Mary applies a henna design for Unbound staff member Catherine Materu.
Mar 14 2016

Youth uses henna to pay for school

Mary, 17, from Tanzania

Mary, 17, from Tanzania


For a long time, Mary’s interest in art was simply a hobby. As a young girl, watching others draw henna designs on skin fascinated her. Now she uses this hobby as a way to earn money for school.

Seventeen-year-old Mary is an Unbound sponsored youth living in Tanzania. Because her parents separated when she was young, Mary and her siblings went to live with their aunt after their mother passed away last year.

“I used to depend on my mother for everything,” Mary said. “When she passed on, things changed. My aunt does her best to take care of me, but she also has her children, making it difficult for her to provide for all of us.”

Her aunt’s home is some distance from the school Mary attends. Mary uses the money she earns from applying henna to help pay her fare to travel to school, as well as support her two younger siblings.

Applying henna also gives Mary the chance to practice and improve her art skills. When she first started, her mom and friends at school would let her practice on them.

“They loved the designs I did on their skin,” Mary said.

Now Mary has gained many clients who let her draw on their hands, legs, chest and neck.

“They want the henna done on them for various celebrations,” she said. “I do it as beautifully as I can, so that they will bring their friends along the next time they come.”

The art of henna has spread to various cultures since its origins in ancient Egypt, including many of those our sponsored families live in. In India, brides adorn themselves with henna designs for their weddings often symbolizing luck, loyalty or love for their groom.

Apart from drawing henna designs, Mary continues in school where she especially likes her English class. She’s grateful to her sponsor, Erica from Indiana, for giving her the chance to go to school and receive an education.

Despite the struggles Mary has had to overcome, she dreams of her future.

“I would love to be a journalist,” Mary said. “I know that I’d make a good one.”

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