Listen: Breakfast with Sam Robinson chats to Australian of the Year Awards Local Hero 2021 Rosemary Kariuki
By Amy ChengFriday 22 Jan 2021
In the lead up to Australia Day 2021, we will bring you the stories of the four NSW nominees for Australian of the Year Awards. Rosemary Kariuki is the NSW nominee for Local Hero 2021.
Reader discretion is advised. The following article includes content that some readers may find upsetting.
Faith in God enabled this year’s NSW Local Hero to endure through tough times and find the energy to keep going.
Rosemary Kariuki, a practicing Catholic and an advocate for migrant and refugee women, is the NSW nominee for Local Hero 2021.
Before coming to Australia, Ms Kariuki lived in Kenya where she faced family abuse and violence. Her ex-husband was emotionally and psychologically abusive.
“When my husband would come and abuse me, I would look for a mechanism of not listening to him and I would sing Amazing Grace,” she told Hope 103.2.
“And I visualise how God is amazing. I can see the words are flowing in my mind, so even when he is going on and on and he’s yelling something, I don’t react and I realise that I’m not even listening to him.”
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“Every morning I pray, and even when I’m going to do something I pray first and I trust God that He is with me.” – Rosemary Kariuki
Rosemary said her life would be “very empty” without God.
“Every morning I pray, and even when I’m going to do something I pray first and I trust God that He is with me.
“The people who are not believers, you can see there is an emptiness in them. I’m not saying they’re not happy but it’s very different,” she said.
“If you don’t have that God, where do you go to? You are empty. When I am happy, I am jumping saying ‘thank you God, thank you God” when I am crying ‘Oh God”, but if you don’t have that, what do you say?”
Carrying a flag for other women
Ms Kariuki works with the African Women’s Group and helped start the African Women’s Dinner Dance. She also started the African Village Market, a program helping migrants and refugees start their own businesses.
In November, she was named NSW Local Hero, which was both exciting and humbling for her.
“When I do all the things that I do, I never think to be recognised, but when they recognised me it means a lot that they see what I do,” Ms Kariuki said.
“But I can never do this alone. I have a wonderful African women group… It’s for the African women and all the women that this flag I’m carrying is for them, that’s what it means for me.”
Two forms of isolation
Through her work, Ms Kariuki helps migrant and refugee women facing isolation. Isolation comes in two different ways, she said.
The first form of isolation occurs when a husband cuts their wife off from all communication with family and friends. It is a gradual process that is hard to detect in the beginning.
“So, for example, the day you are to meet your friends and you’re going for lunch or coffee, their man would go to them and say “Oh I booked for you that movie you were talking about,” she said.
“He will give her whatever she wants, and she won’t realise that his real intention is to stop her from seeing friends.”
“Isolation is the worst thing you’d want on anyone because we are social animals. We need to socialise with other human beings.” – Rosemary Kariuki
“You wouldn’t know about it and you would think your husband loves you so you cancel but it goes like that and you are not realising what he is doing, it’s very calculative.
“And then when he starts abusing you, he knows he has put you in a box. He starts abusing you now slowly, slowly.
“And it is sad because you have no friends, so even when it is abuse you don’t realise it is abuse and you don’t have anybody to talk to because you don’t talk to your friends anymore.”
The other form of isolation occurs after a woman arrives in a country and is completely dependent on her husband, who has control over her phone usage and finances,” she said.
“So, you have to talk to your parents when he comes home and he is sitting there. You don’t have internet, you don’t’ have anything, so he cuts you from everything.
“There’s no independence but the woman doesn’t pick it up as abuse because he gives you everything you want but you don’t realise you don’t want anything.
“Isolation is the worst thing you’d want on anyone because we are social animals. We need to socialise with other human beings.”
“There’s no women who have come to me and be the same ever again.” – Rosemary Kariuki
Ms Kariuki will soon be releasing a documentary called Rosemary’s Way, which celebrates her work with a group of migrant women in suburban Sydney, where she helps transform their lives from isolation to connection.
“I would like everybody to watch Rosemary’s Way documentary. It will open your eyes, see those women where they come from and how they are today. There’s no women who have come to me and be the same ever again,” she said.
“I’ve gone through a lot of problems myself, I’ve gone through a lot of difficulties, I wouldn’t want anybody to go through that.
“I believe God made us to be happy people, only the environment changes us but you can change that… Especially we Christians need to put in action our faith in being there for other people.”
- Help is available when you’re going through a tough time and need to talk. Hope 103.2 has a list of some helpful counselling and community services available to you or someone you know who needs support.
NSW State Recipient Local Hero 2021
Advocate for migrant and refugee women
NSW Nominee Local Hero 2021
Scientist, innovator and waste-free plastics educator
CEO of Dignity Ltd, homelessness advocate
Runs Down The Track
The Australian of the Year Awards will take place at 7.30pm, Monday 25 January 2021, on ABC TV and iview.
Featured image supplied by Salty Dingo