I have slept in the streets, sold porridge to survive – Wema Foundation CEO

Lilian Njagi [Photo: Courtesy]

Wema Foundation CEO Lilian Njagi, a fire survivor, narrates her lucky escape and shares her experience of living in shanty houses, working as a nanny and selling porridge to mjengo labourers.

Tell us about your childhood. 

I was born in Embu County. I schooled at ACK Ndumari Primary School. I am the third-born child. I had a normal childhood surrounded with friends and family.

You lost your mother when your turned 14 years. What exactly happened?

On that particular day, I was at my mum’s shop, together with a childhood friend. At around 8:30pm, out of nowhere, a fire broke out. The whole shop was covered in smoke. We were all gasping for air, choking and coughing. I grabbed my young sister and dashed out through a tiny opening in the washroom.

My mother and a pal of hers were overwhelmed by the huge fire, which had been fuelled by petrol. They were trapped inside the shop. Neighbours came to our rescue and they were rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital. However, they had suffered severe burns and died a few days later.

That must have been heart-breaking...

Yes it was. My mother was my best friend and guardian. After her death, my dad vanished with his mapango wa kando. He sold all our property. I was left all alone. I had nowhere to call home.

Where did you go?

I went to stay with my elder sister, who was married. Her husband and her in-laws were not welcoming. They mistreated and abused us in the most unimaginable ways. We even went without food. Whenever I asked for food from my sister’s mother-in-law, she would rudely tell me, ‘Go to your mother’s grave and feed from there!’ She was cruel. I even wanted to take my life.

You contemplated suicide?

Yes. I had given up on life. I felt alone and just wanted to die. However, despite all my efforts, God never allowed that to happen. Looking back, I am…

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