by Joyce Mulama, World Vision
Our journey from Eldoret to Sook a few days ago was most arduous. Sook is in Kenya’s West Pokot region. Traversing this hilly and rocky terrain took us about four hours to get to our destination. That was not my typical field assignment, where I travel to generate resources about the impact our activities have on communities.
This time I had accompanied Margo Day, a high profile World Vision donor, who is also a Vice-President of Microsoft. The trip was breathtaking, not that I was taken by the company of a prominent personality. That couldn’t be it. In my many years as a mainstream journalist, I rubbed shoulders with the likes of the current US President Barack Obama when he was Illinois Senator, UN chief Ban Ki Moon, Mr Gordon Brown as Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer then, and a number of African Heads of State. The encounter with Margo was thus the profoundly transforming experience.
This particular trip had everything to do with empowering vulnerable girls, many who harbor harrowing tales about FGM and early marriage. West Pokot is among the areas in Kenya with gross statistics on FGM. We went straight to St Catherines Girls Secondary School, apparently the first and only girls’ school in the vast 745sqkm Sook area. The excitement was palpable as the girls burst into songs of “Margo, Margo”, who they fondly refer to as mum.
They had last seen each other a year ago. Margo has supported the construction of the school, and is currently putting up a modern 158-bed dormitory. The one presently in use accommodates just 58 girls. Ruth Kisabit, the school’s headmistress, considers Margo’s vision of supporting girls’ education in the area priceless. The facility serves as a rescue centre for girls who have fled home from FGM and early marriage. Even when school closes, some of the girls do not go home for fear that they will be forced to undergo FGM.
Ruth confirms: “Here, the girls have a second chance in life. They stay until school reopens.” The story of Gloria Chepkech, a Form Three pupil in the school, is typical a Pokot girl’s struggle with the harmful tradition. She was pulled out of primary school countless times to go look after the family’s goats. Her father had wanted her to undergo FGM and soon after get married like her two of her elder sisters, who were married off at age 12. But her zeal for education was nothing short of remarkable. She soldiered on to complete primary education with the support of her mother. Her father would later refuse to pay for her secondary education, insisting that there was no value in educating her. His plans for Chepkech to be circumcised and get married to an old man were thwarted when she ran away to St Catherine’s School some 15km from home.
Chepkech, who will complete secondary education next year, is the first girl from her village to go to secondary school. Her dream of becoming a teacher is intact. We listened to many such inspiring tales of resilience by girls who had defied culture and tradition to pursue education.
In this area, it is largely acceptable for girls to drop off school after FGM and be married off at an early age. It was relieving to hear how the boarding facility at the school has prompted an increase in enrolment, almost by 100 percent.
There are a total of 217 girls at the school, up from 121 last year. Isn’t this a sharp and noteworthy improvement, given that the school started in 2010 with only 16 girls? And it is not only enrolment that has improved. Retention has also been achieved, with girls staying in school up to completion of their secondary education. These strides have taken great effort. From West to East Pokot, chiefs have been attacked by errant community members for trying to reprimand them for pulling their daughters from school and marrying them off early.
Chief Samuel Chemonorei chronicled how he was roughed up by gangs in 2004 as he tried to stop an old man from marrying an 11 year old girl. They broke his right leg. Assistant chief James Kiran lost an arm when he went to rescue a girl who was about to undergo FGM. Their passion to have girls get an education has been the reason they have not given up in the fight against harmful traditional practices. It is this same passion that drove Margo, from half a world away, to embark on raising funds for the Child Protection Through Education project. She partners with World Vision on this.
A similar endeavor is taking place in Marich Pass, where St Elizabeth, an ultra modern girls’ school, has been constructed to give vulnerable girls a chance to “dream”, as Margo put it. It is expected that the project will protect about 50,000 children in western Rift Valley, including Matete area.
This story originally posted at http://wvcampaign.org/blog/.