Born and raised in Ugenya East Ward, Siaya County, 19-year-old Mary Atieno always dreamt of being a lawyer. This however is not how her life turned out. When her parents separated and she and her siblings were forced to go and live with their grandmother. ‘My mother left us under the care of her mother so that she could get time to go and look for money to keep us in school. Those years were tough and I really missed my father’s presence in our lives’, she narrates.
Upon completing her primary school education, Mary got a good grade and received a calling letter from Ramunde Mixed Secondary School. She tried seeking a bursary scholarship but without access to her father’s death certificate, she could not be granted one. Knowing very well how her mother had struggled to keep them in school, she knew that that was the end of the road for her, just like her two elder siblings who never proceeded to secondary school.
‘I decided to go to Nairobi and stay with my elder brother who is employed as a casual labourer. My mother supported this move because she felt that it was a good opportunity for me to look for a source of income’. While in the city, Mary perfected her skills in hairdressing and makeup. This gave her some money and she could now afford to buy herself some necessities.
When Mary’s brother started a family, she was forced to return to the village. It was during this time that she got pregnant and gave birth to her now 4-month old daughter. In as much as her boyfriend did not deny the responsibility, he never contributed much to his daughter’s essential needs. Mary moved on with her life and her focus was now on being a good mother to her daughter.
In late 2020 as she was going about her day in the village, she was approached by Fridah Oluoch, a trained Life Skills Education (LSE) educator and mentor with the Amref Faya project. Fridah informed her that she was mapping out adolescents in the area who would be taken through a series of LSE sessions guided by the eight topics of the Faya project toolkit. Once the project rolled out, Mary participated in took up the sessions to completion and is one of the 3000+ adolescents set to graduate in June 2021.
The LSE sessions encouraged her to go back to school and she approached her mentor, Fridah, for support. ‘When I completed the Faya LSE sessions, I had the desire to go back to school. The topic on teenage pregnancy made me realise that even though I am a teenage mother, I can still continue with my education and pursue my career.’
Through joint deliberations with Mary’s mother, the Area Assistant Chief, a Village Elder and the Faya project team, Mary was able to secure a spot to join Form One in the same school she was called to. She will be reporting come July 2021 and will be supported through a bursary scholarship until Form Four.
‘The poverty level in this area is about 75%. Most adolescents, even though they perform well are not able to join the schools of choice due to lack of school fees. They end up dropping out of school and become disoriented in as much as they were good performers’, noted Area Assistant Chief, William Otieno. He urged the Faya project to help them get more partners in the area who can support adolescents to attain up to secondary school education.
‘My career of choice is now focused on women empowerment. The Faya project has given me my life back and I want to be able to do the same for the young girls and women in my community. I urge the young people in Ugenya East to actively participate in the Faya LSE sessions when approached’, Mary concludes.