When you work with children, it’s inevitable you meet the mothers who put their children’s experiences into perspective. Our comms officer Gerry came across some impressive mums on his trip to Kenya – one of them was Margaret.

Gerry Naughton
Gerry Naughton
Communications officer, Liberia

Back to all stories | Posted on 11 Apr 2018 in Kenya Close Up

Margaret never went to school. But if she had, she would have been a computer expert, she told me. I meet her plastering clay on to the inside of the walls of a shop she is building outside her home in Turkana, in northern Kenya.

Margaret takes a break from her work and sits down to talk to me, cradling her toddler Joyce on her lap. Both are spattered with grey-brown streaks from the plastering.

I learn that Joyce is 2 years old, and along with her elder sister Leah, eats Mary’s Meals at the Early Childhood Development centre (ECD) nearby. Joyce has suffered from malnutrition in the past, but is doing better with the regular food Mary’s Meals brings to the ECD. She was helping her mother with the clay when I arrived, but now she sits and stares at me with big eyes and a serious face, which is in stark contrast to her mother.

Although we talk through an interpreter, I know Margaret is amused by the exchange, and she answers all my questions with a twinkle in her eye.

After her husband died from an illness less than two years ago, Margaret became both mother and father to her five children. She looks after them with the money she makes from gutting, cleaning and drying fish for the fishermen at nearby Lake Turkana. Margaret has been saving the small amounts she has left over to buy wood and zinc for the roof of the shop. The shop is a small rectangular building with an open front and a door at the back, unlike the egg-shaped manyattas where the family sleeps.

She is planning to sell small things in the shop like matches, candles, sugar or salt that she will buy in bulk and divide up, or larger items like charcoal that she can make herself, or rice and maize.

Margaret is putting the extra effort in to make more opportunities for her children. Even the clay for the walls that she gets for free has to be brought from afar, but her younger son, Peter, has devised a home-made cart from branches of trees and empty pots for wheels that they use to carry the heavy bags of dry clay back home to be mixed with water.

I am sure he gets his ingenuity from his mother.

She doesn’t know her age, so she shows me her ID card. I do the maths and work out she is 41. Although she can’t read the card herself, she is amused at me poring over it to work out her age. She laughs when I ask if she went to school when she was young. No, she said, girls didn’t go to school when she was a child, but she is delighted now that three of her girls are getting an education – the youngest two with the help of Mary’s Meals,