A Haven of Love, Care and Protection

AN ESTIMATED 1 600 women and children running away from domestic violence have received help from the Ecumenical Social Diaconate ActionFriendly Haven services since 2002.

The shelter was put up by a group of women from different religious denominations to help other women and children who needed urgent shelter and support from abusive families.

It offers a caring and safe environment for survivors of violence, enable them to decide on their future as well as reduce levels of gender-based violence using aocacy and awareness-raising.

Two of the many victims of gender-based violence – 36-year-old Catherine Dawid* and 39-year-old Maria Simon*(not their real names) – who found shelter at the safe haven in Windhoek have never looked back after they decided to leave their abusive relationships.

Dawid said the last time she saw her ex-husband was when he left her with a severely battered face.

In 2011, Dawid’s ex-husband showed no mercy when he physically abused her, leaving her swollen and bruised body on the cold floor of their shared two-bedroom home in Windhoek.

According to Dawid, that night he repeatedly rammed his fists into her face and head, punching her like a punching bag until she broke a jaw, had bruised eyes and a busted lip.

After an hour of pleading with him to stop, she said, he only did so after forcing her to have sex with him in exchange for her life. And she only managed to escape afterwards.

“I could barely see and move after he spent an hour punching and kicking my face and head,” she said, turning her face away to hide the tears running down her cheeks.

Dawid said after escaping, she immediately went to the neighbours who took her to the Women and Child Protection Unit (WACPU), who sent her to a place of safety – a shelter for abused women and children.

This was the third time for her to visit the protection unit. The second time she did so, Dawid was admitted at the shelter. Dawid and her ex had been married for four years. The abuse started two months into their marriage after a series of arguments.

“At first, it was just verbal abuse, then it turned into physical abuse. He always avoided my face. This time, however, he was angrier, and I knew if I don’t go to the shelter, I might never make it alive,” she explained.

The WACPU at the Katutura State Hospital provides sensitised and integrated services to victims of violence and other forms of abuse. The unit deals with cases involving rape, sodomy, indecent assault, abandonment and abduction of children, child theft and incest.

The near-death experience convinced Dawid to seek assistance from the unit and she was subsequently placed at the Friendly Haven shelter.

“I was really grateful that there is such a place. The support I got from the staff encouraged me and gave me understanding. After what I went through, I know that places such as Friendly Haven exist,” she said.

Simon underwent counselling at the safe haven home after having been in an abusive relationship for 10 years.

“It started with a slap here and there but I didn’t see it as abuse. I just thought I was doing something wrong. When it became excessive, I knew I had to leave,” she said.

The mother of two said she was reluctant at first to go to the safe home, but found it welcoming when she did later.

“They even gave me cosmetics and extra clothing, since I had left home without any of my belongings,” said Simon.

Simon, an accountant, is now living an abusive-free life and has since moved out of the house she shared with her ex-husband.

Director, Jacky Hoff, says the Ecumenical Social Diaconate Action (ESDA) Friendly Haven is a registered welfare organisation founded in 1996 to empower abused women and offer them and their children specialised support.

“We also offer support with court cases, group therapy, opportunities for self development, follow-up counselling, and most importantly, we are there to reduce the amount of gender-based violence in the country,” she said.

Despite a great number of women successfully completing the treatment, there are still some who go back to their abusive partners.

Prisca Tambo, a social worker at Friendly Haven, says about four weeks ago two clients decided to go back to their abusive partners after leaving the shelter.

“When some of them leave the shelter, they have nowhere else to stay, so they go back to their abusers. And it’s not that they want to go back, it is because they are not financially independent and are afraid to be out there, unemployed, ” she says.

Tambo, however, stated that quite a number of clients do return to the shelter after a few weeks. When they do finish the treatment once again, the shelter ensures that a safer place has been allocated for them, either with family members or friends, and that they have a form of employment to fall back on when they leave the shelter.

One of the overseas volunteers, Linda Campbell, who came to Namibia through the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) says she learnt a lot from working at the centre.

Campbell, an HIV-AIDS mainstream aiser, carried out a six-month research for the Friendly Haven on male involvement in community and home-based care in 2012.

“I now have greater competence at deploying and analyzing results collected, using qualitative research tools such as semi-structured interviews. I also have greater knowledge around aocacy and policy writing. The research and field experience have also given me insight into the common economic and social challenges Namibians experience,” she is quoted saying on the Safe Haven website.

ESDAFriendly Haven has recently established a second house catering for victims and survivors of gender-based violence in Windhoek West, located in Schoumlnlein Street.

Source : The Namibian