Mary Favour, Aga Khan Academy graduate, shared her story at the Aga Khan Foundation Gala in 2017.

A Single Mother in Mombasa

I ask you to picture in your mind a house with no ceiling, just aluminum sheets for a roof. For the floor, no tiles, just sand. Walls with no paint, just stone bricks cemented together. A bathroom with no shower or tiles, just a hole at the corner to let water out after you bathed. That was the place I called home.

We didn’t have running water or electricity, but it was all my mother could afford. I was born in Mombasa, Kenya. My sisters and I were raised by a single mother. She also had to look after her siblings after my grandparents passed away. We all looked to my mother for financial support.

We Lit a Flame for Learning

In primary school, my siblings and I would constantly be kicked out of school because we didn’t have school fees and we never had enough textbooks. At home we averaged two meals a day. We only had two pairs of uniform. We studied by candlelight and kerosene lamps.

My local school’s sole focus was academics. I was passionate about music, but the school didn’t support that. Still, I excelled in my studies.

I Discovered My Voice

So when my mother got an email from the Aga Khan Academy informing us that they were looking for students, we applied. And three months later I was among the first 20 on-campus students at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa in 2009. I was thrilled!

Suddenly I was immersed in a new environment where I didn’t have to struggle with no electricity or running water. See, this environment was so supportive that I could focus on my education. I could even pursue my passion for music. And so I studied music: I organized concerts and explored theatre arts, something I couldn’t do before.

I discovered my voice and learned how to tell my story in my own way, in words and in art.

And I Found a Song for Change

With the school choir, we became the Aga Khan Academy Voices for Change. We hosted concerts to raise money for families coping with severe drought on the northern coast of Kenya, and homeless youth who struggled with drug addiction. At the Aga Khan Academy, I gained a chance to explore and create life-long friendships and experiences that awakened the leader in me.

I want to see my fellow Kenyans and Africans benefit from all that the continent has to offer. A lot has been done, but I want to do more. I want to do more for those who stood by me and the society that shaped who I am. I want to do more for the child with big dreams and no way of actualizing them. I want to do more for those who have been marginalized. I want to do more for those whose lives demand opportunity and access to justice.

The Aga Khan Academy awakened in me a voice to do more.

Mary Favour portrait present day