In the dusty highway centre of Mariakani, Kilifi County, Mary Kazungu is a well-known figure due to her work in youth mentorship programmes.
The modest business she runs in the middle of Mariakani market is a busy one, as women and men flock it to have their nails done. Mary is also a thespian and youth mentor well known in her home county. But she has a traumatic history of losing her father, defilement that resulted in pregnancy and two suicide attempts.
Born 27 years ago in Mariakani, Mary is the fourth in a family of seven. She says her father, a businessman turned politician, loved her to bits and all was well until he lost his seat in 2007 after two terms as a councilor. Life took a turn for the worse.
Mary’s mother, Ugandan by origin, had to step in and work to keep the family afloat.
She sat her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations in 2007 and scored 363 marks – enough to get her into a good secondary school. However, due to financial constraints, she could not proceed to secondary school. She went back to Class Six and sat KCPE again in 2010, scoring 376 marks, which earned her a place in St John’s Girls High School in Kaloleni.
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“With my brother in university, my mother expended all her income on him. Luckily, after my father got a job in Mombasa, matters started looking up again,” she says.
Just as she thought everything was getting back on track, her father suffered a stroke that paralysed one side of his body in September 2011. While her Form One was relatively smooth, the next class would be hectic due to her father’s sickness. She was sent home just after schools opening. That was the last time she saw her father alive.
“Being in school, I had no idea that dad’s condition had deteriorated. But when I went home for fees, I walked into his bedroom and when he saw me, he turned, faced the wall and started to cry. It hurt him so much that he could not even pay fees for me,” Mary recalls.
The family managed to raise half of the fees and she went back to school after three days. Her father fell as he was going for his regular clinical appointments and got a brain injury. He died hours later at the hospital.
Defiled by a friend of her father
After the burial, with contributions from the funeral, she went back to school until the end of first term; she remained home for the following to terms and had to repeat Form Two after a friend to her father offered to pay her fees. After being sent home due to lack of fees again in term two, the man called Mary’s mum one day asking for the school girl to go get money for fees.
Little did she know this offer would pile onto her woes and change her life – forever. “He told mum that I should go and get the bank slip so that I could go back to school,” she narrates.
Mary says she was offered a bottle of soda and it could have been laced with sedatives since the only thing she recalls was waking up beside the man hours later, her virginity gone. After the ordeal the man gave her the bank slip, Mary says, she tore it in his face and left.
“I was so angry that I left and went back home and due to shock and confusion, never uttered any word to my mum and isolated myself and cried,” she says.
After a week, she started feeling itchy in her private parts and told her mother but she would not believe her. After three months, a pregnancy test turned positive and her mum told her to go back to the man.
Upon going back, Mary says she was turned into a maid by the man and his two wives. For a pregnant girl, one month was enough to break the camel’s back as house help. She says she faced untold violence.
“These black marks you see on my arm are from being flogged using electric cables and I left after one and a half months with no pay as I could not take it anymore,” she says.
Mazeras was Mary’s next stop where she lived on the streets, selling water and small wares until someone who knew her saw her and told her elder sister who came for her.
Her attempts at reporting the matter at Mariakani Police Station never amounted to much as the police thought her story was surreal.
She gave birth under the care of her sister in Kitui.
“At some point when I wanted to take the child to school, I went to the man so that he could give me his identity card to get a birth certificate, but he turned wild and I had to get the birth certificate all alone as a single mother,” she says.
Determined that her story would not end there, Mary enrolled her daughter in school and also went back to school as an adult student, scoring a B+ (plus) in KCSE examinations. Her mother took up the responsibility of paying fees.
“They asked my mother why she wanted to waste her money on a prostitute – me – because to them, I had willingly given myself to the man who made me pregnant; I am grateful my mum never listened to them,” she says.
She went on to Egerton University to study for a Bachelor’s degree in procurement, but dropped out just before the final year due to lack of fees.
She got a job as an assistant human resource officer with a company in Mombasa, but left because she says her boss started making sexual advances. “After the traumatic experience I had gone through, I was not ready to be in any relationship yet, so I just left the job and went back home.”
She went back to do a course in hairdressing at Vera Beauty College. After completing the course she got a job in a salon in Nairobi and later left for Mariakani, where she is now employed in a beauty shop.
After counseling sessions at the Mariakani Sub-County Hospital, Mary made up her mind to help to other young people. When DSW Kenya - an organisation that advocates health information, services and economic empowerment for young people - came looking for youth advocates, she was chosen. “I work with young people and advise them on challenges they might face on matters around sexual reproductive health and rights, including HIV/Aids,” she explains.
However, the advocacy work has not been easy, as being a single mother attracts criticism, especially around her home area.
She believes that she will return to the university and complete her education and dreams about setting up her own beauty business. She also hopes that one day, judgement will be served on the man who took away her innocence.