THIRTY-three-year old Neema Mwita Wambura, who suffered severe burns two years ago, says that the only period she had happiness during her marriage of 18 years, was the first two months.
“I do not wish or intend to marry again considering the agony I went through during marriage,” she says.
“My marriage had always been miserable but the only thing that kept me going was my three children. I’m terrified, and do not want to return to Mara Region as long as I know that my husband is still free.
My children and I can stay anywhere but not in Bunda. If a person is ready to help me I’ll be very grateful,” she says with tears flowing in her face. Neema, now admitted at the Muhimbili National Hospital, identifies her children as Wambura Haruni (14), George Haruni (10) and Sarah Haruni (5). Looking at her scars on the chest, left and right arm, she says what led to her miserable life was two roasted maize.
The incident occurred in 2014. “My husband came home on that day and found me roasting maize and offered to help me. Immediately after he reached where I was, he reminded me that my days were numbered and began beating me continuously,” she explains.
She says the incident took place when she was two months pregnant. “My husband did not care about my condition as he went on torturing me several times. It is the custom of Kuryas (the dominant tribe in Mara Region) that if a wife wants to harvest anything from the farm she has to seek permission from the husband. Since I didn’t seek his permission he decided to torture me for roasting maize,” the hapless woman says.
“Because of my condition (pregnant), I had longed to eat roasted maize. My husband saw this as a sin. He took boiling water which I was preparing for cooking ugali and poured onto my body. “I spent three weeks locked in my room nursing injuries, and surviving on porridge that my eldest son gave me through the window.
My wounds had begun to rot as my husband threatened me not to reveal the incident to anyone,” Neema narrates. A Good Samaritan took Neema to Musoma Hospital for treatment where doctors eventually declared they had failed in seeking cure to her wounds.
The wounds had gotten worse and jiggers started coming out as Neema’s chin attached itself on the chest and the right arm. “My story was published in a newspaper when Joyce Kiria of ‘Wanawake Live’ made a follow-up and arranged for my treatment at the Muhimbili National Hospital for the first time on July, 2015,’ she explains.
Neema describes the husband as “not a loving person” neither to her or her children, explaining that at one point he had to kick out their last born because all the children resembled her. “People were telling me that his first wife had to leave as he threatened to remove her private parts,” Neema says.
She says her mother, having witnessed her agony, could not keep up with the pain that she went through and flew to unknown place to date. Neema says she has been hearing that after the incident, her husband sold the family home and is nowhere to be seen although it is rumoured he is hiding at Nyamongo gold mines. She lavishes praise to the woman who has helped during her treatment in Dar es Salaam, saying “God will reward her enormously.”
“I would like to express my gratitude to President John Magufuli for the support. I don’t have anything to give him except that God will reward for his kindness,” she says. Her guardian, 65-yearold Mama Mariam Amir, alias Bibi Mwanja, who took care of Neema at Tandika Devis Kona, says that when she first heard of her story in a radio programme in 2015 she felt the need to help her. “The next day I decided to go to Muhimbili Hospital. I found Neema and told her of my intention to help her.
“Neema kept crying all the time when remembering her children and what could happen of them,” said Bibi Mwanja, a widow from Kamachumu in Kagera Region. She describes Neema as a person who has always been unhappy for the time she has known her.
“I have meager income but I thank God that throughout the time that Neema was receiving treatment, I can declare that my support has not been a burden to me and my family,” she says. “I have helped her during treatment at Muhimbili and during her travel between Dar es Salaam and Bunda where she goes to see her children staying with a friend.” Commenting on the phone call they received recently from President Magufuli, Bibi Mwanja says Neema had received a call from unknown person who identified himself as a doctor and lived at Manzese and wanted to visit them. “I gave the man directions how he could reach my home.
I never thought the man was the President of Tanzania as I thought the caller was just a young man,” she explains. “The man called again and said he could not make it but would send people to come to my home and he did what he promised.
Surprisingly when they came they told us it was the President that had called us and he wanted to talk to me and Neema again via the telephone,” she says. She praised the President for helping Neema and her children. “It’s my prayers that he continues with the same spirit of helping Tanzanians,” she explains.
To survive, Neema says she receives assistance from her children to supplement her income of selling water. Bibi Mwanja stays with her three grandchildren and daughter. “I am trying to establish another business using the money I got from the President,” she says.
Her daughter, Mwamvita Mwanja, has nicknamed her mother as ‘Mamahuruma’, a person who likes to help others. “Helping other people has always been in her heart and we are used to it. Neema isn’t the first person in my mother’s list,” she says. “We as children of the most helpful woman we pray that such kind of spirit should also be emulated by us,” Mwamvita says.
Dr Ibrahim Mkoma, a plastic surgeon who has been treating Neema since July, 2015, when she was admitted to Muhimbili hospital, says they first received her when she was referred from Bunda Hospital. He says her hand and chin were attached to the chest because of the burn injuries.
In medical terms such a condition is called contracture of the neck, contracture of left axial and wrist joint. “We operated on her in a procedure called skin grafting and carried out contracture release,” says Dr Nkoma. The second operation was done as the first procedure involved cutting skin from one part and placing on the affected areas.
He says in 2016 a programme called Women-for- Women involving plastic surgeons was carried out to help women subjected to injuries. The project featured a team of specialists from Switzerland, the United States and Tanzania gathered at Agakhan Hospital.
Neema was among the people who were operated on. Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ummy Mwalimu, says her ministry has communicated with the Home Affairs ministry to ensure Neema’s husband is arrested. She acknowledges the President’s efforts in the fight against violence to women and children as his decision to help Neema has sent a strong message to the community that he will never tolerate such incidents in the society.
“We are obliged to help and support victims of violence and torture instead of leaving them to suffer in silence,” Mwalimu says. “We’re implementing the Presidents’ directive to help Neema’s children to return to school within two weeks,” she adds.
“The biggest challenge is to help her find a shelter; she needs support as she doesn’t want to return to Bunda, her place of origin.”