Being widowed at a very young age and living in an informal settlement comes with its fair share of struggles. Widows are at a higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, because they fall prey to indecent activities just to get quick money to bridge the financial gap left by their husbands. These activities include prostitution and illicit alcohol brewing, which are rampant amongst teen moms; young single moms and girls with no alternative method of earning a good income.
Fighting for Survival: One Widow’s Story
Mary is a young widow and mother of four. She comes across as a quiet and timid woman; yet she has a tenacious spirit within her. At 28, Mary has been through a lot of psychological torture and has suffered from a level of financial strain, which she says, “no woman should ever go through.”
After losing her husband in 2009, Mary felt completely hopeless, especially after discovering that she was pregnant with twins. After giving birth, her desperation became so extreme that she could go without getting a proper meal for days, yet she still had to breastfeed her twin babies, which left her weak and unable to fend for herself, much less for her older children.
A teacher at Magadi Primary School, where Alice Visionary Foundation Project (AVFP) has both a Girls’ and a Mothers’ Club, heard about Mary‘s dire situation when her daughter Chelsea, then a courageous 12-year-old in the seventh grade, reached out to the school administration for help. The teachers and administrators decided to help Mary with some capital, so that she could start a small business. She decided to start a briquette- (charcoal-) making business, but all her profits ended up going to pay off the many debts she had accumulated.
The following year, as her graduation from Magadi Primary drew near, Chelsea learned that she had been admitted to a secondary boarding school on the coast – hours and hours from Kisumu and from Manyatta. This news surprised no one, as Chelsea had shown herself to be an excellent student. But Mary’s business couldn’t cover her daughter’s school fees, so she asked her brother to help pay them. A mobile phone merchandizer, he did so for two terms, but then lost his job and was unable to keep up the payments. Mary’s financial battles continued to pile up, and with three other children at home, the financial pressure was simply too much for her.
In January 2015, Mary joined AVFP’s Magadi Mothers’ Group Saving and Loans program. Her GS&L group has become a platform for Mary, both to learn about new business ideas and, as a widow, to share both her story and the challenges she faces. She is now able to talk freely without shying away from speaking the truth about what women are going through in her community. She held onto the hope that her children would get a good education and managed to get a loan from her group to pay her children’s school fees.
Mary has decided that she will give her children the best education life has to offer, since she was never able to reach even the level of education that Chelsea, her eldest, had attained. For Mary, education is the key to a better life and future, which she insists she, too, is getting, as an adult, through the empowerment and mentorship programs offered by Alice Visionary Foundation Project and WomenStrong International. She is currently looking for the right space in the Manyatta area to set up her new vegetable stall, her latest start-up plan, while she continues to work as a housecleaner in Manyatta.
Striving for Success: A Mother’s Pain Drives a Daughter to Thrive, So She Can Give Back
Growing in the informal settlement has never been easy for 14-year-old Chelsea, who was and still is a brilliant and smart young girl. No wonder she felt some sense of happiness when her uncle took her away to the coastal region so that she could enjoy her secondary education away from the slum area. This however, was short-lived, because she had to come back to Kisumu due to lack of school fees when the uncle lost his job.
A Magadi Primary School alumna and four-year veteran of the Magadi Girls’ Club, Chelsea now attends every Teens’ Club meeting, so there was some concern when she missed two in a row; AVFP followed up with her mother Mary, who confirmed that Chelsea had indeed been away at the coast, but would be coming home soon to Kisumu.
Chelsea has always been on top of her class and still is. She credits this to her mother, who she says has been her role model, despite her many financial struggles. Chelsea strongly believes that it’s not only good marks that will ensure a promising future, but having a positive attitude in life, which is one of the key ingredients into achieving one’s goal. She acknowledges that her mother did not have an education, and this lack of opportunity motivates her even more strongly toward her goal of becoming a lawyer, so that she can help others.
Chelsea and her mother have been visiting AVFP staff at our offices for advice concerning Chelsea’s education. Through the AVFP Women and Girls Empowerment programs, they are learning that life can be easier if they talk about their struggles, because, as the saying goes, ‘’a problem shared is a problem half-solved.’’ Chelsea is learning to turn to her mother for help and advice whenever she has a problem; Mary, too, is learning to be a more understanding mother who listens to her daughter when she has something on her mind. Their relationship and partnership, with steady support from other relatives, teachers and fellow AVFP Girls’ and Mothers’ Club members, is enabling them to plan, to dream and to build a brighter future for themselves and their family.