Latifa Noor’s most prominent memory of growing up was that of her parents fighting.
“The fighting started when I was nine years old. My father worked far away from home and whenever he came around, all he did was pick up fights with mum and it broke my heart,” says the 20-year-old web developer.
Eventually, their father kicked them out of their luxurious home and they ended up as street beggars. Ms Noor, who is a third born in a family of five children, had a tough time adjusting to the new environment. She started using drugs and slipped into depression.
“We used to live a lavish lifestyle in some of expensive apartments in Mombasa county. All of a sudden we were homeless and forced to beg on the streets. I started using drugs to forget the pain that we were undergoing,” she says.
After a while, her uncle came to their rescue and took them in.
She was too young to understand that she was undergoing depression. The drugs affected her relationship with her family members as well as her academics academics and also the relationship with fellow family members.
“My siblings said they had all been affected by our parents fighting and thought I was exaggerating.”
Depression took a toll on her and she became underweight and pale. Besides depression, Noor also had vitiligo. Children would tease her saying that her mother must have poured hot porridge on her when she was a baby.
“When I was thirteen I was diagnosed with autism. Though my family members loved me fully, I still felt different."
The autism diagnosis in addition to everything else that she was facing weighed heavily on Noor. She cried a lot in despair.
“In 2007, I attempted to throw myself over the balcony on my birthday. My parents had just parted ways and I was angry that my father was not there to celebrate my birthday. Lucky enough, my sister saw me sneak towards the rooftop and rushed to rescue me.”
However, she still felt hollow inside and so she made a second attempt to end her life. She tried to stab herself with a knife but was saved by her mother who happened to walk in on her. Noor says that she has made a total of seven suicide attempts.
"All my family members were battling their own pain and so there was no one to comfort me. My siblings scolded me saying that I was not religious enough and that was why I was constantly depressed. They said that I should read Quran and be at peace with God. At this point, I hated the world."
Noor took comfort in one thing: drugs. Her mother used to give her some lunch money when she went to school which she used to buy drugs instead.
“I chewed miraa and took bhang because these were easy to find especially near the beach area in Mtwapa. Once in a while, I would score some cocaine from the town idlers better known as mateja .”
Noor's mother enrolled her on a community counselling programme hoping that it would do some good for her. Noor, then 16, was not enthusiastic about the sessions but attended them anyway.
It was there that she learnt the power of positive thinking. She decided to focus on her future instead of the problems surrounding her family.
Noor completed her KCSE successfully but could not proceed to college due to lack of school fees. She stayed at home for a year, uncertain of her next move.
One day, a friend of hers told her about a youth centre located in Mombasa town called Swahilipot Hub.
The centre offers training on computer packages including web design and development. It also serves as a creative space for youths to explore their talent in art, music, poetry, fashion just to mention but a few.
Noor was excited to learn about the centre and decided to try out some of the the programmes offered. She also met three ladies Angela Mumbi, Eunice Njeghe and Warder Amani with whom she became friends.
"I met the three ladies during this competition we had at the centre. Each of us had a project to be presented and somehow that got us talking. As we shared on our different life experiences, depression emerged as one of the common themes of our personal stories."
One of her friends, Mumbi, shared how she had sunk into depression following a cancer diagnosis of one of her close family members. For Eunice and Amani, their depression had been caused by family conflict when they were much younger and the effects continue to haunt them to date.
The four ladies decided to find a solution to help other young people who could be struggling with depression. Given that they were tech students, building an app felt like the most ideal approach for their solution.
CREATING AN APP
The four girls came us with an app called PsychBeing. It is structured like any other support group allowing a user to share what they are feeling with other users on the app.
The support section of the app includes experienced therapists drawn from the county's hospitals such as Coast General Provincial Hospital (CGPH), Pandya and Aga Khan, whom the user can chat with on a one-on-one basis and share confidential information if they wish to.
The app is on the prototype stage and the four developers are currently holding workshops among their targeted users to cultivate the culture of speaking out on depression issues.
Besides the workshops, the four are also very vocal about depression on social media. They are trying to pull Sh2.5million to complete and officially launch the app to the public. They believe the app will play an integral part in kicking out depression from the society.