SECTIONS

How high school bullies shaped my career

MILLICENT WANGARI NGUGI shares her experiences with SILAS NYAMWEYA.

Who is Millicent Wangari
I am a 32-year-old single mother of a five-year-old daughter, author, PR officer with BSD East Africa, ESL instructor, and CEO at Ayanna Safaris.  I grew up in the village. I went to Kiawambutu Primary School in Kandara, Murang’a County. After my KCPE exam in 2001, I got excellent grades and admission to a national school.

How did you feel when you got a slot in a national school?
It was an exciting time for me and my parents. Only two girls from my primary school qualified to go to a national school. I will always be grateful to my dad for ensuring that my fees were paid in time, and I had my basic needs.

Tell us about the bullying in school.
I wasn’t a poor or needy student. But that school did a number on me. My parents met all the financial needs and obligations on time. They showed up for all meetings and visiting days. But there was this social stratification and caste system that hurt you all the way down to your soul. Kids were rich, proud and conceited. Woe unto you if you didn’t match those standards. I remember the beginning of my woes was a house meeting where I said my name is Mirricent, instead of Millicent. The mocking started there and never ended. I  was excluded from everything – clubs, societies, swimming galas, funkies, etc – all belonged to the “cool kids.”

This happened in a national school?
Yes, Form 1 was the most terrifying year of my life to be honest. I experienced constant terror and anxiety, induced by fellow students.
On entertainment day, other “village kids” and I were assigned a category of entertainment called Shady Dancing. Shady meant uko na ushamba those days. They jeered at us as we did it, it was brutal. I also went through threats and insults from other students who considered me to be a villager. There was some marching craze that used to happen in second term. We’d be woken up at 4am to go and march in the cold, foggy Limuru weather. They would use hockey sticks to ensure we made 90 degree angles with our feet as we marched. We got frost bites from the cold. The verbal insults from the seniors and house captains were so demeaning.

How did this affect you psychologically?
By the time I was in Form Two, my self-esteem had already taken a nose dive. Some girls in ‘journalism club’ had formulated some form of awards for the class and they announced me as the most ‘mshamba’ girl in school. I guess it was because I’d borrowed my little brother’s jeans to wear on Saturdays when the school allowed us to wear “home clothes”. Or it was the shrubbing… I’ll never know, but it crushed me, big time.
I started sitting at the back of the class and stopped talking to people.
I became an introvert and preferred secluding myself from people as much as possible.

How did this experience influence your career path? 
Ever since I was young, I had wanted to become a pilot. However, the experience made me a reserved person and I resorted to writing. 
For the rest of my high school years, I was the girl who wrote but said nothing in class. I guess the bullying experience did me a favour because look at me now. This made me prefer writing more than any other career that required interacting with other people.

 Does it mean you pursued a course related to linguistics after high school?
Yes, I sat my KCSE exam in 2005 and got A-  then pursued Linguistics at Kenyatta University. After graduating, I found a job as an ESL instructor, I teach English as a second language. I taught in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,  between 2012 and 2014 and also briefly in Thailand in 2014-2015.
Currently, I do editorial work as well. I have worked as an Editorial Account Manager for some local and international clients.  My work revolves around writing, editing and teaching English. I am also the CEO at Ayanna Safaris. It’s a budding tour agency in Watamu. We offer villa rentals to local and international clients. We also handle airport transfers, car rentals and tour guiding services in Watamu and Malindi.

What would you tell parents of today?
We focus so much on the ranking and the good reviews the school has and forget our children’s emotional well-being.
Kids are being bullied, beaten, even killed, and we are okay with it. “Si tumewalipia school fees, wanacomplain nini ingine tena?”
Four years of high school can wreck your child for life. Kids have gone into depression from bullying, others have become drug addicts, and others have even opted for suicide to escape the torture. Make your child your best friend. Opt for a smaller and drama-free school for them if need be.
Guard their emotional well-being with your whole life. Because high school lasts only four years, but its effects can last a lifetime.