Rehema Barry spoke about the influence of her mother, who pushed her to go to university and become a doctor instead of getting married as a teenager, as was the tradition in her Kenyan village.
Rehema Barry spoke about the influence of her mother, who pushed her to go to university and become a doctor instead of getting married as a teenager, as was the tradition in her Kenyan village. PHOTO Rachael Conaghan

Mother bribed Rehema to be a success

IT DIDN'T matter to Rehema Barry's father that she was a successful doctor who also helped educate other medical students.

At the age of 24 she was unmarried, and for that he was disappointed in her.

It was the first time he'd seen her in 20 years, but just three days later he had lined up a man to spend the rest of her life with.

Rehema was born in Tanzania but grew up in a small Kenyan village called Gilgil, and was one of 30 children for her father and his five wives.

Yesterday she spoke about her experiences for International Women's Day, at an event held in the Rockhampton Library. After working as a clinical officer in Kenya, the equivalent of a doctor, Rehema came to Australia hoping to continue practicing medicine here.

However, the university would only recognise her qualifications if she went for a degree in Health Services Management, so to practice medicine she would have had to start again from scratch. But Rehema said she needed to be at peace with the fact that she wanted to have children, so she made the decision not to.

"Many times when I was at the hospital (in Kenya) I would have 10 to 30 people sitting on the bench outside waiting for me to see them," she said. "By the time they were all gone I would have four chickens, four trays of eggs, bags of cabbage … that's how they paid."

But she's now got her sights set on starting her own business, Afroexpressionz, where she hopes to provide products for African women to express their cultural identity.

It's a far cry from where she could have been if she'd had her teenage wish granted and gotten married when she was a teenager, like all her friends did.

"At the end of Grade 6 you got circumcised, and you got married… you'd just be turning 16," she said.

"In the village where I grew up, I'm the only one who went to high school.

"I am the person that I am because my mother was insistent I go to school."

But for years Rehema resented her mother bribed her to continue her studies by promising to buy her a pair of high heels.

After finishing high school she ran away with a man, who then left her before they realised she was pregnant. She had just turned 17.

She returned home where her mum once again pushed her to go to university.

"My mother has done so much. She left my father and she did it really hard to raise five of us," Rehema said.

Rehema now has a further two children with her husband, who she met after moving to Australia.



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