At ony20 years old, Jennifer Karina was desperate to save her failing marriage. She talks to us about how she turned it around and why she is now helping other couples keep their love alive.
In her humility, Jennifer Karina may not readily acknowledge the title superwoman. But a superwoman she is. Sample this – at any given day, she is a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an entrepreneur, an author, a newspaper columnist, a volunteer worker, motivational speaker and her life's passion as a helper to families in distress.
The ease in which she interchanges the various roles will amaze even the strong-willed. As the current Chief Commissioner of the Kenya Girl Guides Association, Karina is in good company with the First Lady and the movement's Patron Margaret Kenyatta, former Chief Commissioner Honorine Kiplagat as well as little girls from the remotest parts of the country who flash the two finger salute as she passes by.
But Karina is well known for her role in finding solutions for marriages in distress. Hundreds of married men and women have seen their unions turn out for the better after a few sessions with Karina.
In 2011, Karina penned her first book 'Marriage Built to Last' in which she chronicles the various challenges that marriages have to weather. It is also a book about the joys of a successful marriage made up of two imperfect people.
Interestingly, Karina never thought she had what it took to put her ideas on family life in writing until her husband encouraged her to do so. It had to take an interested friend to goad her to have the same published for the benefit of many.
"Oh my! This should be published," the friend said to her. "You surely have a gift of writing and you should use it."
Though she considered herself a novice as far as writing a book on such a deep subject was concerned, she was buoyed by the confidence her family and friends had in her and her abilities. She was determined to come to the aid of the marriage institution that was faltering by the day.
"The marriage institution is going through a crisis. Divorce rates are high with the main reasons being the people's inability to sort out the little things that crop up every now and then. We can only teach our children good family values by being good role models ourselves," says Karina.
However, her passion for strengthening the marriage institution through whatever medium was borne out of a desire to help couples avoid the same mishaps her marriage went through in its formative stage.
Jennifer got married at the tender age of 20 in December 1977. Her husband, Bob, was only 25. She had met Bob for the first time at the All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi during a wedding ceremony. Bob was taking pictures at the event. Shortly thereafter, he sent the all important hint that he was interested in her. Despite the initial "turn-offs" from her, the two became an item, setting off what she terms as a passionate courtship.
Jennifer got into marriage with all the positive* expectations that many entering into the marriage entertain – being happy ever after.
Soon after the marriage, Bob left to continue with his studies in Dar es Salaam. She was left to figure out what her role as a wife was. She had no mentor or counsellor. Actually, her family was against her marrying at such a young age even before she could complete her university education.
"My new husband was tall, dark and handsome. He still is. We married when that inevitable 'fire of passion' was burning brightly. I wanted those moments to last forever. But they didn't. I was disappointed," she says.
According to her, many people get into marriage expecting the other person to change rather than focusing on growing their own qualities. She was no different. Karina did not expect any drama at that point in her marriage. Her father was a banker who provided all her needs. Now married, she expected to live in bliss, no disagreements or quarrels that may be associated with seasoned couples.
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"Marriage mates forget that the other person is an individual with personal characteristics. We try to change them to conform to what we think are our standards for perfect mates. It is much better to complement each other for the common good of the family," she says.
Like it or not, says Karina, all successful marriages go through the four stages namely Dream, Drama, Discovery and Depth. However, she says, many people never leave the first stage of the dream behind and wonder why their mates seem to change after some time in marriage.
With the rough introduction to married life, Jennifer says she had many reasons to quit. But as she reasoned, there was no guarantee that she would be treated any better by another man. Thus, she chose to stay on and work on the issues rocking the marriage one at a time.
Her efforts paid off as she saw her marriage of close to 30 years take a turn for the better. Adding to her joy is the fact that their three children, a boy and two girls, have taken to heart the need to have successful marriages, more so after watching the good example set by their parents.
"We were quite surprised when one of our daughters said her man would have to measure up to the same or similar qualities as those of her father. That can only happen if parents have qualities worthy of imitation by their children," she says.
Sadly, many parents seem to have abdicated their parenting roles to other people such as their drivers, nannies and pastors.
The holder of a Master of Arts degree from Durham University in Newcastle, has taken her mentoring role to the youngest members of our society. As the Chief Commissioner of the Kenya Girl Guides Association, Karina hopes the lessons these young girls learn will help transform the society.
"We must teach our young ones moral values that will make them responsible citizens," she says.
Does she ever get tired of all the roles she has to master?
"At times I get emotionally drained. But my greatest joy is when someone makes a phone call or writes an e-mail to thank me for something they either read in the book or something I said on a radio show that turned around their marriage," she says.
Well, whether she recognizes herself as a superwoman or not, Jennifer Karina has no doubt made an impact in the many souls she has touched.