Women never cease to amaze me. I am in awe of the superlative dedication they put in to whatever they do. Every time I read about people changing the world, I am introduced to strong-willed women who would give their life to make the world a better place. As a 2016 Fellow with the Pollination Project’s East Africa Hub, I have met an incredible woman who is transforming the world of mental health, one blog, video, or training session at a time.
Sitawa Wafula is a rare bird. As a rape survivor living with a dual diagnosis of epilepsy and bipolar disorder, she has dedicated her life to providing people in Kenya and Africa with the vital information and support that they need to handle mental health conditions and deal with everyday life.
Sitawa was only 18 years old when she was raped and she almost took her life. In a country where topics such as rape, epilepsy and suicide are considered taboo and are talked about in hushed tones, many individuals in her shoes would remain silent, and not talk about their ordeal for fear of being labeled as weaklings or outcasts. But Sitawa has chosen the path less taken and tackles these topics head-on, with a demeanor of a young woman out to change the world.
With almost inexplicable boldness, Sitawa shares her experiences with her audience both online through tweets, her Google Award winning self titled blog and her mental health social enterprise; My Mind, My Funk. Sitawa currently runs an amazing mental health organization (My Mind, My Funk) and Kenya’s first free SMS helpline, 22214, which she started in an attempt to make mental health information and support accessible to individuals living with mental health problems, depression, epilepsy and survivors of rape. She spends her weekends discipling young ladies in their walk with Christ through the Wives in waiting fellowship, trying out DIY projects and vegetarian recipes. She also tirelessly speaks at school forums, religious centers, chiefs barazas and mental health campaigns.
“I believe in an Africa where people with mental health disorders have access to information and can get adequate support.”
Her incessant and remarkable efforts to help individuals with mental health and help them heal have not been in vain. She has received numerous awards and accolades both in Kenya and beyond including being named one of the top 100 movers and shakers by Drum Magazine, Activist of the year 2013, East Africa Youth Philanthropist 2013, Google Africa Connected Winner 2014, Non Communicable Disease Champion by the Ministry of Health Kenya, 2015, top 40 under 40 women in Kenya 2015, and most recently ASPEN new voices Fellow 2016.
In 2014, the Pollination Project supported her work, aimed at seeing participants through the process of telling their stories through writing therapy and digital storytelling trainings. She is now working on a program aimed at amplifying the voices of people living with mental health conditions in Africa.
To me, Sitawa is a true global citizen and the epitome of the magnitude of change that women can achieve if given a platform to realize their visions. Her resolve to create open spaces where people can openly talk about mental health and not be judged is laudable. Sitawa is not ashamed to talk about rape, epilepsy or suicide. She has been through all these and yet has not allowed them to put her down. She has taken it all in her stride, as a challenge, a learning experience, a chance to grow and change her own life first. And now she is using the knowledge acquired to make a difference in the lives of others who find themselves in similar circumstances. How awesome!
I asked her what motivates her to wake up every morning and do this kind of work which many people will shy away from. And her response is as beautiful as the work she does to make the world a better place, “definitely God and the purpose He has put over my life to provide information and support to people with mental health conditions makes me get up every morning coupled with my desire to see that people do not waste years of their lives like i did due to lack of information and support on what they are going through.”