Mariam's story: Escaping drugs and abuse

Mariam Yusuf’s story as told to Lucy K. Maroncha, a Key Correspondent from Kenya.

My name is Mariam. I’m from Malindi in Kenya and I’m 22 years. I’m a mother of two children from different fathers. My first pregnancy was out of naivety and lack of information. I always say that I got pregnant when I was running away from a wild cat but fell into the paws of a leopard.

<p>I delivered my baby in poverty and loneliness. I feared getting HIV because I had heard of girls getting HIV in Malindi town. I got depressed and some of my friends introduced me to bhang, which they had said would relax my mind. I think it did. I still smoke it because my life is still complicated.</p>
<p>I heard about the the Omari Project from my friends, many of whom use drugs and would go there to get information on harm reduction. Through the project I received counseling support and information on family planning methods</p>Mariam Yusuf is hopeful for her and her children's future © Corrie Wingate for the Alliance 2017

I was escaping from the sight of my mother’s abusive marriage when I met the father of my first child. I was only 17-years old then. The sight of my mother being thrashed with a belt by one of her lovers had been unbearable to me. I choose to move in with a man I thought would be my solace but before I knew it I got pregnant. My life then turned into a nightmare of both physical and mental abuse.

“Men don’t get pregnant, it was your responsibility to ensure we have protected sex!”, my boyfriend yelled at me amidst blows when I first told him about the pregnancy. Today, the sheer thought of these words make me furious, especially when I imagine the vulnerability so many women are subjected to because they can’t match the physical strength of their male counterparts.

My boyfriend told me I had to abort the pregnancy but being a faithful Muslim, I declined. This resulted to daily beating.

Sometimes he’d subject me to hunger by refusing to buy food. When I was three months pregnant he beat me so badly, hitting my stomach with his fists, probably to force an abortion, and I fell unconscious. My mother was called by neighbours and took me to hospital and stopped me going back to the man’s house.

I delivered my baby in poverty and loneliness. I feared getting HIV because I had heard of girls getting HIV in Malindi town. In desperation, I started cleaning people’s houses but some would look down on me and not pay me well or sometimes they’d just give me food in compensation. I got depressed and some of my friends introduced me to bhang, which they had said would relax my mind. I think it did. I still smoke it because my life is still complicated.

<p>Although I smoke cigarettes and bhang and take alcohol when someone offers me, I am still a responsible mother.</p>
<p>I am determined not to have many children with different men like my mother, who I believe took the abuse she suffered because she needed financial support to care for her 10 children.</p>
<p>I don&rsquo;t want my children to be exposed to violence because it may affect them in the same way it affected me. That&rsquo;s not my dream and I am determined things will be different.</p>Mariam Yusuf at work with her son © Corrie Wingate for the Alliance 2017

I heard about the the Omari Project from my friends, many of whom use drugs and would go there to get information on harm reduction. Through the project I received counseling support and information on family planning methods.

Things have begun to improve, my current boyfriend, and father of my second child, is a great partner. I have also begun to look for other employment.

Although I smoke cigarettes and bhang and take alcohol when someone offers me, I am still a responsible mother.

I am determined not to have many children with different men like my mother, who I believe took the abuse she suffered because she needed financial support to care for her 10 children. I don’t want my children to be exposed to violence because it may affect them in the same way it affected me. That’s not my dream and I am determined things will be different.

With thanks to KANCO, the Alliance’s Linking Organisation in Kenya, who is delivering the Alliance’s HIV and Harm Reduction for Eastern Africa project, funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

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