We are excited to have Martha Mghendi-Fisher as one of our speakers at the Fundraising event in September. Read below the amazing story of a very successful woman that made it through life with a lot of passion, commitment and hard work.
Director, Card Scheme Compliance- Acquiring Bank
Founder & Chair to the Board- Beyond Innocence Foundation (BIF)
Founder- European Women Payments Network (EWPN)
Founder- African Women in FinTech & Payments (AWFP)
Founding Member- Wadawida Education Fund (WEF)
President- Rotary Club Utrecht International
I was born and raised in Kenya and migrated to The Netherlands in 2007 for a short period, and permanently in 2008. I am married and have a step daughter who turns 11 this year. I live in Amersfoort one of the most chilled out city in Netherlands.
For my 9-5 job, I work in the financial industry as a Director of Card Scheme Compliance for an acquiring bank. I am extremely fascinated by payments industry because of the innovation and how fast paced the industry is. There is always new and exciting things happening that keeps the industry very interesting and challenging.
Apart from being employed, I do a few things on the side. In 2013, I founded Beyond Innocence Foundation (BIF), a NGO that focuses on providing a safe haven for abused minors (mostly sexually) aged between 0-16 in Taita Taveta County, Kenya. This region is number 1 in the whole country when it comes to cases on sexual abuse of minors. BIF safe house is the first safe house in the whole region.
I also founded European Women Payments Network and African Women in Fintech & Payments. These are platforms specifically for women working in fintech and payments. We have different programmes e.g. mentoring, leadership, events etc. Our objective is to provide a professional and safe platform where women in the industry can learn, network and share with each other. We also hope to continue pushing for diversity and inclusion in the industry especially on leadership positions.
Apart from that, a few years ago, a few friends and I came together and started an education fund that is privately funded by us. Through this fund, we pay high school fees for bright students coming from needy families.
Lastly, I am the President 2017-2018 for Rotary Club Utrecht International.
I am very happy with all the work I do in different organisations. But this is made possible by having an excellent team of people working with me and having a strong support system.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What's your journey?
MM: I was born and raised in a small village called Mgange in Taita, Kenya. My childhood wasn’t an easy one, but very typical for all children born in the village. There was a lot of hard manual work from a very young age. There was manual work after school and weekends were working days, not resting days. We did get to play a lot outside though especially on Sundays. My parents separated when I was very young, and we moved back with my maternal grandmother. Because of living with my grandmother, we were always surrounded by love and family since my aunts and uncles also lived with us, so did a few cousins. This meant that we had to have very good behaviour and discipline because anyone who was older than I was had the authority to put me in line whenever I misbehaved. We grew up with my mum’s mere teacher’s salary. I had no idea just how little it was until much later when I was older and started earning myself. I always asked my mother why she never had money, something that as a child you don’t really realise how hurtful it can be to a parent. But I was only a kid. My background and how I was raised really defined the person I am today. The experience taught me to be patient and not to take things for granted. I know how it feels to lack, so I am always aware that someone else might be struggling and going through what I went through. This has helped me and my siblings to always be kind to people, something that we learned from my mother and grandmother. Most of my family is still in Kenya, but I have family in UK, US and Kuala Lumpar.
I migrated to Netherlands first for a few months in 2007, and then permanently in 20017. I first moved to Zeewolde, which was a humongous cultural shock for me. When I first moved there, there were countable and just a handful of black people. I think around 5 or so. I remember the first time I saw a black woman, she was elderly, I physically run to her and started yapping in English only to find out that she spoke no English since she was from Suriname! You can imagine the shock. It was one of the most lonely experience for me as a migrant, because I had to start from the start. I had no support system, no social life, no friends, no family (apart from my ex-husband) and also I had no job. It was a very depressing moment. I then decided to take matters into my own hands and started looking for expats and migrants communities around my area. I was saved when I found International Almere, an English speaking expat club and later on Harderwijk Expats and Amersfoort Expats. I also got involved with Kenyans living in Netherlands group. Surrounding myself with other migrants helped me know that I wasn’t the only one going through this. This made such a massive difference and then I knew I would be ok.
In 2012, I got divorced and moved from Zeewolde to Amersfoort. This year was one of the lowest moments in my life. Going through divorce in a foreign country is not for the faint hearted. Your family and friends are far away, and the emotional support, especially from family is something that hits home the hardest. But I did survive and I am still here now.
What is Beyond Innocence Foundation and how did you come up with the idea to create it?
MM: Beyond Innocence Foundation (BIF) is a non governmental/non profit making organisation that focuses on providing a safe have/rescue center for abused minors (especially sexually) aged between 0-16 in Taita Taveta.
BIF is a Community of passionate individuals who share one common interest at heart: children’s safety and well being. These individuals include Board Members from BIF Netherlands, Board Members from BIF Kenya, Donors, well wishers, local government, local authorities, children departments, local leaders and everyone fighting for the rights of the children of Taita.
Why the name BIF?-Before finally settling for this name, I tried different names, but most of them sounded more like orphanages instead of a Rescue Center. I was looking for something that represented both the Organisation and could also carry a message for the children we were aiming to help. When we look at minors or children, we simply seen their innocence and their pureness. We don’t look beyond the face. Many are times, the signs of abuse are written all over their faces, but we fail to recognise them, causing us to take action when it’s too late. For the children going through any kind of abuse, their eyes carry a message from their hearts trying to reach out asking for help from us.What BIF is requesting each and everyone to do is to look beyond. Look Beyond their pureness. Look beyond their eyes. Look into their hearts. Look Beyond their innocence and into their hearts and try to see if there is any sign of the children suffering. If we start looking Beyond, we will be able to spot signs of abuse much sooner, and by so doing, reach out and help these innocent souls. We may never be able to erase the pain, but we can help with the healing process.
Why did I start BIF? I always knew that I would go back and do something for the community when I was in a position financially. I strongly believe that change starts with me. I had this piece of land and I wanted to do something that was going to help the community. Initially, I wanted to build a children's’ home, but that changed because of my mother and the pain I saw her go through. My mother is an educator, and she has been a teacher, head school, supervisor etc, but all these years she has been an educator. Most of abuse cases are usually spotted by teachers because they know the children. I heard the storied that my mother told about the cases she had to deal with, the extent of the abuse and the frustrations she had especially because there was no place to take such children, and most of them end up going back to the same environment where abuse occurred because of lack of a safe house. This means that they get threatened and intimidated by the abuser and sometimes by their own families into changing their story. Without the statement from the child, many cases end up being thrown out, and the children continue to go through years of abuse and the abuser continue to roam freely and even abuse more minors. Because abuse is still a taboo that is spoken in hash-hash tones in the community, not so many people know about the extent, and those who know are so ashamed but I knew about it because of the work my mother was doing. It got me so angry that there was no rescue center even though the county is on top when it comes to abuse. I knew that if I didn’t do something, nobody was going to and these children would continue to suffer in the hands of their abusers and we would have a generation of abused minors who never received treatment. The cycle would never be broken. So I decided to use the piece of land to build the rescue center instead of the orphanage.
I donated the piece of land to the community so that the project can belong to the community and that way the whole community can be involved in solving and dealing with the cases of abuse in the area. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, so if I didn’t involve the whole community, guaranteed this project would fail.
What were your biggest challenges in your first years?
MM: I think I was too naive. I thought because I understand the extent of the abuse and that I wanted to help these children, everyone else would also share the same passion like I had. I thought since we had the biggest asset- Land, people would be inclined to join forces. I mean, these were innocent children, so you would think that everyone would stop and fully support the project so we could deal with this viscous monster sitting in our community. But, nope, it never happened. People talked, made false promises and I believed them, but nothing happened. I wasted so much time building on useless relationships with people who wanted to use BIF as a platform to enhance their own agenda, but had zero interest or care when it came to children. It was a learning curve for me and the whole BIF team.
Secondly, it was learning to understand the politics in funding business. If you are a new NGO, expect to get no funding. People want to see that you have existed for more than 3 years before they can give any funding. This is something that I really have never understood until this moment. Maybe I would understand it if it was any other NGO and not something related to children, especially abused children. There is a lot of politics when it comes to funding and you can waste so much time with proposals that don’t yield anything. To my disappointment, some of the ones that rejected our proposals are large global organisations that are ‘champions’ for children rights and also child abuse. I am still learning the funding politics. I spent so much time sending request for funding to so many organisations and got so many no. It’s only when I decided to stop spending so much time contacting such organisations, and instead focus on small organisations and individuals that shared and actually cared about the work we were doing, that we started seeing progress. For the past few years, we have reached out to my fellow Rotarians in various Rotary Clubs for support, friends and families. These are the people who have carried BIF to the level we are at the moment.
Have you ever felt like giving up? What kept you going?
MM: So many times! I would be lying to say otherwise. To be honest, I didn’t realise just how large the responsibility I was putting on my shoulders was until we started. I thought, well, I donated the land, what else could be harder. I had no idea just how difficult it was to raise funds and to get people sharing the same passion as I was and were committed to helping children. At the start, I got extremely angry at my friends or people who didn’t support BIF. I couldn’t understand how they didn’t care. It’s only when I came to the realisation that this was my passion, my drive and not theirs, was I able to really turn that anger into something positive. Many times I ask myself what I am doing, or how we will manage, especially because the Kenyan board looks up on me to raise funds, and I haven’t been that successful in raising a large amount, but I keep going because failure is not an option or a luxury I can afford.
I made that switch in my mind and fully accepted the fact that this was my passion, my wish and therefore my responsibility and I shouldn’t expect people to just change their passion and support this cause. I made that commitment to see this through with the little resources and support we had no matter how long it was going to take. I then came up with a plan on how I was going to do it and where I wanted to focus my energy on in identifying partners and people to work with.
With that in mind, I made a promise to the children of Taita that I was going to walk with them until the end. I have had many days when I just want to quit, but I know for a fact that if I quit, these innocent children will have no safe place to go to and will never really get the treatment they need after going such abuse. Me giving up means me giving up on such innocent souls. Me giving up means me saying that they do not deserve to have a safe place. Me giving up means that I accept and say that these innocent children deserve the horrible situation and conditions they have now. This is not something that I can live with and is the only thing that keeps me going whenever I want to give up. I have the responsibility to give them a chance to heal. They deserve that.
What's the best advice you have ever received?
MM: Always put yourself in the other person’s shoes at all times. This is something that my mother taught me at a very young age. It has taught me compassion and empathy. I make so many mistakes, but I always try to look and view things from an angle other than mine in all situations. This has not only helped me in my career, but also on friendship and personal level.
What do you consider your biggest achievements you accomplished with BIF?
MM: Well, everything about BIF is a massive achievement. The fact that we have land, the fact that we have built a humongous structural building that will house 25 girls at a time and this has been mainly funded by individuals is a huge achievement. The fact that BIF is the first rescue center in the whole region is a huge thing on it’s own. And most recently, we sunk a borehole (funded by Rotary) that will not only provide water to BIF but to the community as a whole is one of the biggest achievement. But the biggest one of all is just simply the fact that we are highlighting a huge problem in this area and giving these innocence children a voice can’t beat any other achievement. The community has come together and embraced this project as their own.
You know that our vision is a world where no one every again feels powerless about being unemployed. We are here to help the jobless people to stand out and fulfil their dreams either it is about finding a new job or become an entrepreneur.
As a very active and passionate successful person, what advice would you give to all of us out there that are struggling while being unemployed?
MM: You are responsible for your own career and fate. You hold the power of never giving up. You have to keep trying and trying even when you are at your lowest. You will have really bad days, and when you do, remember to be kind to yourself. Take a few minutes to feel sorry for yourself , cry and what not, but then after you are done, get back up and start all over again. I strongly believe that what you give to the universe is what you get back. So if you keep trying and really try, eventually you will get something coming your way.
Secondly, there is no pride when it comes to paying bills. Be ready to take up a job (temporary) lower than your ‘standards’ while you look for something that you believe you are worth it. If you have one less thing to worry about (bills), then you can really focus on finding something that will make your happy. There is no job that is too low for anyone, there is just different preferences.