Gladys Erude

Believing in fairy tales

Gladys Erude has a story to tell. Starved and beaten as young child in Kenya, and then widowed and left on the street with six sons to raise, hers is not an easy story to tell. Still, she’s hoping the education she receives at JCCC will help her commit her memories to paper. 

“That is why I am studying English,” Erude said. “I have always thought I would write my story one day.” 

When she enrolled at JCCC, she was afraid she would be too old and out of place. “I was worried to be attending school with youth,” she said. “I thought I was the only older person. I kept asking, ‘Am I the only one?’ …In Africa, people do not go back to school when they are older.” 

Her first class was Composition I, taught by Nancy Wandell, adjunct professor, English

“Oh, she was just beautiful,” Erude said of her instructor. “She went out of her way to be one-on-one with us. So I opened up and said, ‘I know English, but my English is like the Queen’s English. I don’t know anything about American English.’ And she said, ‘Then talk to me, and we will work it out.’…We are still friends.” 

She used an assignment in composition class to begin exploring her past. As a 4-year-old child in Kenya, her parents lent her out to another family as laborer. 

“In Africa when I was growing up, and even now, people take children from disadvantaged families to help them babysit or do some housework,” she said. “But this woman took me away and just disappeared with me. She didn’t tell my parents where we were going. We just moved to another town. 

“For four years, the woman couldn’t give me food, she didn’t feed me, she did not clothe me. I was in tattered clothes, and I slept in a basin full of water. I wonder why I did not die from pneumonia,” Erude said. 

Each day was endless work. “She – my captor  – she made me do all the housework like I was a grownup.” 

Help came from a group of white women – called “mzungu” by the Kenyans – who found Erude and brought her to their hospital. 

The mzungu fed her, cured her skin disease and gave her new clothes. Unfortunately for Erude, they also returned her to her captor. 

“My new clothes were given to the captor’s daughter, and I was beaten again,” she said. “I was virtually a Cinderella of that time. So now I believe in that fairy tale.” 

She was reunited with her family when she was 8 years old when a family friend saw her one day and told Erude’s family where she was. Erude started school, but most of her classmates were 6 years old. She kept on attending despite feeling out of place. 

Disaster struck again when, as a young mother with six boys, she was widowed and had no money and no place to live.

“My family took everything…and left me with children sleeping on the streets. So I had to find a job to take care of children. So I did that the best way I could.”

One of her sons married an American who attended the certified nurse assistant program at JCCC, and the daughter-in-law liked the school so much, Erude said, that her son convinced her to move here.

Her area of study is early childhood education, Erude said, because she would like to draw on her background of years of child care, both of her own children and of other Kenyan youngsters who needed her help. She said she’d like to one day build a kindergarten in Kenya or to work at a day care center in the United States.

Of the people she’s met at JCCC, Erude said, “Everybody’s good. There isn’t one I could complain about... My daughter-in-law tells me you can transfer your credits to a four-year school, but I would rather just stay here. I like the environment; I love the people.”