence. I however realized that I had to gain more skills in order to provide quality and empathetic care to survivors. When the crisis was over and I resumed my normal work in the HIV and TB clinic, I opted to change departments to go and work in the SGBV clinic. I took up evening classes to study my bachelors and my masters so as to increase my knowledge and skills in this field.
Working in the Sexual violence recovery Center for almost ten years now, Interviewing and listening to these traumatic stories, I knew that this was my call. I went way above the expectation of my work to influence national policies on GBV in my country, to be in panelists that reviewed guidelines and developed different tools that can be used when attending to survivors in my country, I wanted all the survivors to be treated with dignity and without discrimination. I am very committed and passionate and this made me realize that this was not just work for me but my purpose in life. And every day I love how I empower health providers to provide quality clinical management of rape care to survivors and how survivors thrive and find back themselves even after this ordeal happens to them.
Has your work had any negative effects in your personal life?
Yes it has, but I try to use that to fuel my passion in wanting change. I have worked with survivors of sexual violence for 10years and from a tender age of 23years. Being exposed to repeated trauma every day in my work has had me get burnouts and also suffer from secondary/vicarious trauma as a first responder and care giver. It sometimes affected my relationship with people close to me as they never understood how I would suffer from such trauma when I wasn’t the survivor who went through the first hand ordeal. I thank my close family especially my husband and my close friends for the support they continuously give me as now am more aware that self-care and debrief is equally important to caregivers and I take every opportunities to share my experience and highlight this so that others do not ignore it as I did initially.
My experience has also made me realize everyday how much negative and long term consequences Gender based Violence has on individuals, families, societies and even to their care givers if they do not get support. More resources need to be allocated in the fight against GBV.
What advice would you give to other young African women? Any final thoughts?
I am founder of GenderHealth Africa, an organization I co-founded with my friend Maureen Obbayi who had the same vision and passion that I had. We are running this organization with scarce personal financial resources, our passion for change, knowledge and our technical experience has seen as achieve a lot within a very short span of time. To you who is waiting to start something, wake up and work with what you have, you need to begin now. Let us use what we have to impact positively in our societies. Be the change you want to see. You will be so fulfilled in so many ways and maybe someone someday will honor you for what you do.!
Over the years, Suhaila have been recognized for her hardwork and commitment within her region. Here are some of her awards thus far
Awards that I have earned:
- Awarded Zuri Impact award on International Women’s Day, which celebrates unsung Kenyan women who make positive impact in their communities, March 2017
- Awarded Top 30 under 40 Muslim Women Professionals for outstanding performance in the Kenya in January, 2016
- Alternate candidate for Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young Africa Leaders Initiative in March 2016
- Board member of Ficha Uchi Campaign in Kenya since 2015, a community based organization that aims to restore dignity and self-esteem to school going children by providing them with uniforms
- Recently nominated to be a Board member of United Nations Youth Association in Kenya March 2017, awaiting it to be officiated in May 2017.
You can connect with Suhaila on Facebook.