The Misery of Being a House Girl to Hope Through Education
I grew up in a small Kenyan village called Matanya in the outskirts of Nanyuki. The population meets the recurrence of dry spells every other planting season making our livelihood in agricultural activities a continuous trial. To get food was never easy.
I was the fifth born in a family of seven siblings with four brothers and three sisters. According to our customs, a boy child is believed to be more valuable than a girl child. This is especially true when it comes to education and the disbursement of wealth. The myth behind this is that a girl will be married off and she will leave her family to go and join her in-laws while the boy will remain with his family and give them support. Upon the death of one’s parents, a girl could not inherit a single portion of her parent’s property. I was raised believing that my value as a human being was very much dependent upon this view.
The few families of our village are spread out across the arid land. Harsh climate conditions deter others from moving near. There is no meaningful development in terms of infrastructure and government education is quite poor.
2001 marked my first encounter with the final examination for primary education (Certificate of Primary Education). My parents were struggling to make ends meet. I knew I would be unable to join high school; my parents would be unable to provide the required fees. I understood their predicament with ease. I was only a girl and I was accustomed to this. The bother was not much. Also, my older siblings were already in school and the financial load was heavy for my parents.
With nothing but a class 8 education, I opted to look for a job. At least this way I could release the burden on my parents. The only available job for the semi-illiterates in Kenya is that of house-help in a well-up family. I was lucky to find a position with a neighbor’s family friend in the city and I was welcomed and started working.
This job was a big challenge to me due to my young age. The children in that house were almost my age-mates and yet they did nothing to help themselves. I struggled every day to manage the job to the expectations of my employer. She was unkind and she took me as a slave and started mistreating me. She was a single mother with two daughters.
I used to wake-up at 5.00 am every morning to start my day and if I woke up late my employer would shout at me, “Don’t you have sense? The children have to get ready for school, you lazy wretch!”
She used to shout at me with furry, you would think that she would eat me up right there! I always had to say sorry with humility; I feared that she would beat me-up. The two daughters were thoroughly spoiled, they were big enough to do most of the things by themselves but the mother still demanded everything to be done for them. If I forgot to do something, she would scold me in her daughters’ presence as a way of humiliating me. She referred to me as a useless girl. As a result of this behavior, the girls formed the habit of scolding me bitterly, using dis-respectful language just like their mother.
They used to tell me, “Lydia, you are our servant and you must do as you are told”. My employer rationed every morsel of food I cooked for the family and she ordered that when food was ready, she was the one to serve. The share I used to get was very little. Actually, it was even too little to sustain me, despite the fact that I had worked the whole day tirelessly! Her daughters were served heaping portions at every meal. I used to cry almost every day when I retire to bed. The only time I was happy was on Sunday mornings. She would allow me to take some hours off so that I could attend Sunday service in the nearby church. When I was in the church, I could forget her and the girls and this gave me consolation. It was as if I was living in another world when I remembered life back home with my family.
After 5 years, I reached a point where I could not take it anymore. I was determined to pursue my education. I requested to go home and visit my family and from that time, I did not go back to resume my job.
I decided to go back to school. Although most of my age-mates were married, I realized that with education I could accomplish my life-time dream. I was driven to succeed, to get a good job and to be able to help my family and other children like me. I want to encourage those who continue to be employed and mistreated in this menace of child labour in the name of house-helps in our country.
Since so many years passed, I was not allowed to join high school, so in 2007, with the introduction of free primary school education, I decided to go back to primary school. When I told my parents, they were surprised and thought I was not serious; they kind of resented the idea. I was forced to approach a neighbour and family friend to intervene for me, who managed to convince them. They both agreed and I went back to primary school where I repeated class seven. I had to utilize my savings from the house help job to buy school uniforms, books and other items that were required to facilitate my admission.
I worked very hard and my performance impressed both my teachers and family. When I sat again for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in 2008, I managed an impressive score. My parents economic position did not change and they were very worried about my joining secondary school. I was too. Little did I know that God had a plan for my future.
One day as I was sharing my problem with one of my school mates, she gave me information that there was an organization called Matanya’s Hope assisting the needy children from my area. I knew Mr. Mugo walked a long distance with my mum to his place. When we met, I told him my problems. He gave me a day to meet with Michelle Stark, the founder of the organization. It was not possible to meet Michelle on the day of our initial visit as she was very busy at a construction site, building a home for a needy girl in our village. We waited until late when the work was over.
Finally I managed to meet Michelle whom I shared my problems with and what I had gone through in my life. Michelle promised me to try to assist me and true to her words she found my angel Debbie, my sponsor, who sent me to high school and now college.
When the sun rises, I no longer cry (as I used to when everyone was going to school except me). I became the first person in my family to attend high school and I attained a B-. This was good performance by any standards! After this, I didn’t want to stay in the village and get married-off like most of my classmates but I wanted to become a nurse, my life time dream! With the kind generosity of my sponsors, I am now in medical college doing nursing. If it were not for them, I probably would have been married off. This is what our Kenyan girls face every day. Education is the key to success. It is hope and it empowerment. It is not free. Even in school, one must work hard and study well. They must know why they are there and never forget the oppression that awaits them on the other side of this opportunity.
If I were to say one thing to Michelle, founder of Matanya’s Hope, to Debbie and friends (all my sponsors), it is that you have given me a new lease on life. Thank you for choosing me when there are so many you could have chosen. I promise you that I will not ever let you down in my academic pursuance. The sky will forever be the limit of my reach.
To all the young girls who might be experiencing what I went through, I have this to say to you; “However long the night becomes, the day is sure to come”.
God bless you Matanya’s Hope and my dear sponsors.
LYDIA WANJIKU WAHOME