Against All Odds: How Mercy Overcame Extreme Hardship to Attend University November 16, 2015 by Carolina For Kibera
By: Elizabeth Muthoni, CFK-Kenya Intern
Mercy Atieno, a recent CFK scholarship recipient, recalls the exact moment she knew she wanted to work as a healthcare professional. While at church one Sunday, a woman came into church in need of medical assistance for a bleeding wound on her leg. Luckily, Mercy had a rudimentary knowledge of how to help: she got a clean piece of cloth and constructed a makeshift tourniquet, slowing and then stopping the flow of blood. After successfully assisting her, she knew right then that healthcare was her passion. “It gives me pleasure to be able to restore people to their full health,” she explains. “That was just when I knew.”
Mercy is now a 21-year-old first-year student at Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC), on a scholarship made possible through support from African Kids in Need (AKIN) and a generous gift from Hands of Help Australia. She describes herself as a “resilient and persistent person,” who seeks to be a role model for young girls in her community. Her resilience comes from her history as a resident of Kibera since birth. And her persistence is evident in her fight to stay in school.
Mercy started her schooling at Neema Academy (an informal school in Kibera) and later joined Old Kibera Primary School in 7th grade. From then on, living in poverty made it difficult for her to pay her school fees on a regular basis. Her father, a security guard, and her mother, who doesn’t work, had to take care of their big family of 6 kids and 2 cousins and had little money left over for school. Despite these challenges, Mercy continued to attend, risking getting kicked out for not having paid.
Everything changed during the 2007 post-election violence. Mercy’s family’s home was looted and burnt down, forcing them to flee to their ancestral home in Siaya, located in Western Kenya. While there, Mercy rose above the trauma—she would not let her education be stalled. She joined a different primary school and took her qualifying exams. She passed, earning her a place in a good high school! Once the situation in Nairobi calmed down, her father returned to seek employment; Mercy, being fond of her dad and finding enjoyment in city life, chose to follow him back to Kibera. She stayed with him during the holidays and set out to attend boarding school during the school year.
Due to her family’s economic situation, Mercy faced the same challenges in high school. She was sent home most of the time since she couldn’t pay school fees. At home, she would choose to skip meals because her family could not afford 3 meals in a day. “There was a school term I spent more days at home hungry than in school studying,” she recalls. She laughs lightly to suggest she was stronger than the trials she faced growing up. And it shows—despite lacking funds and daily sustenance, Mercy kept studying, planting seeds for her future ahead. Through her persistent efforts, she managed to earn a B minus in her final exams, which enabled her to gain admission to Kenya Medical Training College!
Mercy continued to struggle to find funding for school after she graduated from high school in 2012. She spent most of her time volunteering with her church, visiting sick patients and providing them with companionship. During her search, she stumbled across CFK. When our staff met her, they were impressed with her valiant efforts to raise funds for school and to continue studying in spite of hunger and the threat of violence. Her persistence and resilience could not be denied and made her an incredible candidate for a scholarship. With support from a partnership between African Kids in Need and Hands of Help in Australia, Mercy can now attend school to pursue her dream!
Now, Mercy is grateful that going to school has become easier for her and her family. Over the years since she discovered her passion for healthcare, she has not wavered in her resolve to become a nurse. She is dedicated to serving as a healthcare professional in Kibera, extending affordable healthcare to people who are in need of it but do not have access. If her past is any indication, she will not stop until she has accomplished her goal to the fullest.