I walk into a cafe in Nairobi’s Kenyatta Avenue and I spot her sitting in one of the corners. I’ve been looking forward to this interview all day. She sees me and quickly waves with excitement; ever bubbly and full of life. Let the children’s laughter, remind us how we used to be. The words from Whitney Houston’s song, ‘greatest love of all,’ are what every child would want to hear. Not so for Marylize Biubwa who at the tender age of 10 was defiled by a relative who she knew so well. That marked a turning point for a girl who was once happy and had an upbeat childhood. She had dreams like any other child. What’s worse is that she did not receive support from her family that she desperately needed at that point of her life. To protect the family name, the matter was settled by an intervention with community elders and the man who stole her innocence walked scot free. “So many girls find themselves in a similar situation with no one to protect them. That episode changed my life. I became afraid of so many things. I had to grow up so fast in order to protect myself. What’s worse is that my parents did not defend me, they did not bring the man who hurt me to justice and that really destroyed my relationship with my father,” she remembers.
Marylize is a 27 year old woman who refers to herself as a feminist and a leadership trainer mostly on human rights. She is passionate about empowering girls in matters related menstrual hygiene, life skills and anything that pertains to bringing up girls who are self aware. She also is also working on projects related to environmental conservation with Peace Ambassadors Kenya. Currently, she and her friends are doing some conservation work at the Mau forest. She is also a social media manager. She volunteers with various organizations including ActionAid, The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) and Peace Ambassadors Kenya. She is working towards supporting her former primary school by donating books, sanitary towels and stationery in preparation to launching a mentorship hub for young people in the future.
“A lot of things tick me off especially when I meet young girls on the street with no one to protect them. It is sad that women are still seen as sexual objects. When you listen to tales of what children go through in the hands of their parents or guardians, especially when a child tells their mother that their father is sexually abusing them but the mother doesn’t believe them? It is heart wrenching. These children need counseling and I am very open to doing that,” she points out. She notes that there so many things we need to talk about as a society, but we continuously ignore them. Subjects such as gender inequality, patriarchy and how these dimensions affect women are rarely laid out on the table. She asserts that we need to talk about such matters. Most times these topics are turned into memes where we continue to put down women and laugh it off.
She further points out that not every woman can be a leader. We need to cherry pick the best leaders. Pushing for gender equality is a good thing but we must also be careful not to hand positions on a silver platter. Feminism is not about putting men down. We need to understand that we must fight for spaces for women but we must also appreciate that men cannot be left behind.
Women and youth need to be at the forefront of important issues such as the economy, development and business. “It is important for the youth to get into these spaces and be in a position to challenge the status quo. Kenyan youth should be more aggressive. There are many young people who are already bringing change in their spaces. Look at the youth like Raphael Obonyo, a youth advocate or Nerima Wako who is the founder of Siasa Place. They have leadership qualities that are worth emulating,” she asserts.
Marylize points out a worrying trend amongst young people who are not interested in politics yet it affects our daily lives. Thus, we cannot afford to be comfortable with seeing bad leadership and not doing anything about it. The youth need to question the issues that affect them and not allow themselves to be swayed. We need not wait until things have become so bad to ask for change.
She adds that there is a worrying trend of how people suddenly turn against each other because of tribal or political affiliations. Such matters emerge from our socialization. Parents play a great role in how children perceive other people and matters related to leadership which should be based on ideologies and not frivolous matters such as tribe. Culture should be something that we need to celebrate. It need not be politicized.
In terms of seeking opportunities, she encourages young people to utilise what is around them. You must prove that you want something and are willing to work for it. Volunteering should be done to fulfill you as an individual and not just about your resume or money. If you are in a position to access information, go out there and share the information. You are not allowed to sit on your abilities as an individual. Youth need to use their networks to create opportunities for themselves and other people.
She strongly believes that life is non-linear. It’s not about going to school, graduating, getting a job, getting married and then having children. Human beings will talk whether you do something or not, so you cannot fail to take on opportunities because you are afraid of what people will say.
”You cannot live a good life if you don’t work for it. You ought to be deliberate in what you do. You must use your mind, be ready to think through everything you do. You are not allowed to sit around and complain,” she affirms.
She continues to state that life wasn’t easy for her. Being sexually abused as a child was not something that was easy to handle. It was even difficult for her to get through school since her father abandoned the family. She felt alone for a long time but she kept encouraging herself, affirming that she can make it in life. Knowing that life isn’t fair, she knew that she had to work hard for everything.
Being a member of FEMNET and other organizations gives her the opportunity to be exposed to a lot of things like travelling to other countries and internships. There are no shortcuts to anything in life. Thus, she encourages young people to position themselves in places where they can be identified as people with potential. Youth need to be self aware of the opportunities available to them.
If you are willing to be like someone you admire because of their success, you must be willing to make sacrifices. People are doing amazing things. Thus, you cannot sit around wishing you were someone else without understanding that you can even do better. Mentorship is not about being the bigger person. Mentors need to put themselves in a position where they understand other people and advice them appropriately,’ She asserts.
Marylize is proud of the strides she has made in her life so far. She is also encouraged that the youth she works with are doing well in their respective fields; seeing that they are not afraid to break the glass ceiling and not give up, taking challenges as the building blocks that will make them better individuals. ‘The closer you are to your breakthrough, the harder it is,’ she advices.
She has political ambitions and really wants to use that as an avenue to improve the lives of Kenyan children. She states that we are not yet at a point where people are being responsible enough to protect minors from factors such as road accidents involving school transport. Hopefully, the country will have more young people who are genuine and have the grit and mettle to pursue their ambitions and are not careless with their words and actions.
As Marie Curie would put it, ‘Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.’ That is the nugget of hope that Marylize desires to impart in every person that she meets.