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Stigmatised and disowned young mothers find solace

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When Sharon Muhonja, 26 got into her first relationship at the age of 16, she thought it was going to be all roses and petals.

She thought she was in love, but the love story turned out to be a short story.

She then vowed to never fall in love again after breaking up with her first boyfriend.

She laughs when she recalls that vow because two years later, she was back at it. She met another man and started dating.

This time round, the plot thickened. A few chapters into the story and the least expected happened.

During the course of the relationship, Muhonja travelled to the Kenyan Coast for music festivals as she was quite active in music club.

When she came back, she and missed her periods for two months, she assumed that she had been affected by the change of climate change following her trip.

A few days later, she went for a date with her boyfriend. “Upon arriving at the hotel, I almost fainted. I couldn’t handle the aromas of different foods. They weren’t pleasant,” she narrates.

She felt nauseated by the smell of food, especially onions and it’s at that point that she diagnosed herself with malaria.

At the back of her mind, however, pregnancy was also a possibility. She shared her fears with her friend, who then cried with her before agreeing to save up for a pregnancy test kit.

They eventually bought the kit and planned to test the following Monday. As fear would have it, they postponed for four days.

Eventually, when Muhonja took the test, it turned positive. She informed her mother, who was surprisingly calm and collected when receiving the news.

She encouraged and assured her that everything would be fine. When she broke the news to her father, he was in disbelief at first.

“He kept hoping that it was a nightmare, but eventually he accepted and even gave me advice on the dos and don’ts of pregnancy,” she remembers.

Then the worst happened. When she informed her boyfriend about it, he said he wasn’t ready to be a father and suggested that she aborts.

“He suggested that I abort and when I refused, he hurled insults at me and my mother, saying I was to blame for the pregnancy.” He moved on.

Muhonja was born in Githurai and raised in Kawangware. Her father was a pastor and her mother a casual labourer.

Growing up, her mother always talked to her and her brother about relationships. She encouraged them to ask questions and even bring people they deemed worthy of dating home for “a cup of tea”.

Muhonja was also well-equipped on matters sex education by her peers, who had been trained as counsellors.

Besides, she was among the brightest students in her community and it was obvious she was destined for greatness.

Pregnancy at the age of 18 was thus least expected by those around her.

For Sharon Amondi, 24, she describes her journey to motherhood as originating from a “silly idea”.

In 2014 and at 19, she joined campus to study Actuarial Science. In January the same year, she met a colleague and their friendship blossomed into a relationship.

They both wanted their love to last, and last it did. “He was to travel abroad for studies and so we had a casual talk about having a baby so he could come back home to a family after completing his studies,” she recalls.

While she wasn’t necessarily trying to execute that idea, she missed her periods along the way.

Like every other girl, she assumed that her periods were irregular. A few days later, she decided to visit a local hospital for a pregnancy test, which turned out positive.

When she broke the news to her partner, he surprisingly took it positively. “He even had a name for the child,” says Amondi.

Unlike Muhonja, Amondi hadn’t received much education about sex and reproductive health.

Growing up, she was never the type to get into trouble and, therefore, everyone assumed she had everything under control.

Even more surprising, no one noticed she was pregnant until seven and a half months later.

Her mother had been unwell and bedridden most of the time and Amondi took up the role of a caregiver from time to time.

Her father travelled most of the time as his job demanded so. Besides, her pregnancy mirrored her calm demeanour by lacking significant symptoms, hence making it difficult to detect.

According to a United Nations Population Fund report, about a quarter of women in Kenya give birth by the age of 18.

And by the age of 20, half of the population of women has given birth. The rates of teenage pregnancies are especially high at the age of 19, where 40 per cent are either pregnant or have given birth.

Early pregnancies pose several challenges not only to women but also to the development of a country.

For instance, young girls face the danger of dropping out of school once they get pregnant due to financial constraints.

Other times, stringent policies by both secondary schools and universities make it difficult for girls to continue with their education once they get pregnant.

Secondary schools, for instance, have had a culture of expelling pregnant girls while public universities deny students who deliver affordable accommodation within the institutions.

When such girls are rejected by schools, the society and sometimes family members, it’s easier to find themselves in abusive relationships.

Both Amondi and Muhonja had to deal with these realities when they delivered their babies, as they were both in their first year of campus.

“I had to leave my one-month-old baby with my parents in order to continue with my studies,” says Muhonja.

This was the most affordable option compared to renting a private hostel in campus and hiring a nanny to look after her baby while she attended classes.

She was determined to complete her studies regardless of the circumstances. Interestingly, she had been on sponsorship throughout her primary and secondary education as she was a bright student.

However, when she got pregnant, her sponsors withdrew support. Luckily, her parents continued to offer the support she needed.

As for Amondi, continuing with her studies meant making sacrifices. “I went back to school three weeks after delivery,” she says.

She didn’t have the luxury of taking a three months’ break to bond and take care of her little boy as most women do.

Life had to go on at a fast pace if she was to keep up with her classmates. As expected, motherhood at such a young age was going to take a toll on the two.

Muhonja was hit hard by post-partum depression, and the naysayers couldn’t let her breathe.

Being a pastor’s daughter, the society judged her harshly. She notes that she became the laughing stock as everyone either talked in hushed tones behind her back or openly mocked her for giving birth at a young age.

At one point, she collapsed in class for pushing herself too hard. She was eager to prove to herself, her family and other women that it was possible to make it despite the circumstances.

She, therefore, took up extra singing jobs with bands in Eldoret to make money while juggling motherhood with classes.

Amondi also dealt with the same kind of stigma. “People had invented eight fathers for my child since they didn’t know him. It was hurtful to hear all the gossip and shaming especially from people I worshipped with at the church,” she recalls.

While parents and friends offered the much needed support to these two, there are certain things they had to deal with alone.

“Even though my partner was supportive, there are things he couldn’t understand like staying up at night or dealing with diaper rash,” confesses Amondi.

Sometimes her classmates would make fun of her for coming to class late, not understanding that she had to breastfeed or pass by the clinic.

Muhonja says as a young mother, she yearned to talk about her problems freely without feeling judged or misunderstood.

It is for this reason that she formed the Young Mothers Association in 2014 while still at Moi University.

The association provided a platform for young mothers to share their problems, and receive support from its partners. She started with 142 members, both mothers and non-mothers.

Moreen Nkatha, 28, was a beneficiary of the association during her time in Moi University.

Nkatha got pregnant at 22 while in her second year. She had a supportive partner and luckily, she was a beneficiary of Helb loan.

Supporting her child financially was therefore not a major concern. But she had other fears and unspoken concerns before joining the association.

For instance, she was raised by her grandparents, who had high hopes in her, especially after joining university.

Her mother had given birth to her at a very young age and that’s why she had to stay under the care of her grandparents.

Her father was an absentee, who openly declared his unpreparedness to be a dad. She had never met him.

When she delivered, she was afraid that history was repeating itself and her fate would be similar to her mother’s.

She wanted to talk about these fears with the right people. She also needed to be around people who understood the invisible challenges such as missing classes due to fatigue.

“During the earlier stages of the pregnancy, attending classes was tough because of morning sickness,” she narrates.

Therefore, the association offered an avenue to share these experiences.

Nkatha emphasises the need for young mothers to be around people travelling a similar journey as she learnt from experience.

Besides being a member of the association, she also formed strong friendship with another young mother and they rented a house together.

It was like one big family and she was able to deal with the loneliness that was slowly creeping in given that she couldn’t afford to spend time with friends, as she was always rushing to check up on her baby after classes.

The association supplemented this newfound friendship in several others ways. As Muhonja explains, the association ensured young mothers’ emotional needs were met.

She would organise fun days for mothers to bond with their children. Other times she would invite partners and relevant bodies to give guidance to those dealing with post-partum depression.

The association is not just a support group but a platform for empowerment.

“We have merry-go rounds and a saving plan that enables young mothers to buy food and household items. We also offer loans to members, who are then able to start businesses and support themselves and their children.”

“Besides, we’ve been able to lobby for the rights of young mothers at the university, making it possible for them to access healthcare and accommodation,” says Muhonja.

The association also invites speakers to tackle issues such as abstinence, pregnancy and family planning.

The icing on the cake is members offering financial support to underprivileged mothers to cushion them from dropping out of school.

While Muhonja graduated and left the university, she created a culture of young mothers and women supporting each other instead of stigmatising those who deliver at a young age.

To date, she continues to help young and vulnerable mothers.

She admits that as a country and society, we’re still far away from achieving sustainable development for this population.

“It is still alarming that young mothers either end up in abusive relationships or raise their children alone,” she says.

At times she has to shelter those she helps in her house as they have nowhere to go.

She hopes that the government and relevant bodies will provide opportunities for young mothers to receive training in different areas so as to gain a source of income.

Further, she calls on the government to fund young mothers’ small businesses to prevent their children from going hungry.

Despite having come a long way, she admits that motherhood doesn’t get easier, but the challenges do change over time.

Today, the three young women are concerned about raising good children and doing the best they can to be good mothers.

Amondi, who currently works as an insurance officer, wants to give her son a better childhood and create a strong bond with him.

“For children to open up to adults about their struggles and dilemmas on dating, sex and other issues, we have to open up to them. They should know that we’re not perfect and that we made the same mistakes they might consider making,” she says.

Nkatha, who currently works as an assistant medical records officer, insists that conversations about sex education need to start as early as primary school.

“Besides, children need to trust adults around them if they’re to open up about the issues they’re facing. It all boils down to creating an environment that supports candid conversations,” she says.

By Ndation


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Courts

Four children fight claims they were disowned by late MP

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Four children of former Keiyo North MP William Murgor yesterday fought allegations that they had been disowned by their father before his death.

While testifying before the High Court in Eldoret, Ambrose Kiplagat Murgor, one of the four children said to have been born out of wedlock, told the court their father never disowned him or any of his three siblings.

While being cross-examined before Justice Hellen Omondi, Mr Kiplagat said he was a biological child of the late MP, adding that the contrary claims were only made to lock him and his siblings out of the MP’s vast estate.

“My late father never disowned me or my siblings,” Kiplagat told the court.

He said he was born in 1970 at Murgor’s Kaptagat farm before they moved in 1976 to Chesigot farm in Elgeyo Marakwet County.

The four – Kiplagat, Oscar Murgor, Sharon Murgor and Faith Murgor – who are children of the former MP’s fourth wife Anna Kimoi, have told the court they were brought up with the other children.

“We were raised together with the other siblings from the different houses. I was in school with my two brothers, Collins and Kenneth, in the same primary school, all along living as brothers,” he added.

He told the court that he did not know the reasons as to why he and his brother Oscar did not get a share of their father’s farms like rest of his siblings.

Kiplagat added that his elder sister Enid Cheptanui filed the case against her step-brother Francis Murgor, Chemutai Murgor and Keiyo North MP Dr James Murgor for excluding them in the distribution of the Sh1.4 billion family estate.

While testifying in the succession dispute, James denied knowing Kiplagat and his three siblings Oscar, Sheila and Faith Murgor.

While James claimed to have only been familiar with them for a few years, Kiplagat on the other hand told the court the MP was well known to him and that he had even campaigned for him.

“I campaigned for him in three elections, and he always introduced me as his brother. When my mother was sick, I was in contact with the MP, who even helped in paying the hospital bill,”

by Stanardmedia.co.ke


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Lifestyle

Mukhisa Kituyi: Why I think I can be a good President

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He is considered one of Kenya’s finest brains and has held several high positions both locally and internationally.

Currently serving as the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Dr Mukhisa Kituyi’s decorated CV is impeccable.

In an interview with a local TV station on Wednesday, Kituyi spoke of his desire to occupy Kenya’s top seat, saying rising from adversity during his childhood days is a huge motivation.

“As I have gone to 119 countries around the world, I am constantly asking myself what they are doing better than us that makes them shine.

“I feel my body still has the energy…my head still has the intellectual capacity to make that contribution in a practical way…” he said.

Adding: “I have a sense of shared empathy with the vulnerable, not only a desire to give hope to the hopeless but a burning ambition that through enterprise Kenya, I can be part of the solutions to build Kenya for the next generation.”

Kituyi said once he leaves his position at the UN he will share his ideas with Kenyans and he strongly believes he will be the right person for the job.

“In the increasingly likely case that I will be offering candidature for President of this country after I leave my position with the UN, I think I will give the Kenyan population reason why I think I will be the right person for that job.

“I cannot do it while I am still winding down my international obligations but I think I am the face of a set of Kenyans who believe in purposeful Kenya,” he said.

Responding to those who claim he is not in touch with the realities on the ground due to extensive travel, Kituyi said he believes in constant learning and does not have all the answers but wants to be part of a team that will engage in structured positive conversations.

Mukhisa has also had stints in the political arena having been elected to the Kenyan Parliament for the first time in 1992 on a Ford-Kenya ticket and was re-elected in 1997 and 2002 as Kimilili MP.

He was also Kenya’s Minister of Trade and Industry from 2002 to 2007. During this period, Kituyi chaired the Council of Ministers of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the African Trade Ministers’ Council for two years.

He also served as chairman of the Council of Ministers of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, and was the lead negotiator for Eastern and Southern African ministers during the European Union-ACP Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations.

He was convenor of the agriculture negotiations carried out at the World Trade Organization’s Sixth Ministerial Conference held in Hong Kong, China in 2005.

From 2008 to 2012, Kituyi was a member of a team of experts advising the presidents of the nations of the East African Community on how to establish more effective regional economic links.

From 2011 to 2012, he was a consultant for the African Union Commission, where he helped to develop the structure for a pan-African free trade area.

Immediately before becoming UNCTAD Secretary-General, Kituyi was Chief Executive of the Kenya Institute of Governance based in Nairobi.

by Standardmedia.co.ke


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Lifestyle

Man’s burial inside his house baffles Kirinyaga residents

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Residents of Mucagara Village in Kirinyaga County were on Wednesday evening treated to a rare funeral after a man was buried inside his house.

They watched in astonishment as the coffin containing the remains of the 65-year-old retired coffee factory manager, Simon Muriithi Mwaniki, was lowered into the grave that had been dug in the living room.

Some whispered to each other during the dramatic send-off which left many in awe.

According to the man’s relative, prior to his death, he had expressed his wish to be buried in the house.

Emotions ran high as the funeral ceremony went on in the village in Gichugu Constituency.

“We had to act according to his wishes to avoid a curse and being haunted by his spirits,” said Mr James Njuki, the man’s eldest son.

Mwaniki was hurriedly buried in a brief ceremony conducted by an African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa priest, Jackson Muchiri.

Committed suicide

When Mwaniki committed suicide, no one mourned his death as he had asked family members not to do so when he was alive.

“Before he took his life he had told us that there should be no mourning when he dies. Therefore, we ensured that we never gathered at any time within the homestead to mourn him,” added Mr Njuki.

Mr Njuki recalled how on November 18 they found their father dangling from the roof of his house with a rope around his neck.

It was then that the matter was reported to the local police officers who drove to the scene and took the body to Kibugi Funeral Home.

His children suspected that their father took his life due to the depression he suffered after his wife, Juliana Muthoni, died.

“My father started drinking heavily after his wife died. He loved my mother so much and we think he was so much affected by her death and became depressed,” said Mr Njuki.

Rev Muchiri described the funeral as unique.

“For the 38 years that I have been conducting funerals, this is the first time to bury someone inside a house,” he said.

The residents said they were taken aback when they arrived at the homestead and saw the grave inside Mwaniki’s house.

“We were baffled. We have never witnessed such a funeral in this village. This is a funeral of its own kind which shocked all of us,” Mr Eliud Muriithi said.

by nation.africa


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