What you need to know:
- To hell and back. That’s the most apt description of 42-year-old Gladys Gakii’s life.
- From being abandoned as a child to her adopted family mistreating her, Gladys has seen it all.
Life has dealt Gladys Gakii horrible blows but she has managed to rise up after each strike and is determined to fulfil her vision of becoming a lawyer, no matter how long it takes.
Gladys is the epitome of the phrase “Good things come to those who wait” for she went back to school 26 years after she dropped out.
The 42-year-old endured whispers, stares and loud remarks of people who felt compelled to express their shock at her decision but she stood her ground.
After all, she had already been through hell. Gladys was abandoned at birth, rejected by foster parents, gang-raped, dropped out of school, has been homeless, auctioned and attempted suicide.
But despite it all, Gakii has now become an inspiration to many at Mwiria village, Tharaka-Nithi County where she now lives with her ‘parents’ – Reverend Joshua Gatea and Reverend Annah Gatea of Deliverance Church.
Locals, teachers and students alike were awed by her courage and determination while others were shocked by the ‘foolish act’.
“When my ‘parents’ came to pick me from Marima market where I had worked as a barmaid for seven years, crowds turned out to watch. It was interesting for my friends and colleagues who had never heard of my ‘parents’ for the entire period I lived with them,” Gakii says.
She scored a D+ (plus) in her KCSE examinations. Gakii, whose expectation was scoring a C+ (plus), was briefly disappointed and almost fell back into depression but has since embraced her performance.
“My dream is to become a lawyer. I know there is a way towards achieving my dream despite having failed to get a university entry grade,” she explains.
But why does she want to be a lawyer after completing high school at 42, while there are other careers?
“I have gone through a lot of injustices and the perpetrators have never been punished. I want to be the advocate of many other children and girls who are going through what happened to me,” she responds.
On an unknown day in 1978, residents of Majengo, an informal settlement in Meru town, woke up to an abandoned infant near a bridge on river Kathita.
As Gladys would learn several years later, her mother had abandoned her on a rock by the bridge with the umbilical cord uncut.
“I assume that my mother chose the busy spot because she wanted me to survive,” she says.
The baby was taken to Meru District Hospital, now Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital, and as she would learn, the facility became her home for about nine months.
A nurse who worked at the facility opted to take her home. She would live with the family for 14 years and flee after a sexual abuse incident.
Consequently, Gladys grew up in a family of two boys in Tigania West, Meru County, but as she matured, she discovered that she was being treated differently.
When her father came home over the weekend, he would touch her inappropriately.
“I remember I was around 12 years old when he started behaving this way. He would find me in the kitchen and start touching my breasts. He warned me against telling anyone or having a boyfriend,” she narrates.
“I was overworked at home and was being the only girl, I found it strange that I was not treated the same as my brothers. I started thinking that maybe they were my distant relatives and not biological parents,” Gladys says.
In Class Six, her family moved her to Igoji, where she lived with her foster grandmother and completed her primary education at Kireru Primary School. The family needed her to take care of her grandmother.
Gladys was the best candidate at the school in 1990 scoring 472 out of the possible 700 marks and secured a slot at Chogoria Girls High school.
“Despite doing very well in my KCPE, my parents were not keen on taking me to high school. After staying at home for several weeks after form one admission, a neighbour who knew how I had performed well intervened. I reported to Chogoria Girls at the end of term one with support from the community,” she recounts.
Unfortunately, she could not report back to the school after the foster parents failed to pay school fees for the second term.
“They were not keen on paying for my school fees arguing that they were already burdened by their two sons,” Gladys says.
After pressure from the grandmother, the foster parents agreed to take her to a cheaper school, leading to her transfer to Gikurune Secondary School in Imenti South.
However, in 1993, Gakii dropped out of school since the management could not bear the mounting fee arrears, marking the end of her education.
“After dropping out of school, I went back to my foster family where I continued to help in domestic chores. After all, I had nowhere else to go,” she says.
Gladys recounts how one day her elder brother came home with two friends and offered her a soda.
“I woke up in Meru hospital 11 days later. I learnt that I had been drugged and gang-raped by the three men. To cover up, they had carried my unconscious body back to the parents’ house and called neighbours claiming that I had passed out,” she recounts tearfully.
This incident became the turning point of her life - she learned about her background, she was traumatised and depressed. After leaving the hospital, Gladys went to her pastor’s home.
The pastor would later organise a reconciliation meeting when her ‘parents’ revealed how she was abandoned at birth.
After this meeting, it was agreed that she should go back home and forgive her brother. She was taken back to the very home where she was gang-raped, as perpetrators went on with their lives.
“I could not live with the pain of rape and mistreatment. On the night of the day I returned home, I escaped without knowing where I was going. I arrived in Meru town early in the morning, tired and confused,” she recalls.
In Meru town, she secured a job as a house help where she lived with an elderly couple.
“I just walked into a random home whose gate was open. I found the elderly lady and quickly composed a story. I did not want to mention where I had come from and insisted that I wouldn’t want to go back there. That is how I got my second home,” she remembers.
In 2003, following the death of her employer, Gakii relocated to Nkubu in search of a job and later Kionyo.
As a house help, she had managed to save about Sh40,000 which she intended to use as capital for a business.
All this time, Gladys says she was living with depression and had a phobia of men owing to her rape experience.
“After working for some time, I set up a restaurant at Murungurune market, from the savings I had made over the years. The business did very well and expanded into a bar, barbershop and butchery. I was making good money,” she says with a smile.
It is here that she earned the nickname Conjestina or Conje for her habit of fighting men, a character she links to depression and bitterness caused by the rape incident.
But then the bank auctioned her property.
Gladys explains that she was auctioned after being unable to service a loan she guaranteed a neighbour.
“The lady who I guaranteed a loan of Sh1 million left the country for Saudi Arabia. I was forced to pay the loan but with time, my business started going down. At one time, I attempted suicide. After being auctioned, I became mentally unstable but friends helped me get treatment and counselling,” she recounts.
Despite undergoing counselling, Gakii says she never revealed her traumatic past of rape and rejection to the counsellors. They had diagnosed her with depression.
Gladys worked at a friend’s bar in Marima Tharaka-Nithi county until 2018 when she started experiencing financial challenges, sliding back into depression.
“At one time, I was locked out by the landlord due to rent arrears. I slept in an abandoned house for several days and depression set in again,” Gladys says.
The financial troubles became another sharp bend in her tumultuous life as she made up her mind to commit suicide.
“I wrote a suicide note left it in the house with the door open and prepared myself to go and die. I also posted a suicide message on Facebook. I went on to search for a suitable spot to die but a friend, who is also nominated MCA in Tharaka-Nithi talked me out of it. That is how my suicide mission was aborted,” Gladys explains.
Tharaka Nithi Nominated MCA, Millicent Mugana, says she knew Gakii in 2018 after she sent a message on Facebook seeking help.
“I did not communicate with her after the first message. The next thing I saw was a suicide note saying goodbye. I was in Nairobi and I put her on-call convincing her against committing suicide until I reached Embu. This is the longest phone call I have ever had,” says Millicent.
She says she was moved to support Gladys due to her harrowing life experiences and her commitment to go back to school.
In one of her Facebook posts on February 21, 2018, Gladys wrote: “I’m sorry to say this. I’m committing suicide tonight. Don’t ask me why because I am not crazy. Ukiona imefika hapo (When things get here), it means I have tried all possible means. It's not that I don't value maisha (life). I do...”
In another social media post on November 5, 2018, she wrote: “Five years ago, I got so depressed and attempted suicide but luckily, the rope that I used to hang myself could not sustain my weight. These thoughts are back with me again. I feel like ending my life. I feel so empty and worthless. Kindly pray for me.”
But in late 2018, with support from well-wishers, she started counselling again and after sharing her whole story, she started her journey to recovery.
“A well-wisher from Canada known as Monica Kang’ethe helped me through my healing journey. It is her and other well-wishers who identified my current foster family and helped me go back to school,” she says.
In 2019, Gakii went back to school after 26 years, becoming a sensation in Marima and its neighbourhood.
Rebuilding her life
She says the move has inspired several other people to go back to school. The family says they have taken her as a daughter.
Monica, through her networks in Kenya, identified the family of Reverend Joshua Gatea, who agreed to accommodate Gladys and support her through school.
The family was identified due to their proximity to Marima market where Gladys was living.
Rev Annah Gatea, says while her family has supported many needy children and youth, Gladys’ story was the most heart-wrenching.
“Gladys is now our daughter. When we were informed about the plight of Gladys by a friend in Mombasa, we accepted the challenge. We first met her to hear the sad story. Later, we gave her a room in our house.”
“We have since embraced Gladys and will help her rebuild her life. What we have learned in life is that the best investment in life is investing in people,” Rev Annah said.
Rev Annah now hopes Gakii will achieve her dreams and eventually have her own family.
Rev Joshua Gatea says his family was motivated by Gakii’s determination to rewrite her story.
“We are ready to support her to become what she wants. It was very inspiring when she chose to go back to school over doing business. She is a very focused lady. We have had to work hard to keep her motivated after learning was interrupted by Covid-19,” Rev Gatea says.
The family is hosting Gladys, offering psychosocial support and also helped her through secondary school.
Out of the trauma of childhood experience, Gladys says she has lived with phobia of men hence she never dated and does not have children.
Gladys still believes in her dream of becoming a lawyer and help fight injustices that happen in the families and the community.