Rev on mission to save teens

Monday, November 16th, 2020 00:00 |
Reverend Lillian Young’s upbringing set her on a path to help adolescents and youth avoid pitfalls in life.

Manuel Ntoyai @Manuel_Ntoyai

We never chose where we are born, but we are masters of our own destiny. For Rev Lilian Young, her early life and who she is now are two worlds apart. 

The reverend serving under Baptist Church in Nyeri county, where she also lives, is the only girl of four siblings.

Her upbringing in an informal settlement in Nairobi exposed her to challenges of life; it also instilled in her a passion to take care of teens and youth.  

“I was born and raised up in Mathare Slums by a single mom. Our daily needs were met through brewing chang’aa.

I remember how I was an experienced chang’aa seller at the age of eight, many are the times I spent nights in Muthaiga and Pangani Police Stations.

Every weekend, the police would come with a huge dark blue lorry christened ‘Mariamu’, and sweep everyone in chang’aa dens,” she remembers.

With such a rough upbringing, schooling was a big problem. She used to miss school and even when she attended them, she was too exhausted to grasp what she was being taught.

“We were not allowed in the houses until our parents were through with their clients, since the same single room, was both the bar, and our sleeping room.

We could stay outside until 2am and by 5am, wake up, prepare and be in school by 6:45am.

I struggled in my studies that my performance deteriorated to a point I couldn’t understand what the teachers were teaching,” she says.

Things would take another twist as her mother, the sole breadwinnner, became ill and Lilian and her brother turned to the streets.

While on the streets, they contacted their uncle who came to their rescue. Or so they thought. 

At her uncle’s place, it was as if they moved from the frying pan into the fire.

Changing lifestyle from the city to countryside was not easy, because they weren not used to working in the farm or even fetching water or firewood from the bushes. Besides, they were not treated well.

“That’s when I started to inquire about my dad from my aunts. He was an engineer at Moi Airbase.

However, things did not turn out as I expected: he was not ready to have me in his life. He gave me Sh1,000 for my bus fare back home,” she says.

Rev Lilian was not able to join secondary school, but through St Teresa’s Catholic Church, she, at age 14, was enrolled in Maria House Women Training Centre in Nairobi, where she trained as a book-binder. 

She realised it was challenging to secure a job without proper education, and after going through much frustrations, she started looking for adult education centres.

By the time she enrolled at Achievers High School in Pangani, she was already married despite her young age.

The pressure of having a child, and that of  doing casual jobs did not go well and ended her young marriage.

The money she got from the jobs would pay for her bills, school fees and both hers and her daughter’s needs.

Little did she know these setbacks would be the foundation for her life.

“Coming to think of it, this pushed me to give teens and youths a shoulder to lean on, mentoring and enlightening them on the essence of education.

I wouldn’t want our future generation go through what I went through, I would not want to see future marriages breaking,” she states. 

Her love for education has continued to date and she  is currently pursuing a degree in Theology and a diploma in Counselling and Psychology.

With Covid-19, young people have been at home, and with this, a new approach to reach out to them was required.

“With the pandemic, the idea of having girls’ sessions grew. I initially started  by visiting them at home, where I talked to them and their parents separately.

The network became bigger and within no time, I had to plan for something different.

We decided to be meeting at our local church every Wednesday with strict adherence to Ministry of Health regulations.

We have had friends bringing in sanitary towels for girls and pens for boys,” she adds.

A mother of a teen, with her daugher currently pursuing law at Catholic University of East Africa, she says dealing with young people has taught her a number of things.

“There is little bonding in our current state of parenting, and teachers have been left to be source of almost everything for children.

Parents have come to realise children as young as Class Eight pupils have lovers and are abusing drugs,” says Lillian.

She adds, “I learnt during puberty, there’s a vast difference between parents and  teens.

If parents are not well advised, they keep fighting yet at this stage, teens need guidance not authority.

They are still not emotionally matured and need a helping hand understand issues.” 

Rev Lilian says it should be a wake up call to all parents to ensure they educate their kids about important social issues and be there for them.

She plans to continue working with teens not only because it is something she has come to enjoy, but also because young people can learn from her and not make similar mistakes.

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