Lydia Matioli Wrote “Pendo’s Power” to Teach Children How to Say No

Amplify Africa sat down with Lydia Matioli, Program Manager at Freely in Hope. Freely in Hope is a non-profit organization that works to end sexual violence in Kenya and Zambia. Lydia is releasing a children’s book called Pendo’s Power that teaches children about body autonomy and consent, inspired by her own upbringing in Kibera, Nairobi and her work as an advocate against sexual violence. Read below to learn more about her work as an author and advocate!

Amplify Africa: Tell us about your background – where did you grow up and where are you currently based?

Lydia Matioli: I was born and raised in Kibera, Nairobi, Africa’s largest urban slum with a population of 1 million people living in 2.5 square kilometers. Resources are scarce in Kibera and 99% of the population live on less than $1 a day.

My family and I experienced the effects of poverty firsthand. I struggled getting an education because I was in and out of school due to lack of tuition fees, which made me vulnerable to sexual abuse.

My experience of living in Kibera is what birthed this passion I have in ending sexual violence. I still reside in Kibera, although I moved to the outskirts after having my daughter. I still live here because a lot of the outreach programs that I design target this community and my desire is to finally move only after I have made a big difference in this community that raised me and shaped my purpose.

AA: How did you get involved with Freely in Hope? What does your current role as Program Manager look like?

LM: Freely in Hope is an organization that equips survivors and advocates to end sexual violence. We provide high school and university scholarships, safe housing, mental health, health care, leadership development, and storytelling platforms where survivors can share their rewritten stories and lead transformative community initiatives that fight against sexual violence.

I joined Freely in Hope in 2015 when I applied and was accepted for a university scholarship. I had finished my high school education in 2012 and desired to get a Bachelor’s degree, but I did not have the means to pay for university tuition fees. I started doing volunteer work with other community based organizations all over Kibera, and that is how I discovered Freely in Hope.

Freely in Hope supported me throughout university and in my third year, I expressed to Nikole Lim (the Founder and International Director) how much I wanted to be engaged in their programs. To help me achieve this, she designed a fellowship program through which I started dreaming of how we could curb the high rates of sexual violence in the communities we serve.

After graduating, I was absorbed as a full-time staff member and in 2019, I was promoted to Program Manager. My role is to design, coordinate and implement programs that exemplify best practices on ending the cycle of sexual violence.

AA: Tell us about Pendo’s Power – what was the inspiration behind writing the book?

LM: Pendo’s Power is a children’s storybook that prevents child sexual abuse. The book features a 6-year-old girl from Kibera named Pendo and her two friends Tumaini and Bahati. Pendo’s parents have taught Pendo about child sexual abuse, what it looks like and how she can prevent abuse by speaking up if she feels scared or unsafe. Pendo uses this knowledge to teach her two friends who have encountered different forms of sexual abuse. She helps them gain the confidence to speak up and in turn, a perpetrator of child sexual abuse is identified and removed from their neighborhood.

I wrote Pendo’s Power because I was inspired by my past experiences as a child and my current experiences as a mother and a child protection advocate. When I was 5 years old, my neighbor, who was a pastor, called me into his shop and started touching me inappropriately, including my private parts. Fortunately, my elder sister was looking for me and so I left before it escalated even further. I remember coming out of the shop to meet my sister, she seemed worried and concerned, but she did not have the words to ask me why I was in this man’s shop while his door was closed. My innocent mind could not comprehend what was happening and so we both let it slide.

Now, 6 years into this work, listening to the stories of survivors and designing outreach programs for schools, churches and community organizations, I realized there is a pattern. A great percentage of abuse is happening to children because they are the most vulnerable group. They do not know what abuse looks like and are unable to defend themselves. My friend was gang-raped when she was 16. 90% of the survivors in our Freely in Hope community were abused when they were less than 16-years-old and every single day on the news there is a sexual assault case.

The cases doubled during the pandemic and that is the exact period that I had my beautiful daughter. The thought of my Amira being vulnerable to sexual abuse terrifies me and gives me sleepless nights. I knew I had to do something to protect her and other little ones. That is when I started dreaming of a resource that would help kids recognize what being safe and unsafe feels like and learn that their voice is a tool they can use to protect themselves. I wanted to create a resource that would empower parents to build trust with their children and initiate conversations around consent, body autonomy and sexual abuse prevention. I’m very excited for Pendo’s Power to be released as a life-saving resource for parents and children in our communities.

Lydia’s book Pendo’s Power will be released on December 10, 2021

AA: What are some cultural taboos you face as an advocate for ending child sexual abuse?

LM: The biggest taboo is the culture of silence. Conversations around sexuality, intimacy and sex education as a whole are considered shameful and a no-go zone in Kenya, Africa, and most parts of the world. Therefore, the subject has a lot of barriers which in turn exacerbates normalization of abuse.

The second most common one is the cultural attitude towards sexual abuse within the family unit. In the African household, the family is considered an important unit that needs to be protected. The cultural beliefs of earlier generations of family inform decisions made, even when it involves something as harmful as abuse.

Research reveals that 60% of abuse cases are perpetrated by people well known to the victims. I have experienced this reality in the field whereby most perpetrators are fathers, mothers, uncles, aunties, brothers or even grandparents. The sad factor is that when trying to pursue justice for someone who has experienced abuse within their family system, we face a lot of backlash and opposition from the other family members. Most families prefer to solve it internally without taking into consideration the effects that these acts have on the survivors. To succeed in this fight against sexual violence, this is a mindset that we definitely have to change.

AA: What advice would you give other African advocates on how to navigate the stigma around sexual violence?

LM: Unless we decide to go into the shadows, disrupt the cultural myths and shed some light towards this subject, it is going to be difficult to overtly talk about sexual assault. We have to be bold enough to raise our voices on all platforms to challenge these norms that perpetuate sexual violence. Our roars will awaken other advocates’ roars. Educate yourself about this issue and empower your communities to take collective ownership of the need to change culture and attitudes, and to establish common values, including the need for bystanders to intervene. Together, we can create a violence-free world.

AA: Where can we get a copy of Pendo’s Power?

LM: We will be launching Pendo’s Power in early 2022. We will be planning an international launch, follow us on our socials for updates on the launch date! In the meantime, Freely in Hope is fundraising as part of our #16DaysofActivism campaign to help supplement our existing programs to support survivors of sexual violence and equip them with the tools to succeed. To donate to our fundraiser, visit our ,website!

If you are in Kenya or Zambia, you can also sign up to be part of Advocates Connect, a consortium for advocates, practitioners and advocates working towards ending sexual violence in Africa. We’ll be joined by child-protection activists who will share best practices on ending child sexual abuse in Kenya and Zambia. In addition to providing a toolkit of resources to equip leaders to continue their child-protection efforts, we will also announce details on how to order Pendo’s Power if you live in Kenya and Zambia. ,Register here.

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