Beatrice is currently working in Umoja's Social Enterprise department as a Tailor, earning a salary for the first time enabling her to better her life and support her family.
Beatrice is a confident and creative young woman who wants to be a fashion designer or a singer. 'I like to design many things ,' she says, before excitedly describing her vision for an entire clothing range. 'When it's my own I like it more in my heart. I have many songs, like a million songs. Even if I sit here and you make the beat I will get the good song from those beats.'
Beatrice is ambitious and outgoing now, but only a couple of years ago the future seemed dim for her - she was suffering from a lack of mobility, stiffness, and terrible headaches. This illness was the result of a huge balloon-like cyst located at the top of her neck that was crushing her spine and touching her brain. If it weren’t for the help of The Umoja Centre, Beatrice might be paralyzed now.
Beatrice grew up in a small four bedroom house with her parents and twelve brothers and sisters. There were multiple people to one bed, and no running water or electricity. Neither of Beatrice's parents work. The family survives mostly on growing and eating their own vegetables. Sometimes they sell some vegetables at market in order to buy clothes and other essentials. All the children help as soon as they are old enough to do so.
'My mum I say is a supermum,' says Beatrice. 'My mum tell me, "If you want to live in this world and you want a good life you must try to do many work." Even now my young brother and young sister they plant the vegetables, they sell it, my mum goes with him to find clothes.'
Several years ago Beatrice started getting sick. Her mobility steadily decreased as the cyst on her neck grew. At that time none of the local doctors could diagnose the real root of the problem. With so little money, and so many mouths to feed, Beatrice’s mother felt hopeless about Beatrice’s condition. ‘I just prayed she would get better,’ she says.
Beatrice's condition worsened to the point where she couldn't go to school. She was bedridden at home when a couple of volunteers from The Umoja Centre happened upon her house, looking for students to enrol for the following year. Beatrice took a form, although she had no idea how she would get to and from school.
Beatrice managed to attend that year at Umoja, with the help of two motorbike drivers who volunteered to drive her. Her mobility improved while she was at school. Beatrice says, 'I enjoy it (Umoja) more than at home. The first thing is, if I sit at home, I think many things, and sometimes I think things that are so bad. I said, "Oh my god", because I'm feeling headache, and mum doesn't have the money to go to the hospital. Because there is times when I'm going to hospital and those people don't know what the problem is and I continue to take the medicine and i continue to feel bad. So i don't know what to do.’
'The Umoja Centre they help me have an idea, they help me to refresh my mind, and they help me to go to hospital, to find out what the problem is with this sickness.'
After her year at Umoja Beatrice's condition degenerated again to the point where she couldn’t get out of bed some mornings. The Umoja Centre raised the funds to take Beatrice to get an MRI in Nairobi, where the real cause of her illness was revealed. The doctors advised that the giant cyst at the top of her spine had to be removed or Beatrice could end up paralyzed from the neck down. The operation cost US$13 000, way beyond anything her family could afford. 'I told my mum it is a lot of money,' Beatrice remembers, 'and my mum she cry.'
Beatrice's mother worked tirelessly, wandering the streets asking strangers and church groups for any small donation. She raised nearly US$1 000 in small change, and Umoja raised the rest through donations. Caroline Goody, Umoja's Director, traveled with Beatrice and her mother by bus to Nairobi for the operation. By then Beatrice was so stiff she had to be physically folded into the bus seat. Before the operation Beatrice says, 'I was scared, but a little bit. Because I wanted to be perfect, and I don't want to be sick or in pain or headache, so I said, 'What can I do?'
Beatrice's operation was a success, the headaches have stopped, and her mobility returned. She attended a Tailoring Course in Arusha before being employed at Umoja.