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Mary*, Zambia

Mary, one of seven siblings, grew up in rural Zambia. When both of her parents tragically passed away in quick succession, Mary and her younger brothers and sisters moved in with their eldest sibling. Together, they moved to an impoverished fishing community. With so many young children to look after, Mary’s eldest sibling struggled to provide enough food and clothes for everyone, and life was very difficult.

It was during this time of acute poverty that their family was approached by a man seeking to marry Mary. With the desperate situation that they were in, and recognising that there were few opportunities for the situation to improve, Mary’s remaining family members encouraged her to accept, explaining that if she were to marry this man, his income could be used to help support her and her younger siblings, giving everyone a chance at a better life. If Mary were to refuse, she would have been forced to leave home, as her family members were unable to take care of her. With nowhere else to go and no way to support herself, she accepted. She was fourteen years old.

“I didn’t want to get married, I was very young, I wanted to wait until I was of age. The reason I accepted to get married was because my elder sibling could not manage to look after the 7 of us. I hoped life would improve, and I would help to take care of my young siblings.”

(Photo: Eliza Powell/Camfed).

Tragically, Mary’s husband did not take care of her as she and her family had hoped. With no source of income, they struggled to buy food, clothes or groceries for themselves, let alone support Mary’s younger siblings. Mary’s husband rarely worked, and she spent her days sweeping, cooking, and cleaning dishes. After living in this daily struggle for survival for some time, Mary became pregnant. When she was five months along, her husband left suddenly, never to be seen again. Terrified, alone and preparing to raise a child when she was still a child herself, Mary didn’t know how she was going to manage. She didn’t know anything about pregnancy or childbirth, all she knew is that she felt far too young to be having a baby.

“I felt bad because I was not yet at the age of becoming a mother. It’s just circumstances of this world that I have a child.”

When the time came, her sister helped her to deliver a healthy baby.  In need of lotion and powder for the baby, and clothes and food for herself, Mary quickly became reliant on other people to bring her the things she so desperately needed and to help her learn how to look after her child. Despite their difficult starts in life, Mary has high hopes that she and her son are moving towards a brighter future.

(Photo: Eliza Powell/Camfed).

With support from Camfed, Mary will undergo training and be taken under the wing of  Camfed alumnae (CAMA members) to get the skills and psychosocial support she needs to start a business. Camfed is training CAMA members as GirlGuardians, who bring their lived experience of poverty and the barriers to girls’ education into schools and communities, providing their expertise, and supporting girls with sexual reproductive health and life skills training, ensuring that that they are protected, and can thrive.

With the money she hopes to earn, Mary is looking forward to achieving financial independence, and being able to give her child everything he needs in life. Mary knows that if she had been able to stay in school, her life would have turned out differently, so she is determined to be able to support her son through school when he comes of age: “I have a lot of plans for my child. I want him to get an education.” Mary hopes that he might want to become a teacher one day.

When Mary grows up, she sees herself as a successful businesswoman and community philanthropist, helping other girls like her to stay in school and out of child marriage, inspired by her mother’s zeal for education, “If my mother was still alive, I would have been in school. She used to tell me to take care of kids who were in school and that next year I will also start school.”

*Mary's name has been changed to protect her identity