At the age of six, Emily Wanja was a happy-go-lucky girl. Her life revolved around going to school, doing house chores, and playing with her age mates.
Born in the miraa growing area of Meru, she spent her childhood playing hide-and-seek in the miraa fields. She had a lot of fun.
Wanja never envisioned that her favourite game would one day change her life forever. Hers is a story of struggle, determination, hope, and resilience.
One beautiful Sunday afternoon in 2004, Wanja and her friends were playing hide-and-seek at the fields when she accidentally hurt her right eye with a miraa twig. Though she was in pain for several days, she never got any medical attention.
Her mother, a casual labourer in Isiolo, came to know of the mishap but dismissed it as a minor one and never bothered travelling home to attend to her only daughter.
At the time, eight-year-old Wanja was in Standard Two. Months later, she lost vision in that eye.
“I was so scared and stayed at home without going to school. I lost all interest and blamed my loss of sight on my friends,” she says.
Voices of reason
However, after being home for two months, her aunt, friends, teachers, and well-wishers encouraged her to go back to school. Finally, she listened to the voices of reason and went back to school.
For the next five years, the cheerful girl learnt to live with her fate. Things were working out well with her new situation. Later, she relocated to Kiwanja ya Ndege Estate, Isiolo, to live with her aunt.
She was now in Standard Seven and had one more year to do her exams. With new friends and a new life, Wanja was looking forward to a great future.
However, destiny was not done with her yet. Living with her aunt, who was also a casual labourer, things were not easy.
For instance, Wanja recollects that her aunt could not afford school fees and most times, she found herself doing odd jobs to raise money for upkeep. She yearned to be done with school so that life could offer her a better deal.
But her tribulations were far from over. In 2009, the young girl was looking forward to doing her KCPE examination. However, this was not to be because, without warning, she found herself in a dark world.
“I woke up one morning and everything was dark. I thought it was night, but then I could not see. I could hear my aunt’s voice and those of other people, but I could not see them. I was so scared,” says Wanja about the day that will forever remain ingrained in her mind.
After months of being depressed and struggling to come to terms with her fate, a Good Samaritan convinced Wanja’s aunt to take her to braille school. Wanja says all this time she had not heard from her mother.
Soon, she was admitted to Kambi ya Juu Integrated Primary School.
“It seemed like everything was going against me - I had to repeat Standard Five,” says Wanja.
Despite her determination and resilience, lack of support curtailed her performance when she finally sat for the KCPE examination in 2012. Her desire to perform well made her repeat Standard Seven in 2013; sadly, she did not last the year in school.
Her aunt married her off to a motorbike rider, and not long after, she got pregnant. Wanja delivered her firstborn, a boy in 2014 and her second born, also a boy in 2018. “The father of my sons was such a caring man. He took care of his new family so well,” says Wanja.
Soon, the eldest joined Champion Academy, and Wanja thought life could never be better. Nevertheless, in July 2020, bad luck struck again. Her husband was involved in a serious accident and was admitted to Isiolo General Hospital in a coma for 16 days.
He was finally discharged after regaining his senses although he could not do anything for himself. Despite being blind, Wanja says, she had to do everything for her husband with the help of an aunt.
“The stress was too much for him, and he became mentally disturbed; he started hitting me and the children, eating or throwing away all the food,” says Wanja. Her in-laws turned against her and the children; they labelled her a witch.
It was a troubled season and the young mother escaped four months later “to save me and my children”. She found somewhere to stay in Mwanika, Meru, where a sympathetic woman offered her refuge.
“However, five months later, the woman turned violent towards me because I turned down her offer of getting married to her son in exchange for her hospitality,” she says.
The resilient mother was on the streets again looking for refuge, sleeping in the shop verandas of Meru town with her boys.
A sympathiser directed her to a former female politician, who arranged for her to appear on a local TV station with the hope that she would find help, especially in promoting a gospel CD titled Ni Wewe Uliniumba she had recorded. Sadly, nothing materialised from the appearance.
It took Wanja two years to record the CD, which has seven songs. They include Huzuni, Mungu wa Ajabu and Anipenda Yesu.
An uncle, pastor John Mugambi of House of Praise, Isiolo, helped Wanja produce the music.
The artiste is looking for support to produce another CD, which she has already compiled.
Wanja has since travelled to Tigania West, where she is living with a kind family that took her in. Here, Wanja and her sons have found peace, comfort, and safety.
“She knocked at my door one late afternoon hungry, tired, frustrated, and with no home. When she told me her story, I could not turn her away,” says Mercy Ciokario, a mother of seven who Wanja fondly calls “guardian angel”.
Sister Winfred Nkanya, who has been following Wanja’s case, says she is focused on getting he a place she can settle down, a place to call home.
“When I met her, I organised for food for the young family, but before I could get a permanent solution for her, she fled with her sons for fear of being attacked by her husband,” says Nkanya of the Jesus Mary and Joseph Rehabilitation Centre in Isiolo.
The nun is confident that if Wanja can find a home and support to promote her artistic talent, she will be able to fend for her family.
“I am scared. I live in perpetual fear that my violent husband will find us and harm us. Were it not for the fact that my sons have no one else, but me, I would have considered ending my life,” says Wanja, noting that she has to be strong for her sons who have been out of school for over a year now.
The mother hopes that she will find someone to help build her artistic dream so that she can support her children.
“God has been gracious. Each day is a new day and, I have to find new strength to keep living in the midst of all these misfortunes. I am hopeful I will find support for my dream of becoming an artiste,” says the strong-willed mother.