Linda and Jackie aren’t just sisters, they are also the best of friends, and like all friends they talk all the time, giving each other advice and listening to the other’s problems. As sisters, there is five years between then, however they are separated by a different gap, one that is 6,000 miles wide.
Linda lives in Weston-Super-Mare in the UK with her parents and younger brother, while Jackie is in Nairobi, Kenya, with her two small children, a girl aged five and a boy who is just 18 months.
(TOP: Jackie Wanjala).
Both are students – 20-year-old Linda has just finished a course at college in travel and tourism. Jackie is at university studying community development and social work, and ultimately wants to work with people in deprived communities.
“I was born and raised in Kenya. I came here mostly for studies,” says Linda. “My dad was here before, and then my mum, then they decided to bring us.” It took her some time to adjust to her new life. “The first words were like wow… It was quite cold. That was in January … literally just so cold, very different from Kenya,” she says.
Jackie stayed in Nairobi. She lives in a small rented room during the week, while her aunt looks after her children in the family home. Weekends, she takes a matatu back to see them.
“My babies come first. There’s no way I could leave when they were still young and I was still in school,” she says. “I don’t see my family that often, maybe after two years, three years, that’s when I get to see them. I miss my parents because they’re the most supportive people I’ve ever met. They’ve been there through thick and thin, they’ve seen me go through the crazies in life and they never given up on me. They’ve loved me and really taken care of me until this point.”
“Being apart from my family isn’t an easy thing to withstand.” Despite missing her family terribly, Jackie knows it’s how it has to be. “I have two people who keep my busy, who make me feel at peace, my children.”
The distance is hard for Linda too. “The thing I miss most about Kenya … I will say food, food is quite different. Adventures, of course, I used to go during holidays, we go to my grandmother’s side, my mother’s side and my father’s side, and friends obviously, I miss my friends most.
Through it all the sisters have stayed close. “She is my big sister, she is very protective, she is almost like my second mum in a way,” says Linda. “It was quite nice, as in we do so many things together: shopping, camping on Sunday, I miss that…”
Jackie also misses her sister. “She’s … a very hard working person, loving, very mature and understanding. She’s been there for me, even though we’re miles and miles apart from each other. She helps me out a lot financially at times. I love her for who she is.”
The sisters stay in touch on their mobiles, chatting over Skype, WhatsApp and through text messages.
Most importantly, the move to the UK means Linda and her parents can look after Jackie financially back in Kenya. She knows she’s in safe hands. “If they didn’t leave, we wouldn’t be where we are right now. The support they’re giving me is amazing,” says Jackie. “The money I get from my parents and from my sister, I basically maintain myself in school. I can do some shopping. I can also pay my rent.”
The money goes instantly to Jackie’s MPesa mobile money account, so she can pay bills, rent and school fees directly from her mobile phone. “My family are the ones who introduced me to WorldRemit. They started sending money. You get your cash immediately. You get your confirmation messages immediately,” says Jackie.
Her family has given Jackie a future. “My mum and dad have done their part, I’m educated now. The next level is for me to work hard in every way I can and be able to save up and manage to take care of my babies,” she says. Like so many families around the world, the sacrifices they’ve made have been worth it.
“You don’t choose, you don’t just wake up in the morning, like, I’m going to be away from my family,” says Linda. “Life happens and you are forced to make decisions. Hard ones for that matter.”