Mary Ojwang is a peer educator and advocate for teenage mothers in Kenya. She shared her story with Life&Style magazine.
“The 31st day of October 2020 will forever be etched on my memory. It was surreal. Over 800 primary and secondary school girls showed up in Busia, Bukhuyi Primary School in Butula sub-county for our talk on teenage pregnancy. It was not a moment of glory but impact. I had made it my mission to reach as many girls as possible in Kenya following news of high teenage pregnancies.
Once upon a time, I was also a teenage mum; young, alone, and not by choice. The recent news of pregnant girls took me back to a dark place, a memory that always shadows my every step.
I came to Nairobi from Siaya after completing high school in 2012. I was from a poor household and I wanted to help my family out. My aunt had started a new shop in Umoja estate and she needed a shop attendant. I was an A-plus student thus my aunt thought I would automatically be life smart or rather business smart. I was not.
With little to no guidance, I was put in charge and left to run the business. My naivety coupled with my generous heart and slow uptake of the business caused me to run the business at a loss for five months straight. Without notice, my aunt instructed me to vacate with immediate effect. She sent me the bus fare and instructed me to go back to the village. But I wanted to keep earning money from my family, so when one of the men that idled at the shop offered to help me, I jumped right in. After two months of showing up at the shop and having conversations with me, I actually thought we were friends.
He took me to a small place in Dandora, explaining that I had to spend a few days there before he could take me to his aunt’s place where I would work as a house help. Immediately we got into the house, he attacked me and forced himself on me. I fought back with all my strength and left bearing the marks of battle. I rushed from one house to another looking for a job, until I got a place. However, I didn’t stay, a week later I resigned to my fate. So in November 2013, I went back home.
When I missed my period in December my mum was alerted because she is one of those people that can easily dictate a pregnant woman. So she took me to the hospital and it was confirmed that I was pregnant. My mum was devastated. I had already received an acceptance letter to study at the University of Nairobi for a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Tourism degree from January 2014. My mum now wanted me to defer my studies. She was adamant. But I insisted that I wanted to continue my education. Fortunately, she had paid my fees for the January semester already. So I insisted on still going to school. She gave in. We decided to hide it from my dad. He only came to find out when I had already given birth.
I reported to University in January. I was an outcast from the word go. I kept to myself and only managed to make one friend. I hid the fact that I was pregnant from her. When we went for the long holiday break, I worked from April to July as a house help to save some money before traveling to my sister’s place in Kisumu to give birth in August 2014. I had brought shame to my staunch Christian parents, and they were ridiculed because of me.
My one-month baby stayed in Kisumu under my sister’s care as I resumed school in September. I struggled to work and study at the same time to send money for her upkeep and food, which is pricey. I lost so much weight as I starved to provide for my baby that the hostel noticed and decided to contribute and buy me food. This boosted my popularity, and soon after I was proposed and elected as a student congress leader.
Shortly after I was elected there were riots at the university. As we were hiding in our hostel, the police broke in and started harassing us. I stood up and spoke on behalf of the others. It was recorded on phone and it went viral. This increased my popularity. I was nominated to the Women Students Mentorship Association. I quickly rose to the position of the chair as my passion and calling met with opportunity. I coordinated university students from different institutes, offering mentorship, and advocating for girls’ rights and representation in university leadership.
I graduated in 2019, and this year got a job with the African Youth Trust as an assistant project officer. I have been living with my daughter since 2018, and this year she wanted to attend a talent academy to further her modeling interest, and I couldn’t afford it. I turned to social media to fundraise as I had been sharing her modeling videos.
Well-wishers helped me rise the Sh3500 fee needed.
I came across the International day of the girl child around the same time I was fundraising. I thought of the crisis we are seeing on the news, girls are being raped and exposed to sexual activities. So I decided to start a girl’s back to school campaign to ensure all girls that were in school before Covid-19 go back to school.
Well-wishers, and the organisation I work for topped up my savings, and I managed to buy some school materials and pads for the girls. I mobilised and reached out to grass-root organisations in Busia –one of the areas with the highest number of teenage pregnancies and also my home. I invited local leaders and notable women and for a full day- 31st October- we mentored 800 girls in Busia. I am not done yet, I will move across Kenya until every vulnerable girl in Kenya is reached. Pregnant or not, all girls will go back to school.”