I was born and brought up in one of the informal settlements of Nairobi in Kenya – Korogocho. I experienced first hand deprivation and lack of necessities as a child. I saw the struggles of a single mother eking [out a living] for her children surrounded by poverty and human rights violations by both state and non-state actors. It is this kind of environment that laid the basis of my activism work.
My journey of activism has been full of experiential moments that have continued to push me to the next level. In all these moments, the legal fraternity has walked with me side by side. In Korogocho, a legal advice centre first trained me as a paralegal and walked with me through my journey of campaign against forceful evictions and for demolition of informal settlements which saw me arrested a number of times for standing up against oppression.
Korogocho and other informal settlements do still exist but there is now in place clear eviction and resettlement guidelines, a housing Act and article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 on social economic rights, as a result of the work of human rights defenders (HRDs). HRDs play a pivotal role in bringing and sustaining change.
My activism life is a journey of moments and not just challenges, moments of falling, waking up, dusting yourself down and keeping on walking. Some moments are sad and some are joyous even when you are inhaling tear gas from canisters thrown by police.
In each moment, one constant factor remains, change does occur! It is this change that keeps human rights defenders going.
At times, it is difficult to see the change with our naked eyes but faith makes us believe that change has occurred or will occur, however long it takes, and that for me and other HRDs is sufficient. We are all blessed with characteristics that best describe us: patience, focus and dedication to the cause.
My employer, NCHRD-K, deserves recognition and accolades for giving me the space and opportunities for growth and sharpening my skills to do what I love doing most, supporting human rights defenders. My daily tasks entail responding to distress calls from targeted HRDs day and night – targeted by both state and non-state actors – assessing their cases and advising on best suited intervention including legal, medical, psychosocial and relocation. The environment which HRDs operate in within the country cannot be described as entirely safe.
I get satisfaction and strength when HRDs come and say, your intervention has brought me this far. In 2016, a human rights defender was sleeping in his house with his ten-year-old son Ainea, seven-month-old daughter and his wife. A petrol bomb was thrown into the house and it was by sheer luck that Ainea was still awake. He woke his parents. They safely got out, but everything else was burnt to ashes. This was the first time I was dealing with a case where children were involved.
In 2018, the family invited us to the opening of their new home and I could not contain my emotions when I heard Ainea and his sister tell me thank you for the support to their family. Ainea declared he will support his father in his work as long as God gives him strength. For me this was a major change, winning a young boy into activism because he has seen it, lived it and emerged victorious.
My passion is to give life to Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, where humanity is respected not just in rhetoric but in words and deeds.
I am honoured to receive the inaugural Scottish Bar International Human Rights Award. I wish to thank all here to witness my getting this award. Your presence is a sure mark of how much you value our work as defenders of human rights. We urge that you continue supporting us in whichever way possible, including standing in solidarity with us when the environment becomes unbearable and recognising our work when others fail to see the value it brings to humanity in general.
I promise to continue with my work with renewed gusto and vow to live by the values and principles that this award and my work espouses.
Salome Nduta, from Nairobi, is a protection officer with the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya, and the first winner of the Scottish Bar International Human Rights Award. The award was launched by the Faculty of Advocates to honour those who champion human rights in the most challenging of circumstances.
For more, go to http://www.advocates.org.uk/news-and-responses/news/2018/nov/salute-to-salome-our-human-rights-award-winner