Zeituni Bakari lost her father at the age of 14. Life as she knew it in Kisauni, Mombasa County took a sharp turn for the worst.
Bakari’s father’s family all but abandoned them, leaving her mother as the sole caregiver for the family. Fortunately, the challenging life did not leave her without some important lessons.
“A stay-at-home mother loses more than just a husband; she loses a breadwinner and the anchor that keeps the family together. When we lost our father, my mother had to adjust very quickly and it was difficult,” she says.
She says that following her struggles growing up, she wanted to be a great mother for her children. Bakari has worked hard to achieve this. She is now a recognised business lady and the Chairperson of Maendeleo ya Wanawake in Msambweni Constituency in Kwale County. Bakari lives there with her husband and five children.
“I have never been one to stay at home. My work involves establishing women groups, youth groups. It’s something I do to help the community empower itself and I also get empowered while doing so,” she says.
Raising five children now aged between 25 and 13 years in the beach town of Diani has not been easy. The challenges range from the attractive and dangerous beach life to the proliferation of terrorist groups.
“I have three girls and two boys. It has been very difficult protecting them from the many, seemingly, attractive opportunities available in Diani,” Bakari observes.
She talks about the beach boys and the foreigners, who do not always have the best intentions.
“I raise my children to respect hard work, so that they can be successful in life. Unfortunately, at the same time their peers have ‘friends’ who can support their lifestyle without having to work that hard. This is problematic,” Bakari expounds.
It doesn’t help that Kwale is a largely marginalised community, where poverty and illiteracy are high. “There are not that many role models that children can look up to,” Bakari says.
Lack of employment opportunities is also a problem. “Most children have two options, work in the hotel industry or at the beach,” Bakari shares.
Bakari notes that a number of young people are now getting recruited by terrorist groups on social media. Most of these recruiters, use lucrative job offers to lure the unsuspecting youngsters.
“They entice them with a salary between Sh50,000 to Sh80,000: it’s hard to resist,” Bakari says. This is because a lot of the homes in Kwale run on less than Sh10,000 a month. Most of the youth are willing to do anything to escape a life of poverty and desperation.
According to Bakari, many families are living with the agony of losing their children to these gangs. In many cases, these young people just wake up and leave without telling anybody.
“They simply disappear and families are left devastated. In many cases, they do not know if their children are alive or dead. It is not just boys, girls too are being lured into this life,” she says.
How has she and family tackled this?
“My husband and I understood early enough that we had to be the best examples for our children, we communicate with each other effectively and this trickles down to our children,” Bakari says.
Bakari knows that a firm foundation is the cornerstone of great 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 these children,” she says.
Bakari has also worked hard insuring that her children recognise that we are all equal irrespective of gender. Kwale County is notorious for the discrimination of women and girls where retrogressive culture has created an enabling environment for early marriages. So notorious are some of these traditions that a girl is considered ripe for marriage the moment 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 and their father is equally supportive,” she says.
Their two boys are also not left behind.
According to Bakari they have watched her break cultural barriers and having their sisters think outside what culture dictates is the place of a young Muslim girl in Kwale County, they are constantly learning about healthy perspectives 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 gangs that are infiltrating Coastal town. It is also about teaching them that boys and girls are equally valuable,” Bakari says.
Bakari believes in monitoring her children, their movement and the friends they keep, but speaking with them is most important. In her opinion, 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,” says Bakari.
She further espouses on the benefits of setting rules saying that rules instill a positive value system and that they should never stop communicating with their children.
“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 the fears that plague their children.