The Day it Rained Bullets in Masalani - Part 2
You already know Ifrah Aden as the volunteer who was shot three times when their vehicle was sprayed with bullets on their way to Ijara from Masalani, and who against all odds, fought hard to survive.
Click here to read Part 1 of her story: https://www.redcross.or.ke/media-center-page?id=%27283%27
But what you don’t know is Ifrah’s story of how she overcame a violent marriage in 2015, arranged by her absent father and how her will to move on saved her from what she tells me is the worst experience of her life.
It's not a story that's easy to tell for anyone.
“Would you mind if I include this in the interview?” I ask her.
“I am okay with it. What’s there to hide? That was my life, I went through it and it made me stronger.”
Granted, we all have stories to tell, perhaps some more tragic than others, but there is this thing about Ifrah – the way she owns her painful experiences and refuses to let them break her or shape her life.
From Masabubu to Garissa, her journey to becoming a volunteer
When I finished high school in Masalani in 2011, my younger sister also finished her primary school in 2012. Being a single mother, my mum couldn’t afford to pay for my college and my sister’s secondary school fees. One of us had to step back; I chose me because I’m older and because having already gone to high school, I knew I could find some work, so that my sister could continue with her education.
I come from a village in Garissa called Masabubu. I knew that staying there wasn’t going to help me, I needed to move to the city or somewhere else just to see what I can do for myself.
That’s when I made the decision to move to Garissa town in 2013, this was during the floods. Here, I studied computer packages, and after a while the manager hired me to teach other students when the teacher went missing. I was earning Ksh 15,000 per month, this was a breakthrough for me.
Among my students were two Kenya Red Cross volunteers; we became friends and they invited me to one of their meetings. I saw the harmony and love – and I knew instantly that this was where I was supposed to be.
With the floods, the volunteers were always rushing somewhere to help someone. Once they invited me to join them on their mission to rescue flood victims. I asked them if they were getting paid for it, and they told me they were volunteering.
The next day, I watched on the news what Kenya Red Cross was doing to help with the floods, and I became even more curious.
I joined other volunteers on the ground, helped with evacuation of flood victims. At the end of the day, those we had helped couldn’t stop thanking us. I was overwhelmed by this feeling of joy in my heart. Yes, this is it, I told myself.
This feeling made me want to know more about volunteerism at the Kenya Red Cross. I went back again the next day, and after learning about what it means to be a volunteer, I registered and joined Kenya Red Cross immediately.
Turned down other job offers
Being a Red Cross volunteer is so special to me, it’s a feeling that I cannot put into words. I get to go out there and help my people and the community around me. I’ve received so many job offers from people who tell me “we’ll pay you this amount of money and you’ll get to sit in an office.”
But I turn them down because I’m not comfortable with such job offers, I love being a volunteer. You know that humanity in you might drive you to become a volunteer but once you are in, it grows with you until you believe that this is where you are supposed to be.
The most important thing I have gained in Kenya Red Cross as a volunteer is Experience. With experience, I’m much better than so many people who have completed their education. It’s all about the passion that drives you to do great work; and Kenya Red Cross exposes you to so many opportunities and projects where you get to learn so many skills on the job.
I didn’t even know how to communicate with the community when I first joined, now I can stand out there and talk, and people will listen.
Breadwinner in her family
When I joined Kenya Red Cross, the first thing I did was join a project – the WASH (Water and Sanitation) Project. And luckily, I was a focal volunteer in that project. I’m the one who paid for my sister’s education; she completed high school in 2016, after which I paid for her college. She's already attained a Higher Diploma in Accounting (CPA), and I want her to go further and get a bachelor's degree as well.
We are four in our family; my elder brother whom we are not in touch with lives in South Africa, then there’s my other brother who is jobless. My younger sister is 19. I’m 24 years old.
I am the breadwinner in my family – my mother is old now, she cannot work the way she used to, and it’s my time and responsibility to take care of her and my sister.
A violent marriage
My worst experience was when I got married. I had an arranged marriage in 2015 after which I settled in Mombasa. It was a tough period for me. I had a miscarriage, my husband was violent but I couldn’t complain to family because they are the ones who arranged the marriage and they’d think I was against the marriage.
For two years, I was in a rough place. I was so miserable, I had bruises everywhere. His violence led to my miscarriage, twice. Finally, I made a decision that this was not where I was supposed to be in my life; I needed to move on. I went ahead and filed for divorce. My family hated me for this except for my mum; she supported me through it all.
The worst part is that it was my father who had been absent from our lives who arranged this marriage. All of a sudden, he was back, wanting me to get married. But thank God, I had the support of my brother, younger sister and my mother – they backed me up and now I’m back to being a volunteer.
Through this whole experience, I became withdrawn from people. Luckily, when I went back to the branch, I still had my old friends. They kept saying that I had changed; I was very quiet and withdrawn. I wasn’t the happy girl that they used to know.
One day Tusmo (Garissa’s current acting County Coordinator), who had joined the branch just after I had left for Mombasa said to me, “I wasn’t here before but everyone is saying that you are not the same person.” From there we became friends, and with time, I opened up to her about what had happened.
I appreciate that about Kenya Red Cross, you have that family that looks out for you, and counselling sessions that help you get through tough times. I am over it now. And my family accepted that I can make my own decisions now.
A ray of hope in the community
When you work in a community, they see you as one of their own. Once, there was this new organization that started working in Garissa with a similar project to ours. The first thing they were asked was, “Are you working with a Kenya Red Cross volunteer called Ifrah?” The community told them to go once they realized I wasn’t part of that project.
The next day I got a call from the elders airing their concerns about the new organization with. They told me, “You know there are these people who came with a project similar to yours, and we don’t like them. We trust you.”
When you do great work in a community, even the elders respect you because when everybody sees you, they see hope. They see that you are about to make a difference in their lives. It’s a feeling of fulfilment that I can’t even explain. It’s like the community sees you as their daughter, they are like, “Msichana wetu amekuja.”
Also, Kenya Red Cross exposed me; I wasn’t someone who could stand up and fight for herself leave alone speak for herself. But now, I can fight for someone. This job that I do gives you that courage; it takes you through a process.
Kenya Red Cross is shaping our future; I’m a different person than I was when I joined 5 years ago, now here I am, the one people know as Ifrah Kenya Red Cross.
As we finalise this interview, I wonder how the incident in Ijara has changed her and how it has impacted her role as a volunteer of the Kenya Red Cross.
I don’t have any regrets, she tells me. It was just an unlucky day for me as I was doing humanitarian work. It’s normal, there are always those ups and downs in life. I choose to take this incident as a challenge. Will I go back to the society and serve humanity again? This gives me the courage to go back. After all, I’m still alive and I can do more.
One thing is for sure, I am not leaving the society. I know that going forward, I will now have some restrictions with fieldwork but I believe that as time goes I will heal and things will go back to normal again.