We shine a spotlight on writer and mental health professional (pre-reg) Estar Gathu, who through her website www.thingsihear.co.uk is tirelessly working to give a voice to, among others, British-Africans who face discrimination within their own communities both in Africa and in Britain.

Estar Gathu

Estar Gathu

Mental health professional and writer Estar Gathu always knew she had a talent for telling stories, and a comment from a close friend compounded that knowledge, and an idea to create a space for storytelling was born which has since evolved into the online hub, Things I Hear.

Estar is a proud KenBrit and a mother to a wonderful daughter. Born in Kenya, Estar moved to the UK at the turn of the century. Like many who leave African nations, she came to Britain in the hope that she could enjoy a better life and better opportunities than were available to her in her country of birth.

With her training background in the hospitality industry, it was the natural place to start on landing in Britain. She did some stints in the hotel industry before following her natural preference, which tended towards the academia. In 2010, she joined the prestigious University of Greenwich in London where she attained a degree in psychology.

Upon graduation, she secured work at University College London Hospital as a research administrator, supporting the stroke and neurology teams. This was followed by a placement at King’s College Hospital, where she worked as a research facilitator in the areas of cancer, renal and psychological therapies research.

About Things I Hear

In 2015, she was at a charity event when she wittily remarked to her friend that the food, which was both late and served in very tiny portions, was “like glucose disappearing in the mouth,” sending the friend into hysterical giggles.

Afterwards, the friend said to Estar, “You always come up with such funny anecdotes. You should write them down for everyone to read.” Estar thought that was a great idea and set about thinking of a way to go about it. One thing was clear, a vehicle was needed and the internet presented the best option, hence www.thingsihear.co.uk was born. The website carries weekly stories aimed predominantly at British-African communities. At their core, the stories speak to pressing social and cultural issues such as homophobia, sexism, and mental health with the purpose of inspiring debate and social change, improving attitudes and behaviour, and enabling self-development.

In 2016, Estar — who as a child had dreamed of one day becoming an author — set up the website, regularly posting fun stories with practical messages that discussed or called out traditionally-held beliefs while also entertaining her readers.

As the website’s title suggests, posts are largely based on real-life stories that have been shared with Estar and which need airing to raise awareness and inspire change. Stories entrusted to Estar are treated with the utmost confidentiality. Names and locations are changed to protect the identities of the victims, or she tells the stories in her own voice. She fictionalises the accounts respecting context while typically injecting a little of her noted satirical humour where appropriate.

Initially, these stories were based largely on her own experiences and aimed at other ‘KenBrits’, such as discussing the challenges of securing social housing as an immigrant or the common, often “hilariously wrong”, misconceptions that white British people have about Africans. Other stories related the experiences of other people, with their permission, such as one about a woman whose husband had left her after 18 years’ marriage — to live with a new partner he’d secretly fathered a child with. That post quickly racked up hundreds of social shares because, as Estar puts it, “it explored a person’s vulnerability and telling the story was therapy and this resonated with many”.

As Things I Hear (TiH) became more established and trusted, Estar started to receive messages from others, including those outside the British-Kenyan community, about their own personal issues, often revolving around cultural matters and mental health issues that had a serious effect on their mental wellbeing.

Thanks to her studies and training, as well as her flair for writing, Estar was able to share these important stories in a sensitive and engaging way with the site’s rapidly swelling fan base.

One emotive story, for instance, related the story of a young British-African woman who felt pressurised by her parents to get married; another covered how a bride-to-be feared her marriage would be called off because her parents insisted on a ‘bride price’ (a dowry) from the family of her prospective suitor. This is in line with many African traditions but at odds with the expectations of the millennial couple, who had been born in Britain and wanted to enjoy the same senses of equality and freedom as their peers and others of their generation.

Caption: Estar Gathu, launched www.thingsihear.co.uk to highlight social and cultural issues in the British African communities.

On several occasions, meanwhile, Estar has told about young British Africans who are afraid to reveal their sexuality for fear of being shunned by their community, or worse. In one man’s case, he had been physically beaten for coming out, and had been left with suicidal feelings due to his tragic predicament.

Estar now receives such moving stories from across the world, and dutifully writes about them with the hope of changing deep-rooted attitudes so others won’t need to suffer in the same way.

In this way, she has deftly combined the roles of agony aunt, social campaigner and reporter into one and, as her TiH site continues to grow from strength to strength — regularly attracting hundreds of thousands of views per post — Estar has expanded her transformative quest to online talks on social and mental wellbeing issues.

“Some of the things I hear in confidence are heart-breaking and shocking. Many of these stories are from people who have been left deeply traumatised by their experiences,” she says.

“The stories are fictionalised versions of real-life events with a central message, often conveyed with a touch of satire, which questions certain traditional African cultural practices that may not be best suited to today’s generation of Western-born Africans.

“Through TiH, I try to raise wider awareness of these issues within African communities to reveal the harm they could cause to people and to spark discussion on ending such discrimination.”

Going forward, Estar is in the final stages of becoming an approved mental health professional at King’s College London, and has plans to become a published author.

Thankfully, she has no plans, to end her website, adding: “The fact that I can, in my own small way, provide support while helping break taboos, stigmas, and myths is truly rewarding.”

“I’ll keep on writing these stories for as long as people need to hear and share them. One day, being an African and a homosexual or having a mental health issue will be a thing of the past, but for now the fight to win over the hearts and minds of individuals must continue. Together we can normalise talks around these issues!”

For more information, visit www.thingsihear.co.uk. Follow Estar Gathu on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at @thingsihear2016.