MERCY KENDI GITARI: Comfortable in her Skin

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Mercy Kendi Gitari’s alluring smile and illuminous personality is contagious. She wears her smile and personality comfortably just as she wears the scars on her body. Mercy has fully embraced vitiligo, a skin condition that she suffers from. She tells JULIUS R. MWAURA her journey of self-love and living a full life.

Nineteen-year-old Mercy Kendi Gitari, is a student at the University of Nairobi pursuing a degree in political science. Brought up in Tharaka Nithi, Meru County in a family of four, she lost her dad 4 years ago and still mourns him to date. Mercy is a girl with great dreams
and unapologetic feminist.

Why do you call yourself an all-time feminist?
I believe in girl power! (She says with excitement and great enthusiasm). I am a firm believer that women should be given a listening ear in the society and yes, most people say that the girl child has been overly empowered but I feel like this is the first time women are getting the recognition they deserve and there is still more yet to be achieved. Compared
to the many times women have been treated like second class citizens, the empowerment being seen now is only but a drop in the ocean. The two-thirds gender rule is a small step in the right direction though.

So, what’s your story?
I am a girl with the most beautiful white spots and I use my white spots to make the world a better place. White spots is a slang phrase that is used in reference to vitiligo. Vitiligo is a skin condition that is characterized by patches of the skin losing their pigment and they often become white. (She takes off her white neatly knitted gloves to show me the
white spots). It’s not painful and neither is it contagious. I’ve had my white spots for the last decade and it wasn’t easy accepting my beautiful white spots. I recall making various visits to hospitals to buy expensive meds to rid myself of vitiligo before I learned to embrace this condition. So I’m now calling out every girl out there; embrace your white spots. They’re not flaws, they are just God’s way of intentionally setting you apart from the rest of the flock. (She says alluding a lot of confidence)

How did your family and friends react to knowing you have vitiligo?
The reaction from my family was normal. Initially, my parents put in a lot of effort and resources trying to ensure the condition cleared. After a while, it just came to a point where I got tired of taking medication and started accepting myself and others began accepting me too. My friends were the best. Always there, very supportive and loving. Of
course anytime I go to new places I still get stares but now I am used to it.

Have you been denied opportunities of any kind because of vitiligo?
Not really… no; at least not yet! Just that vitiligo lowers one’s self-esteem most times and you feel like you are not fit for the opportunities. But once you realize you can choose to look at it.

Tell me about your social life. Have guys looked at you strangely because of it? Did you ever cover your white spots for a guy only to show him and he decided to leave afterward?
Wow, What a question! Yes, in the past, severally I hid my white spots from many guys and once they see them, communication is cut off just like that. It’s challenging when it comes to socializing and dating because we live in a society that idolizes perfectionism. As a result, many guys want flawless women but you can’t let someone’s opinion of you get into your head. As I said earlier I learned to embrace and love myself just as I am. Once I embraced what I cannot change everything just started to flow. My self-esteem was boosted and now I can socialize freely. I’ve seen it work for me.

As an African Child with Vitiligo, what are the different challenges you’ve had to face over the years?
This continent does not recognizes let alone appreciate African children with such conditions. So things are a bit harder than usual compared to the “normal” African child, but it’s okay; we learn to pave our own ways this way.

What are your thoughts on the African Child in general?
Unless the African child goes an extra mile like most of us do then they’ll remain stuck in life. In Africa, there are many opportunities disguised as problems but the African child needs to wake up, take positive risks and bold steps. That way you’ll uncover your
hidden treasures. We will never get what we deserve; only what we negotiate for!
In my case, I have political aspirations and have always wanted to engage in politics in order to fight for issues that face women. I am aware that this is a journey and so currently I am using my story to motivate and my struggles to illuminate as I encourage other young
women like me. In March this year, I contested for Mr & Miss University of Nairobi. Everyone kept saying I had the height for it but more than that, I am passionate about it.
I want to use it as a platform to reach out to more people especially young girls like myself. I want to use it as a medium of communication, a tool of expression for myself and those that would rather show than tell. I admire Winnie Harlow an international model with vitiligo in the US and public spokesperson on vitiligo.

As a student of Political Science, what is your view of Africa as a whole and most especially the place of women in it?
The true meaning of feminism does not lie in hostile takeovers of the place of man nor the responsibilities given to him. The true meaning of feminism is in the understanding of the contrast between Equality and Equity. Equality is giving providing people with equal
opportunities regardless of their gender whereas equity is fairness in every situation. Feminism is not about being equal to a man because let’s face it, women and men can never be equal. It’s about looking to provide equal opportunities. The sooner society see,
understand and adapt to this vital difference, the sooner we can stop fighting each other and instead work together for the common good.

When have you been most satisfied in your life?
Going to the university was a great opportunity as I got to meet most of my mentors in different aspects such as life, love, career, and modeling. The friends I’ve made in campus have been so supportive as well as my family. I am truly blessed. I hope to be the face of vitiligo in Kenya someday and to use the opportunity as a platform to bring people of all walks of life together and show them that above all else there is strength in the unity of
our diverse attributes.

What advice would you give those that have gone through stigma because of Vitiligo?
I’ll tell them what my mum always tells me. “If anyone thinks any less of you because of your condition, that says more about them and their insecurities and has nothing to do with you.

If you had superpowers what would it be?
Telepathy. Any day man! Any day!.
Why?
Because then I get to read your mind. Know what you’re thinking.
What’s next for you in the near future?
Probably open a foundation for people living with vitiligo as the Brand Ambassador of Vitiligo in Kenya.

 

 

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