What you need to know:
- Mary Njoki, 27, grew up on the streets and Mathare slums. The mother of two is now a beauty graduate courtesy of a scholarship from Linton's Foundation and Zero Street Child Initiative
- She graduated from Linton's College of Beauty this October and is excited about her future
"My life began in Mathare where I was born. Life took a tragic turn when my father passed away when I was seven, and with no one to support our family, I found myself on the streets.
It was tough growing up in Mathare more so, after my father passed on. I am the third born in a family of four. I recall lacking many basic needs like food, clothes, and shelter since my mother couldn't afford them. Unlike popular belief that poverty-stricken parents send their children to beg on the streets, such was not my case.
I went to the street because that was the only option left for me to survive. Once there, I felt all alone and in fifteen years I didn't know where my family was until I met them later when I was 25.
Living on the streets affected me immensely and this is why I will never look down on any homeless child that begs on the streets. I recall how I would beg from passersby on the streets, restaurants, shops, and any potential place I thought had a potential of 'kakitu' (something small). To date, the words 'auntie nipatie kakitu' (Auntie give me something small) are still imprinted in my mind since this was my anthem every day. On the streets, I was exposed to many vices; there were people smoking bhang, drinking 'Musi' (jet fuel), popping pills, and taking alcohol. Life on the street was not glamorous and I cannot count the number of times I was brutally beaten up and had to nurse wounds.
Despite the hardships, I found a family on the streets, and on Sundays, we would attend a church service at Kenya Assembly of God (KAG) in Mathare Valley. I am forever grateful for the love and acceptance we found in the church. I was lucky in 2004, when the Mathare Child Development Centre which was under KAG church rescued me from the streets. Finally, I had a roof over my head, food, shelter, and a chance to access education. At first, it was tough adapting to the new life and I often wondered why I was showered with so much love by the director of the orphanage, Rev Jane Nuthi. I grew up thinking I never deserved love and hence, this became the order of the day. Rev Jane has been my mentor, a mother, and a confidant, and I am eternally grateful for her support.
I believe parental love is key especially at a tender age. With the void brought about by the lack of parental support, I grew up with so much rejection. I was so wounded and was so eager to be loved. At age 18, I got pregnant and I felt my dreams shattered. I faced so many adversities— money issues, new life adjustments, and the stress of being a teen mother.
I couldn't bear to face Rev. Jane and share with her what happened and so I disappeared from the support system I had enjoyed since I was 10. I felt I had betrayed her trust in me after she'd sacrificed so much for me. Being a teen mother is never easy. I recall many instances I felt hollow, disgusted, and even depleted and thought I would never amount to anything.
I was grieving but still in denial and so, I ended up getting another baby six years later. I became so confused but I had to be strong for my children.
Little by little, I started rebuilding my life and my perspective changed.
It was at this time that I met Peter Difoi, the director of Zero Street Child Foundation when he was doing a feeding program in Mathare and I was among the beneficiaries. After interacting with him, he introduced me to Linton's Foundation where I was given a sponsorship to pursue a three-month course on Nail technology, Massage, and Facials at Linton's College of Beauty. I am grateful for getting the chance to pursue the course as here I found a family that I had been looking for all along.
Dr. Joyce Gikunda, the founder of Linton's Beauty World showed me a lot of love and acceptance. Through her, I learnt that I can rise again and pursue my dreams. The course has transformed me and I can now provide for my children through the skills I have learnt. My self-esteem and confidence have improved and I no longer fear meeting new people as I used to when growing up.
The more I have engaged with other students at Linton's, the more I have felt that the world is full of opportunities and great people with golden hearts. You just need to be in the right environment. I am also glad that I can confidently face Rev Jane and appreciate the support she gave me at the children's home despite having a season where I disappeared.
I have been empowered to see life from a different perspective and help others that may be stuck in finding their identities. I love inspiring young mothers and letting them know that they should never give up in life. Growing up on the streets was tough and having gone through the experience, I often give food to street children since I can identify with their problems.
I have been privileged to unite back with my mother and my siblings after 15 years through a friend. It's my prayer that many people can empower marginalised youths, refugees, and the vulnerable from informal settlements.
I now have the foundation that gives me a dignified opportunity to earn a living."
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