Boarding school offers refuge for teen girls
It is extremely hot and dry as one approaches Kimana, a small town in Kajiado South constituency.
The scorching sun has turned all the trees gold at Elanga’ata Enkima Primary School compound.
While approaching the school one can easily spot boys roaming around, but it takes longer to spot a girl.
The head teacher explains that in the community, girls are forced into arranged marriages when they are very young and thus, can’t access education.
Jane Naishoo, 15, is a student at the school who was able to escape the jaws of early child marriages with the help of her mother. Unluckily for her, she still uderwent female genital mutilation (FGM).
“I was still a child. I deserved education and people needed to listen to me. My mother saw how other girls cried and knew the magnitude of the pain, but still she didn’t protect me then, but I still forgave her,” she says of her mother who was afraid her daughter would be stigmatised both at home and school.
Jane says her aunts had tried to help her run away on the night of the FGM ceremony.
However, her father got information regarding the escape. He stayed up all night and ensured all his children were asleep before locking the door.
“He knew we were all afraid of him, so he threatened to disown me in case I ran away.
With no idea about where I would go to, I decided to stay home and eventually I was circumcised,” she narrates, tears flowing down her cheeks.
After she was cut, Jane fainted due to excessive bleeding, but was given medicine that helped reduce the bleeding.
“It took me more time to heal unlike most girls who had undergone the ritual.
My father had told me I was getting married 12 days after the cut so I knew I had to plot my escape before then,” she says.
As soon as she got well, she plotted her escape together with her mother, and this time they succeeded.
Jane says she believed getting some form of education was important for her career, as she admired how women from other communities had the privilege to go to school. Luckily as soon as she got well, she joined school again.
That is when she ended up in the dorms, which have acted as a safe haven for her and other girls.
It’s not any different for Nadupoi Lenai, who has been able to go back to school after delivering her first baby at the tender age of 16.
“When I got pregnant, I couldn’t think I was going to miss out on school. I was so devastated and tried talking to my parents and my then-boyfriend, who was much older, on the possibilities of me going back to school after giving birth, but they didn’t accept,” she says.
Although she feels bad about leaving her two months old child with her mother, she doesn’t regret going back to school.
“I miss him, but I believe that when I am done with school, my child will also enjoy the fruits of my hard work from school,” she says.
One obstacle girls in the area face is the distance they have to cover to get to school. Luckily for them, the boarding school is a refuge for them.
They would be safer from teenage pregnancies, and FGM, among others.
This is something David Olemani, the area chief knows too well. He says, having a boarding school within the area is a boost for the community.
“Girls will be protected from morans who might want to lie to them and impregnate them.
They would have solved the long-distance walks they have to tackle while going to school and most importantly the cultural practices they have to undergo to transition from childhood to adulthood,” he says.
Over the past few years, Kajiado county and Child Fund have worked together to solve issues related to FGM, early child marriages, and teenage pregnancies within the village.
Angela Lapasi, Programme coordinator at Child Fund Mount Kilimanjaro says because of the negativity surrounding the practice, some people are not willing to talk about it in public.
Although those who have been formally educated know the magnitude of the problem and that it should end, they try as much as they can to educate the community on its dangers.
As an organisation, Chid Fund have taken it upon themselves to ensure they educate the morans on the benefits of reaping the fruits of education.
“To improve girl’s education in the Maasai culture, we need to engage custodians of traditions and culture, elders, community and spiritual leaders, elected leaders, youth and warriors.
They are the primary decision-makers and wield the power of influence, and authority to control the girl’s education,” says Lapasi.