Mental Illness is Not A Doomed Fate

Estella Nijimbere, a 41 year old from Kigwena, is a mother of seven children. Estella’s childhood become a nightmare when she was separated from the rest of her family members while the civil war was raging on all around them. They had no choice but to run away from their home village, Magara in rural Bujumbura. Estella found herself in Rumonge where a charitable family took her to Kigwena, where she spent eight years. In 2001 she got married and thought that she would finally be able to live her life to the fullest.

Her marriage turned into a disappointment when one month after wedding her husband, he began to beat her frequently. She realized afterward that she married an alcoholic addicted to drugs. One time, when she was four months pregnant, he beat her on her head and she pretended to be unconscious. ”He thought I was dead and he ran away. My neighbors collected money and took me to a health center” recounted Estella.

All the mistreatment affected Estella’s mental health. She start doing strange things, becoming more talkative than usual and speaking nonsense. Neighbors started saying she was acting foolish,”Umusazi.” Mental disease is usually considered a superstitious disease and therefore, an incurable one.  

“CHW (Community Health Workers) saved my life and my children” said Estella. “They took me to the clinic against the will of my neighbors, who were focused only on witchdoctors. They took me to Sharon Mckenna health center where I found love and compassion from all of the staff members. My child arrived there without any clothing and I was unable to take care of him. One of the hygiene crew took care of my child on her spare time and gave clothes to my child. I never felt alone even if I was away from my relatives. When I was conscious, all my thoughts were on my children left at home with a reckless father. One of the CHW in my neighborhood took care of my family. She visited my children morning and night to make sure they were safe and gave them food. I’m speechless regarding what she has done for me. I’m really grateful to her.”

Three months later, Estella was discharged. She couldn’t bear the thought of living with her husband again. ”I will take my children and go live in a bush, maybe some well doers will find us and give us  shelter.”

We visited Estella at her home, one month later, she was doing well despite some dizziness when it’s too sunny. She is grateful to CHW and the local leader who advised her husband to get rid of the alcohol. They were living peacefully for the first time.   

Thank you for the invaluable support from Sephanie Engel on this case!


Estella at her home with her dearest Community Health Worker: