Clare Ongati is a 28-year-old mother who wears multiple hats. She is an entrepreneur, a Youth Leadership alumni and co-founder of Young Women Leaders Connect. Many things about Clare stand out, but her drive and passion are undeniable. Despite a horrific encounter that changed the trajectory of her life, Clare continues to inspire others to heal from their pain and became who they are destined to be.
Tell us about your childhood.
Born and raised in the western part of Kenya, we were eight siblings; three of them passed away. My mum is a small-scale farmer and my father is a truck driver. I schooled in a day school near our home. We had a grass-thatched house and when it rained, we all used to stand up under one point in the house because the house was leaking even at night.
This gave me the drive to work hard, and I also believed that nothing is impossible. Many people never thought that we would go to school and be educated.
When I joined campus, my dad sold a piece of land to enroll me in school. I was the first kid in our family to go to university and attain a high level of education.
As a village girl from a very poor family, nobody could [have thought] that something good [could] come out of our family. I want to be this leader who makes changes.
Can you tell us about the night that changed your life?
I was living with a friend. She was hosting me because my house was closed due to lack of rent. I decided to go to town and look for a job so that I can help myself. On returning home after a long day without getting a job, I slept in a public vehicle.
I woke up and realized that I was on the wrong route. I begged to be dropped where we were and take another bus back to where I was supposed to go. I was in the wrong direction and it was so dark. Along the way, someone grabbed me and led me towards [a bushy] place. That’s when I realized that there were many [of them].
They took me so deep into the bushes. They sealed my mouth and they gang-raped me, one after the other, and left me there alone in the darkness. I dragged myself to the road and screamed for help. That’s when a stranger helped me and took me to a police station to file a complaint and then later took me to hospital.
The next day, I was taken to my relative so that they could help me and take care of me. But instead, they talked badly about me. A lot of things happened and I fell into depression. Later, I was taken to my uncle and that’s when I decided that I wanted to go to school. I faced a lot, especially when I saw how some people treated me. Some never cared. Nobody was willing to open their doors for me.
What was the turning point for you?
My uncle and his wife came through for me and [a few other] people. My pastor, who knew me very well, could not help me. Instead, he talked badly about me. That’s when I realized that I needed a support system. I felt like I was lost and the only way was to go back to school. I went back to school to hide my shame and be away from the judgmental community.
After I joined university, I found a group of rape survivors and a support system with both men and women. I joined them and I was taken through the healing process, which included counselling, and being in that group, I was able to overcome the fears that I had.
My uncle and auntie, being my support system, gave me a home and tried to understand that I was traumatized to an extent that I could not board public vehicles. I saw all men as rapists.
Humanity is what keeps me going. The urge to give back to the community makes me wake up every day, and after a long process of healing and counselling, I realized that not all men are rapists. I have also learned to love and cherish everybody around me and support rape survivors.
That’s how I co-founded a women leadership program. I want all women to know that there is always hope for a tree that is cut down.
Gladwell Wachira is mother of two boys, a rescuer and a lover of life who enjoys travel and reading.