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Teens cook up a storm against early marriage

By Reuben Mwambingu
Monday, July 13th, 2020
Sanaa Hussein (Right) together with other girls in the cook-out programme prepare meals. Photo/PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

Reuben Mwambingu @reubenmwambingu  

Brought up in Guraya, Majengo area of Mvita Sub County in the heart of Mombasa Island, Sanaa Hussein 18, has seen many of her age mates lured into early marriages, some ending up as al Shabaab brides.

 Sanaa’s home in Majengo, nestled within Mombasa Island, has been in the news over terrorism and youth radicalisation activities since 2012.

Unlike many of girls her age who have fallen for early marriages by al Shabaab returnees, Sanaa,  a student at Star of the Sea High School, is lucky to have survived the catch. She attributes her lucky escape to “responsible? 

“I thank God my mother has been a good parent. I am not used to going out without seeking her permission and explaining to her the reasons.

She always ensures whenever I go out I am with someone who can be trusted in case of protection,” she explains.  

At a time when the country is experiencing a staggering wave of teen pregnancies amidst closure of schools in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, just like many of her age mates, Sanaa could be susceptible to sexual predators.

It is against this backdrop that Sanaa became part of  the initiative by officials of Coast Education Centre (COEC), a Mombasa based organisation with programmes to empower young women.

The organisation, established in 2009, but registered as an non-governmental organisation in 2016, has adopted a new approach of hosting a girls cook-out to  bring together young women to bond by preparing and eating meals together and engaging in extensive discussions on various challenges  in life.

Coast Education Centre executive director Halima Mohammed. PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

Sanaa was among 14 girls in a recent cook-out at Swalihina Centre in Kisauni.

Being the youngest in the group, the 18-year-old hailed the approach as highly efficient in assisting girls of her age to listen, open up, share and learn important things in life. 

Destroyed lives

“In our community, you realise most girls don’t often get time to bond with their peers and hence they don’t get an opportunity to view or judge issues with varied perspectives in that they don’t discuss and share issues with their parents openly the way we are doing it here.

As a result, this lack of exposure makes them even more vulnerable whenever men approach them even via the Internet. Besides, you get to hone your cooking skills,” she adds.

By the same token, COEC executive director Halima Mohammed says at a time like this many girls become vulnerable and easily get lured into marriages and end up getting early pregnancies and recruited into terrorist groups.

“Their lives are destroyed just like that. Parents are now telling their young boys and girls to leave home and fend for themselves.

When you tell a young girl to go and fend for herself, what do you expect?  This is why some of them end up in prostitution or even dating al Shabaab returnees.

It is for this reason we have brought the girls together to empower them. By cooking together, they will talk together and strengthen the bonding and network.

We have mentors for the girls and eventually link them to corporate organisations. That way we not only stop early marriages, but also ensure there is peace,” Mohamed explains.

Why Cooking?

“Cooking is ta alent and as always we appreciate our young women for bringing out their best styles.

It is during cooking when women share a lot of stories and that way they get to create a bonding and confidence to speak out on their challenges and get their unheard voices out there,” Mohammed explains. 

Before the session starts, girls most aged 16-25 are first taken through a structured session with topics on some of the challenges they encounter in their day to day life.

With an aim to empower young women on entrepreneurship and leadership skills, the girls, discuss a wide range of issues affecting women such as education, leadership, countering measures of violent extremism and strengthening women participation in peace and security as they cook.

Mohammed says they recently rescued a young girl on the verge of getting married to a stranger she met online and connected with for six months.

At the time, the girl had never seen the man physically, but he had reportedly sent a down payment for dowry to the girl’s mother who had demanded Sh250,000.

“The mother wanted to surprise the entire community with a classy wedding and had never informed even her husband of such plans.

But because the girl’s aunt had been attending our session, she informed us about the case and we started following.

We asked the girl to request for a video call with the man, but the man declined and went silent...that is how we managed to stop the marriage,” she explains.

During the Covid-19 pandemic period, the organisation is targeting to train 130 girls within Mombasa who will then share the knowledge with their peers in their respective neighborhoods.

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