How one mother has resorted to open communication channels to protect her children

Zeituni Bakari during the interview.Picture:Joyce Chimbi
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When Zeituni Bakari lost her father at the tender age of 14, life as she knew it in Kisauni in Mombasa County, took a sharp turn for the worst.

Her family was abandoned leaving her mother with the sole responsibility of caring for them. Fortunately, the challenge did not leave her without some life lessons.

“A stay-at-home mother loses more than just a husband. She loses a breadwinner and the anchor that keeps the family together. So when we lost our father, my mother had to adjust very quickly and it was difficult,” she recalls.

Bakari is a business lady and the chairperson of Maendeleo ya Wanawake in Msambweni Constituency, in Kwale County, where she lives with her husband and five children.

She says that she had yearned to be a mother who could hold her family together even in turbulent times.

“I have never been one to stay at home, I go out there and establish women’s and youth groups in an effort to help community members get empowered,” she says, adding, “I also get empowered while doing so”.

Raising five children aged between 25 and 13 in Diani, which is a beach town has not many things easy as   challenges range from the attractive and dangerous coastal life to the mushrooming of terrorist and armed illegal groups.

“I have three girls and two boys and it has been very challenging protecting them from the many, seemingly, attractive opportunities available in Diani,” Bakari explains.

She talks fondly about beach boys and tourists who enjoy the beach life and some do not always have the best intentions.

“When you raise your children to respect hard work and to break their backs so that they can be successful in life while at the same time their peers have ‘friends’ who can support their lifestyle without having to work that hard, this can be problematic,” notes Bakari.

The fact that Kwale County is a largely marginalized community where poverty as well as illiteracy levels are high there are not many role models that children can look up to.

The lack of industries is also a problem and residents mainly have only two options, work in the hotel industry or along the beaches.

Bakri says that social media has also presented many challenges saying that young people are being recruited through various platforms by criminal and terrorist gangs under the guise that they will be given competitive job opportunities.

“When you tell a young person to travel to another country or even work in Kwale County for these gangs and they are told that the salary will be anywhere from KSh50,000 to KSh80,000 this is too tempting for most of them,” says Bakari.

Most of them have never earned as much as KSh10,000 per month, so they are easily lured into joining terrorist groups to escape the poverty and desperation that characterises their lives.

According to Bakari, many families are living with the agony of losing their children to these gangs.

In many cases, she says, these young people just wake up and leave without telling anybody about their intentions or where they are going, with whom and why.

“They simply disappear and families are left devastated because in many cases, they do not know if their children are alive or dead; and it is not just boys, girls are also being lured into this life,” she says.

Bakari says these are fears that characterise the lives of parents in the coastal towns saying that the dangers are real and that the children are too young, too inexperienced to understand or to turn down such opportunities.

“My husband and I understood early that we had to be the best examples for our children. We communicate with each other effectively and this trickles down to our children,” she says.

According to Bakari, when the parents have built a firm foundation for their children, there is a greater chance for good parenting.

“Parents are the first people that children meet when they come into this world so just by the manner in which we carry ourselves around, we communicate a lot to them,” she says.

Bakari is proud of her three daughters who have emulated her in working hard and being disciplined.

Kwale County is notorious for discrimination of women and girls where retrogressive culture has created an enabling environment for early and forced marriages.

So notorious are some of those traditions that a girl is “considered ripe for marriage the instance she receives her first monthly period”.

“I want my daughters to know that there is a better life out there and that they are allowed to dream, we encourage them to dream big and to aspire to reach their full potential. I’m happy that their father is also equally supportive,” Bakri reiterates.

Their two boys are also not left behind. Bakari says that when they see their own mother breaking cultural barriers and raising their sisters to think outside what culture dictates is the place of a young Muslim girl in Kwale County and they begin to have a healthy perspective of what a woman should be.

“It is not just about protecting my boys from the beach life or dropping out of school or even joining these criminal gangs that are infiltrating Coastal towns, it is also about teaching them that boys and girls are equally valuable,” she says.

According to Bakri, a child might stay at home and keep the right company while at the same time keeping dangerous company on social media.

“These days country borders have been broken by social media, you might be sitting in the house with your child and they could be at that same time chatting with a friend in Europe whom they met on Facebook,” she notes.

In a nutshell, Bakari says parents should not preach water and take wine but instead reflect on the values  they would want their children to have.

She has set rules that to instil positive value system on her children and always promotes positive communication channels with them.

“It is not about the parent talking to a child, but parents and children talking to each other,” she says.

When children are provided with a comfortable platform to talk, parents are able to understand their fears and frustrations.

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