Peninah Kimiri ’11 had been a counselor at the Gender Violence Recovery Center in Nairobi for five days when the youngest survivor ever admitted was brought to the medical center: a 4-week-old baby, penetrated by her father. Within the same month, the center admitted its oldest survivor: a 105-year-old woman gang raped by seven teenaged boys.
“I was traumatized,” Kimiri said, “but I thought, ‘I’m not going to let this break me; I can make a difference.’”
For the next four years, she counseled survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) and their families and led programs for their medical, psychosocial, and legal care. She also helped provide them protection, which included rescuing women and girls from abusive, violent situations. She has arrow wounds to show for it.
“Very quickly I knew that my purpose in life was to bring back meaning to the lives of survivors and their families,” she said.
Nonprofits across East Africa began inviting Kimiri to help their communities—including nomadic communities, like the Maasai, and those in active war zones—set up services and raise awareness about GBV.
After four years serving 14,000 GBV survivors—only 120 of whom won convictions against perpetrators—“I burned out,” she said. “The case that broke me was taking in a woman with a machete in her head.”
Kimiri took a step back, advocating, writing policies, speaking to the African Union, and mentoring young survivors on how to speak to policymakers. Another step back took her to Myanmar to help enhance GBV support services for internally displaced persons in the country’s north.
Now Kimiri is back home. Working for CARE Canada, she travels to active conflict zones around the world, advising local partners and leaders on GBV services. But Kenya is her base—and Kenyan women her heart.
“I want to continue what I started here. Kenya now has very good GBV laws but terrible implementation. Working toward practice-change is the rest of my life’s mission.”