Mercy Kamonjo, 22, had an abusive childhood. Her journey to healing from the trauma was not easy, but she finally unburdened her heart. She narrates her story to Bett Kinyatti.
“I didn’t shed a tear on the day we buried my father. I was 14, waiting to join high school. My elder brother was 18, our youngest three. Mum shed hot painful tears as my father’s casket was lowered into the ground. I’ll never forget how much she cried—I think she cried for an entire week after the burial.
My father had been an alcoholic for years. Our home was on a lush farm in Molo, Nakuru County. Mum was a subsistence farmer, and my father a businessman. He’d drink in Molo town then come home at night singing loudly and name-calling people along the way. We would all be so frightened every time we heard him approaching home. Often times, he would physically abuse my mother.
I don’t remember when the abuse started, but I remember an episode when I was about eight years old. We were seated around the dining room table when he locked the crook of his arm around my mother’s neck, strangling her. She was gasped for air, struggling to release his grip. She motioned with her eyes and pointed to the knife in the kitchen, mouthed for me to get it for her. But I didn’t. I was too frightened. I figured he’d kill her instead.
The abuse turned my mum into a bitter woman. In turn, she started abusing my brother and I. She’d yell and throw things at us, even sufurias. Anything petty would spark off her anger. She beat us ruthlessly often times.
There were several nights we left home to spend the night at one of my aunt’s place. Some days we’d return home the next morning, while other times we’d stay for a week or even longer. The longest we stayed away from home was for two years—from 2004 to 2006—when we lived with my cousins.
I didn’t have friends from school, and one of my cousins became my closest friend. It’s here that I realised our life at home wasn’t normal. There was peace at my aunt’s home. And a lot of love. My cousins could hold a real conversation with my aunt, and she’d listen to them and respect their opinions. I had never had a conversation with my mother. The first time I did was out of frustration, when I asked her why we had to go back to living at home with my father. She told me that those were adult issues and I wouldn’t understand.
My father was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2007. He changed—he got born again, quit drinking, spent his evenings at home and became the father we had always wanted. All his money went to hospital bills. We were just beginning to enjoy his loving presence when he passed away. I accepted his death.
I had the sense of maturity to realise he was gone, and that we had to move on with our lives. But I was also overburdened with bitterness and hatred. I suppose that’s why I didn’t shed tears on the day we buried him.
My aunt sponsored me to high school. I worked hard and excelled; and my dream was to become a journalist. I also got born again. I unburdened my heart. I forgave my father for the painful childhood he’d subjected my brothers and I. I forgave my mother for making me feel unwanted; I had even written her a letter once asking if I was really her child or I had been adopted.
I also began to warm up to men, whom I had hated all my life. I moved to a new school in my third year and for some reason was elected the captain of the environmental club. It was probably God’s working. My passion for conservation was birthed. It was remarkable—I had such clarity of the subject.
I joined Kenyatta University in 2015 for a degree in environmental resource conversation. On my birthday—April 3, 2018—I founded an organisation called Kuza Generation Initiative. It’s a youth-led organisation that teaches teens and primary-school kids about conservation initiatives such as planting trees. Mostly, we mentor them emotionally, spiritually and professionally. We talk to them about their career decisions, spiritual and personal growth, handling peer pressure, mental health …. we mould them holistically.
We’re a team of 70, our head mentor is Douglas Wando. We’ve adopted six schools in Nairobi so far, and reached out to over 3,000 youth. It’s difficult to measure our impact just yet, but I see it in small ways. One principal of a school of a boy we’ve adopted said the level of discipline had gone up since Kuza began mentoring the students.
I wouldn’t have started Kuza if I hadn’t gone through what I did in my childhood. Kuza is what the lonely, bitter and confused 16-year-old Mercy would have wanted to guide her life.”