Meet Rehema, Women’s Rights Activist from East Africa
On any given day, you’re likely to find Rehema buzzing away at her newly donated Singer sewing machine. The intricate seam work and concentration she pours into every stitch helps drain the rampant energy she has stored and prevents her from lingering too long and hard on the five children and husband she misses.
Rehema arrived in the U.S. six months ago from East Africa. She had come to participate in a conference on leadership and women’s empowerment. This issue has been a lifelong passion and her commitment has driven her to work on behalf of women in East Africa for over 20 years. During that time, Rehema had founded her own nonprofit, providing life coaching and training to women on income generating activities, such as starting small businesses and acquiring micro credit loans. But her main goal was to get women back into school. From an early age, she recognized the power that education had in advancing women’s rights within her community:“Women’s empowerment for me is about educating the woman. Because when you have an education, you reason differently, and men are afraid of that.”
In the U.S., after her conference and as she was about to board a plane to return home, she received an ominous call from a friend in her home country, warning her that it was dangerous to return. Rehema’s name was on a government list of people to be picked up and taken to the central prison, where political activists and prisoners are commonly never seen or heard from again. Her lifelong activism and determination to educate women had created many enemies. She had already been arrested three times, had been badly beaten, tortured, and raped.
Rehema felt hopeless, like her whole world was crumbling around her. But for the sake of her family, she knew she could not give up: “The only thing that kept me going was my children. I knew I had to be strong for them. It was for their sake I stayed strong. I know what it’s like to grow up without a mother.”
Stranded in the U.S., Rehema was referred to PTV, where she saw a case manager who immediately connected her to a pro-bono attorney to build an asylum case, assisted her with basic needs, and got her setup with Medi-Cal. PTV’s Medical Director, Dr. Willard, conducted a forensic evaluation documenting the scars her torturers had left on her body. This report will be used to strengthen her asylum case and verify Rehema’s story by providing medical evidence to a judge that she was tortured. And although feeling desperate at first, multiple sessions with her PTV therapist have helped make a significant improvement.
“All the sessions at PTV have been very helpful to me. Back home, my children are not safe, my husband is sick. Here in the US, I am helpless. But at PTV, I know I am not alone. The concern the workers have for us, I feel like I have a family. PTV is really hope for the hopeless,” she says.
Rehema’s story is not over — and her work fighting for women’s rights is not over either. Though anxious and worried about her own asylum case, she continues to advocate for women’s empowerment, providing coaching to women in her community in the U.S. and plans on launching a charity here as well. For her, “the thing that makes me happy is to put a smile on someone’s face.” And considering she lights up every room she walks in, that doesn’t seem to be a problem!
Will you help bring hope to other survivors like Rehema with a donation to PTV’s life-saving work?
The name, image and identifying characteristics of some clients may be changed to protect client confidentiality and the safety of family and friends that still live in the client’s country of origin.