Being rights defender’s husband is no walk in the park
For Topister Juma, being a human rights defender is her most fulfilling career. As a field officer at Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri) for over 12 years she has been fearlessly fighting for human rights, specialising in cases of gender-based violence (GBV) and women affected by violent extremism.
She has been at the forefront of advocating for human rights and access to justice in the community for the survivors of GBV in making sure the perpetrators are brought into records.
Topister’s husband Ngala Kuze, shares that being the heroine’s husband has not been a walk in the park. They have known each other for over 30 years and have three children; Diana Kadzo, John Ngala and Angela Dama.
“Our story is one of childhood sweethearts who prevailed through time. I met Topister in 1990 on Kenyatta Day, October 20. We were both still young. in fact I was in secondary school and she was in primary school. After I completed school, we started courting and later got married,” he shares.
One of the most memorable moments of their early love journey was when he met her parents, who were not that happy to entertain a young man who had shown interest in their young daughter.
“I remember we used to live in Makande, while they (Topister and her family) lived in High Level, Mombasa. One time I remember going to visit Topister and her father grabbed me by the colar threatening to arrest me because she was still in secondary school. He grabbed my shirt so tight until it came off as I tried to flee. I had to run back home in my vest. I was lucky I had the vest on,” he recalls.
Being born and raised in Mombasa, Topister attended her primary education at Spaki primary school in Mvita sub county and her secondary school education at Hyrax High School in Nakuru county after which she managed to attend several trainings and courses. She is a certified mediator and counsellor working with Muhuri based at the coastal region as a field and gender officer.
Her journey into activism started back in 1995 when she was a young girl in Form Three. Following her father’s death, she had to be courageous and joined hands with her mother in fighting for her mum’s rights to their properties in the village. The frustrations and discrimination that her mother went through encouraged her to fight for the right of women at a younger age, making effort of reporting and seeking help from people.
In 2000, she joined one of the youth groups within Mombasa county, and became an active member, volunteering and helping community members access justice. She was identified by Muhuri as a community resource person and that is how she managed to attend several trainings and courses to equip her with skills to assist her community members. And her husband has been around to see it all.
Work and family
“Being the husband of a devoted human rights defender is not easy at all. Topister is beyond committed; she is devoted to her job. At first it was challenging, especially when she had to travel for seminars that lasted for long. I call it devotion because she would go whenever called upon. I remember when our last born who is 13 years now was born premature, duty called and I had to step in and tend to the children,” shares the father of three.
However, despite being devoted to her job, she is equally devoted to her family and the children see her as the softer parent of the two.
Four years ago, Ngala had to move to Nairobi for work. “Having gotten so used to being around the children and my wife, this transfer made things hard. A lot of times, I felt like it was a lot of tasking for Topister, especially with her demanding work, but we have managed,” he adds.
This line of duty has come with many challenges to the whole family amongst them, threats which once forced the family to seek refuge away from home. She has also faced a lot of intimidations, discriminations and attacks.
Going on despite challenges
“One time our house caught fire and all our belongings were burnt into ashes. Up to now, no report has been provided to show the cause of the fire. She has been insulted by women when she handles gender cases and the matter fails to favour women. Other times, she is branded a single mother, others say she is a divorced woman when the reality is that she is a married woman with three children, so she really understands their pain as mothers,” shares the husband.
Despite the many challenges, Topister prides herself of several achievements — for example, through partnership with the state actors and other organisations, she has helped reform some youth gangs and empowered women through forums and conferences on how to counter and prevent violent extremism.
On the right of civic space, she is the coordinator a network that brings together women human right defenders from the community and female journalists in one platform training and supporting them in counselling. The network has strengthened the partnership between the state actors and women human right defenders in fighting and protecting their civic space.