It is difficult to listen to Mary Anyango without tearing up. At just 16, this girl has been through adversity that could break anyone’s soul to pieces and lead them to completely give up on life. At this very tender age, Mary has already lost both her parents and three of her brothers, starting with her mother who passed on when she was in class 6. The rest of her family just continued departing year after year until in the end she pretty much had no living relative. She has a mentally impaired brother but she does not know where he is.
Mary is a member of Ghetto Classics, a community program in Korogocho slums that nurtures kids through music. By the time she joined, she was pregnant at 15 and the one thing she made clear to the Ghetto Classics founder Elizabeth Njoroge was that as much as it was an unwanted pregnancy borne of rape, she wanted to keep the baby and she wanted to go back to school.
Elizabeth took Mary as a personal initiative and set to rebuilding her life while at the same time sticking to her wishes. She saw to it that Mary had as smooth a pregnancy as she best could, a smooth delivery in a good hospital, and a place for her baby to stay as Mary went back to school and continued with her studies.
Mary is currently a student at Kajiado Girls where she has recently emerged tops in her class. Her cute one and a half year old son Stefan is growing up in a children’s home where she goes to visit him regularly. She also takes him out sometimes and spends time with him. She and Elizabeth both light up when they speak of Stefan. Mary’s plan is to finish her studies, stand on her feet and be able to raise her son on her own.
Mary had performed really dismally in her class eight exams. Judging from the fact that she’s now a top student in her school, it is clear that her performance was due to the rough cards that life had dealt her so early in life. That a life of success was in there alright but masked by the circumstances under which she grew up. Stories like Mary’s are what Elizabeth Njoroge lives for. To build the kids of Korogocho one by one, and to see the ripple effects of her Ghetto Classics program through the slums.
To be lifted from such a bleak outlook to a point where kids can dare to dream and hope is the real beauty of Safaricom Jazz Festival whose proceeds all go to Ghetto Classics. It was in existence before Safaricom Jazz came in to help but according to Elizabeth, they were really just stumbling along and Safaricom has been the biggest and most stable push so far.
Mary knows of many girls her age in the slums who have dropped out of school due to pregnancy and who have eventually fallen into a life of drugs and crime. She shudders to think that were it not for Ghetto Classics, she would since have fallen into this kind of life. Now she’s looking at a future where she’ll be able to fend for herself and her son once she’s through with her studies. She’s also looking to finish her studies and get into a position of leadership with the sole purpose of coming back to help change Koch. She wants to counsel the young girls in the slums so that they don’t fall into the traps that are rife in the often hopeless life there.
I spent a Sunday afternoon in Korogocho mingling with the kids of Ghetto Classics and one overriding thread among them all is that they want to grow up and take a leading role in changing the slums for the better. They want to give back.
Look out for Safaricom Jazz concerts, one of which is happening tomorrow evening at Uhuru Gardens. The guest artists will be Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca and Fatoumata Diawara from Mali who have already jetted into the country. Local band Shamsi Music will also be performing. Get your ticket early, get entertained and also and be part of the Ghetto Classics initiative. Tickets are available at select Safaricom shops, the Michael Joseph Centre and via M-Ticketing by dialing 1511.
Read also – The story of Joseph Omondi of Ghetto Classics.