A quiet leader who put others first

Assisting the Internally Displaced People in Kenya.

Her words come quietly and mask the reality she faced.  Desperately running away from her former neighbors who wanted to kill her.  Hiding in a church and fleeing just before it was burnt down. Sleeping rough on the ground and then in a tent for two years.  

Listening to Tavitha Njeri Kibiru quietly describe what she went through following the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya was chilling. In one day, Tavitha’s life went from being a wife and mother of six to that of a hunted person and refugee.

“A neighbor came by our house and asked why we hadn’t left yet,” she said recalling the afternoon her life changed. “We were told we had better leave by dark or my husband would be killed.”  She and her family fled to a police station who turned their backs on them saying the “work must continue”.   They ran to a church leaving everything behind, stayed for three days and slept on the floor with no food or water.  Suffering from stomach ulcers, she was at wits end when a friend offered her some tea.  “That act of kindness gave me the strength I needed to go on.”

In 2007, the post-election violence in Kenya caused the displacement of more than 300,000 people.

She did, but the cost was high.  Her husband, affected by the cruelty and killing, disappeared.  She was alone and now had to take care of her four boys and two girls.  When she was finally assigned a tent, she was asked if she could help make a list of all the displaced people.  Selflessly, she went from tent to tent taking names.  When she turned in the list, a relief worker looked it over and asked why her name wasn’t there.  Her response was simple—others needed help more. Putting others first led her fellow refugees elect her as their leader and a camp coordinator.

Two years later she moved into a house that Habitat helped build and raised her children—the youngest, a son, 26, still lives with her.

As she looked around, she reflected that things have changed. “Life is good now,” she said. “My heart is at peace.  I’m able to do chores and farm.  I also raise chickens and grow maize, beans and peas.  I tell people to have faith in themselves, work hard, and don’t become dependent. I’m able to help.”

Tavitha is one of more than 300,000 people that were displaced by the violence in 2007. Today, she along with more than 300 families live in a little community in Maai Mahiu, near Naivasha in Kenya.   

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