Faiza Wanjiru: I sold my baby for Sh20,000 to satisfy my alcohol addiction

Faiza Wanjiru, an addiction counsellor during an interview at Smecc Rehabilitation Centre in Murang'a County on April 17, 2024. 

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Faiza Wanjiru became an alcoholic and drug addict at age 14 after missing out on joining her dream high school, leading her down a dark path of crime and self-destruction.
  • Her turning point came in 2015 when she was forced into rehabilitation, and after a long struggle, she achieved sobriety and became an addiction counsellor.
  • Now 40, she hopes to pursue her education dreams while advocating against the rampant alcoholism and substance abuse plaguing the Mount Kenya region.

When we arrive at Sergeant Saviour Mentorship, Empowerment and Counselling Centre (SSmecc) in Murang'a on this sunny morning, we find Faiza Wanjiru busy counselling recovering addicts. The addicts are attentive, occasionally jotting down notes in their notebooks. Some seem deep in thought, perhaps reflecting and digesting the words of wisdom from this reformed addict.

Faiza is an addiction counsellor at this centre, which caters to individuals battling addictions to various substances, including alcohol. Here, she helps hundreds of addicts return to sobriety. Currently, the rehab accommodates about 80 recovering addicts drawn from across the country.

A student in class at the rehabilitation centre on April  17, 2024 .

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

When we finally sit down with her, Faiza opens up about her journey to becoming a counsellor.

In 1998, she was elated upon scoring an impressive 463 out of 700 marks in her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams. The girl from the remote Kiharu Constituency in Murang'a County looked forward to joining one of the country's top secondary schools. Her joy knew no bounds when she received an admission letter from her dream school, Alliance Girls High School.

Unfortunately, her mother could not afford the school fees, and with her father deceased, Faiza lost the golden opportunity to acquire a secondary education, marking the end of her dream to become a medical doctor.

With an abundance of free time, Faiza recalls befriending a woman from her village who introduced her to her brother. At the tender age of 14, this man introduced Faiza to alcohol.

"Initially, he would give me soda, then soda laced with a little alcohol. It then graduated to alcohol. Then a time came when I would tell him to put the alcohol and leave out the soda. That's how I became an addict at the age of 14," Faiza recounts.

The mother of one would later become a notorious alcohol and substance abuse addict in Murang'a and beyond. Apart from alcohol, she reveals she also indulged in bhang, miraa, cigarettes, and other hard drugs.

So intense was her drinking problem that she resorted to shoplifting and commercial sex work to raise money for alcohol and drugs.

“One day, I was caught shoplifting and mercilessly beaten. I was subsequently arrested, charged, and jailed for theft. Luckily, some relatives bailed me out,” Faiza recounts.

Her love for the bottle also saw her work as a bar attendant in Murang'a, Kiambu, and Narok counties. During this time, she confesses to robbing many male customers to fund her drinking habits.

“I stole from many men clients. I preyed on those who looked wealthy. I would spike their drinks before robbing them. I made millions, but the money didn't help me in any way. I ended up using it to buy alcohol and other drugs,” she regrets.

Fearing arrest for her heinous acts, Faiza triumphantly returned to her home in Kiharu, she tells nation.africa. Here, her love for the bottle only increased, unfortunately. She began consuming cheap, illicit liquor in the village daily.

Nobody in the family or the village could dissuade her from alcohol. She was unruly and uncontrollable, she says.

“I was always arrested and arraigned in court almost every day for being drunk. It got to a point where the magistrate asked the prosecution to seek an alternative method of rehabilitation instead of constantly arresting and arraigning me in court,” Faiza vividly recalls.

 Faiza in a pensive mood during the interview. She acknowledges that her journey to sobriety was not easy.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Mrdia Group

So severe was her drinking problem that she sold her son for Sh20,000 after delivery, to get money to buy alcohol, she divulges. Four years later, however, they reunited, and Faiza says they now share a close relationship.

Her turning point came in 2015 when former President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered a national crackdown on illicit brews. The directive responded to growing concerns that excessive consumption of illicit brews was rendering the youth unproductive.

As a result, former Murang'a Governor Mwangi Iria, initiated a county alcohol addicts' rehabilitation program. Faiza remembers a smartly dressed man visiting her home one morning, offering her a job as a bar attendant in his establishment in Murang'a town. Eager to make money and continue her drinking spree, Faiza gladly accompanied him to his car. However, she was shocked when the man took her directly to Ihura Stadium, which hosted hundreds of alcoholics embarking on a recovery journey.

The man, she later learned, was Moses Kimenchu, a police officer known as Sergeant Saviour in Murang'a due to his initiative to rehabilitate alcoholics.

Kimenchu, who served at the Murang'a County headquarters, was an extraordinary officer who combined his regular law-keeping duties with counselling addicts. The rehab centre is named after him.

 Faiza (right) takes a recovering addict through a counselling session with a student at the centre on April 17, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

Faiza acknowledges that her journey to sobriety was not easy. She was admitted to Murang'a Level Five Hospital for six days after developing severe withdrawal symptoms. This was followed by a two-week admission at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, for detoxification from cocaine and heroin, which she had abused for several years. Her rehabilitation took six months, from June to December 2015, whereas alcohol addiction treatment typically lasts a maximum of three months.

“Life was hard in rehab. Initially, I was in denial, constantly asking myself how I would cope with life after getting out. I later accepted myself, and that's how I reformed,” she reveals.

For the last nine years, Faiza has remained sober, marking the end of her 17-year addiction. However, she acknowledges that maintaining sobriety requires total sacrifice. After rehabilitation, Kimenchu helped her enrol in college to pursue a course in counselling.

Today, Faiza shares her addiction story with the recovering addicts at this centre to help them fight off denial, embrace change, mend their ways, and offer mentorship.

“This is what I love doing. It gives me joy and fulfilment when I share my story with people battling alcoholism. I do this because I don't want anyone to undergo what I did when I battled with the bottle,” she adds.

Apart from being an addiction counsellor, Faiza also visits schools, churches, and holds public forums to raise awareness about the effects of alcoholism, substance abuse, and drug addiction. She terms addiction as a disease.

"It's also important for those who have been through rehab to avoid people, places, and things that can make them relapse. They need to choose friends who can offer them mentorship," she advises.

The main entrance to SSmecc in Murang’a County on April 17, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

As a way of atoning for her past sins, which included spiking drinks and robbing male customers, the reformed alcoholic says she undertakes charity initiatives in the village.

As we conclude our interview, Faiza acknowledges that alcoholism is a serious menace in the Mount Kenya region, requiring stringent measures to address it.

The 40-year-old still harbours a great desire to pursue her secondary education and later study medicine.

“I still yearn to join Alliance Girls for my secondary education and later become a doctor so that I can treat people who have numerous ailments, including addiction. My only hindrance to this dream is a lack of money,” she tells nation.africa.

Central Kenya has recently been in the spotlight over the uptake of illicit brews that have captivated the younger generation. A recent survey by the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) on alcohol use in the region shows an upward trend in alcohol consumption among women in the region.

The survey indicates that among alcohol consumers aged 19-34 years, 15 per cent were women. According to the report released last year, alcohol remains the most abused substance by 12.2 per cent of the population.

The 2022 National Survey on the Status of Drugs and Substance Use in Kenya report also shows that out of 767,789 users, 11.4 per cent consume chang'aa, while 13 per cent consume traditional liquor. Additionally, the survey revealed that 10.4 per cent (2,807,569) of Kenyans aged 15 - 65 years have alcohol use disorders.

The survey placed Central region third, with more than 415,885 (13 per cent) being users of the substance, with many preferring portable spirits and other legal alcohol products. In its findings, Nacada stated that the increasing demand for cheaper and readily available alcoholic products, especially chang'aa, traditional brews, and potable spirits, is the reason why many are abusing alcohol.