Real Life: From slum to youth advocate
I was raised in a slum called Kawangware in Nairobi, Kenya. My father abandoned us, so my mother brought us up as a single mum. My twin brother died of malnutrition as a baby, so it was my two sisters and me. I survived but I could not walk for the first seven years of my life.
Growing up in a slum is not the easiest life. There’s extreme poverty that can easily lead to violence and crime, and it’s worse if you are a girl. Most people end up in totally hopeless and desperate situations. Parents are most likely not employed, so they need to find ways to provide for their family. That’s why crime, prostitution, early marriage and female genital mutilation are rife. Parents might feel they have no choice but to force a girl to get married so they can get the ‘bride price’ (the money the other family pays). Perhaps they feel forced to give a girl into child prostitution to contribute to the family income. For boys, crime often seems to be the only option. This affects the whole community because it becomes broken. This vice is continually perpetuated.
My mother worked as a casual labourer. She would wake up in the morning and go around the community trying to find some sort of work. Our life was dependent on her getting enough income to provide very basic things that any child needs to be able to lead a decent life. My sisters and I would also go around the community trying to look for food or any help we could get. Because I couldn’t walk, they would carry me.
Where I grew up, there was a local church project run in partnership with Christian charity Compassion. This project gave children food and encouraged us with God’s word. Through Compassion I was able to access basic necessities like food, education, medical care, shoes and school uniform. I would go to the project every Saturday and they taught us different things – social skills, spiritual matters and leadership training – and we would hear the gospel. As a child I didn’t quite understand at first. Then, as I grew up, God opened my eyes to the true gospel and I saw just how much Christ did on the cross. That hope of eternity with Christ some day was the best gift ever. I clung to that hope.
My twin brother died of malnutrition as a baby
I was able to attend the project thanks to my Compassion sponsors. I was sponsored through primary school and then high school. Then I went to university through the leadership development programme of Compassion International where I was supported by a lady from the UK. She came to my graduation in Kenya, which was really exciting. It was such an emotional time to see how much she had invested in me, believed in my dreams and gave so sacrificially towards helping me achieve them.
Seven years ago I started an initiative called Jaha, which is Swahili for dignity. I saw the need for something that would help girls who were from the same area and facing the same challenges I did growing up. Jaha is a mentoring programme that helps girls stay in school, because I believe that education is key to helping release children from poverty. My life was transformed because somebody chose to believe in me and I believe that if you give children a platform you’re able to change the entire community.
My life was transformed because somebody chose to believe in me
I am qualified to practise law in Kenya and I’m currently studying international human rights at Queen Mary University in London. I chose this career to use the skills that God has given me to advocate for children, especially young girls who are oppressed and are facing difficulties that nobody’s talking about.
My childhood home is still a slum. I recently visited the Compassion Child Sponsorship project I grew up in. That was really amazing because it brought back lots of memories and lots of really hopeful situations; just looking at children who have been given the opportunity to be part of that project, praying that they make use of the opportunities given to them. Whenever graduates of Compassion go back to projects, it’s exciting for children because it gives them a hope, like: “If Eve can make it, we’ve seen her, we know her family, we know how poor they were, but now it’s different. The story is different.” It gives them a hope to keep going.
I was encouraged whenever the graduates visited our project when I was young because it helped me keep going. Change happens gradually but, by God’s grace, it’s coming.
Evelyn Kemunto grew up in Kenya and was supported by Compassion from the age of 7. She is currently studying for a Master’s Level qualification in Law in London www.compassionuk.org.