Mary Waturi Maina, 23, understands too well what it means to be raised in a poor family headed by a single parent in a remote rural village in Nyahururu. She remembers vividly how she used to trek the four-kilometre stretch from Majani to Kavandi village in Nyahururu, Laikipia County, carrying a five litre-jerrican of water on one hand and a bag of books strapped on her back to quench her quest for education.
The water was not for drinking along the way though. Like other pupils, her first assignment when she got to school would be to sprinkle it on the dusty, pot-holed classroom floor and sweep before the lessons would begin. At the end of the day, while other children her age would go back home and settle down to do their homework, Mary’s other assignment would begin – taking her family’s herd of goats out in the thickets to graze.
“Being the first born in a family of three, I had a lot of household chores to do to support my mother who would spend a longer part of the day in the forest gathering firewood for sale at a local market to provide for us,” she narrates.
For the light-complexioned lady, doing homework after school was a luxury she could not afford as there was hardly enough paraffin in the tin-lamp to light their home at night. However, the squalor that characterised her childhood did not dampen her spirit to excel in education. She emerged as the second best student in her school after scoring 358 marks out of a possible 500 in her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations. But even with the good performance, she was not yet out of the woods as her studies at Shiners Girls Secondary School in Nakuru was frequently interrupted by lack of school fees.
“My uncle offered to take me to a secondary school but I was out of school most of the time as he didn’t have the means to raise school fees for his children as well as mine. This really affected my performance and I managed to score a mean grade of C in my final exams, which is not what I wanted,” she explains as she looks down as though she is disappointed.
After secondary school, Mary joined her mother who had then moved to Nairobi’s Dagoretti slums to try her hand in a small groceries business. Mary would occasionally get part time jobs of carrying out product promotions and activations for various neighbourhood supermarkets to supplement her mother’s income but the jobs were few and far between.
However, as fate would have it, Mary’s chance to continue with her education came when her curiosity led her to Dagoretti Youth Foundation.
“I used to read the signpost at the gate and one day I decided to venture into the compound just to find out what the foundation was doing. Luckily, at that time, they were looking for needy girls to award scholarships and when they heard about my background, they instructed me to write my story and submit it to them for consideration,” says Mary.
That is how Mary landed the opportunity to be part of the Global Give Back Circle (GGBC) process – one of the gender-based tertiary education and mentorship initiative for girls from poor backgrounds in Kenya.
Mary enrolled to Inoorero to study a Diploma course in Business Management and graduated in 2014. Through the initiative, Mary has attended several workshops on financial literacy, life skills and sexual reproductive health which has shaped her understanding of life and moulded her into a wholesome individual.
“I have learnt how to spend wisely and save for the future by prioritising my needs to ensure I am able to live within my means even with a little amount of money that I save,” she says, adding that from her upkeep money, she was able to buy herself a laptop and save enough to cater for her personal requirements while in college.
She is all praises for the GGBC mentorship programme which has seen her develop a strong and confident personality with a positive attitude towards life. During school holidays, Mary retreats to her rural village to teach young children from her alma mater.
“I am working with the local Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) to help the young children with their school work. You do not have to spend money to be able to give back to the community. The two hours I spend with the children is enough to put a smile on their faces,” she says.