By Fiona Imbali.
The Jerusalem Girls Secondary School in West Pokot is a girl’s school that was started to rescue girls in the community from the outlawed Female Genital Mutilation practice.
The school sponsored by Dini Ya Roho Mafuta Pole Church in West Pokot, one of the largest African Instituted Churches (AICs) and a member of OAIC saw it fit to develop a rescue centre for girls running away from FGM and early marriages.
The school started with 32 students and the Constituency Development Funds (CDF) enabled them to put up a building for the school. When it started, the teachers and students used to sleep in the classrooms but currently they have one dormitory. “We still continue to face challenges such as lack of sufficient classrooms as one off our building is used as a multipurpose hall. Housing for the teachers is also a big problem. Nevertheless, we’re optimistic that next year we shall present our first candidates for Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) and hopeful that they will perform well,” notes Ms Lydia Naibei, the school’s Principal.
Ms Naibei who teaches English literature is a role model for the girls as she continues to urge them to work hard. With a student population of 126 students, 16 of them are set to sit for their final examinations next year. It currently has 7 teachers, 3 of whom are employed by the government while 5 are employed by the Board of Governors. (B.O.G).
Unfortunately girls in this largely patriarchal society are merely perceived as assets for their parents to get wealth when they become old enough to get married. Girls as young as 12 are often married off once dowry has been paid to their parents. Often many end up dropping out of school and by the time they are in their 20’s, some have 4 or more children.
“Jerusalem Girls first started as a safe house for girls who were running away from retrogressive traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriages that are common in this community. The church saw the need to start a school that would help the girls and admitted many of whom were young mothers. Most of the girls leave their children with their maternal grandparents when they join the school,” notes Ms Naibei.
“Early child marriages are common. At the age of 10, when they see the characteristics of womanhood, they feel like the girl is ready for marriage. Here paying dowry starts early and the bride is booked. The church thought it wise to protect the ones who desiring to continue with education. Some people would like to blame situations such as hunger as an incentive to get dowry from rich older men for their daughters,” noted Job Mwetich OAICs field officer.
Gloria Cherop experienced FGM and a near early marriage. She comes from the Northern part of the region where FGM is valued and perceived as a good thing culturally. “I was married off when I was in Standard 8. My family didn’t value education much; girls’ education was not valued. I believed that education would help me transform my community. I was lucky as my mother helped me to escape to Jerusalem Girls. I found when Jerusalem was just starting when I joined. The church has supported me since then as they continue to pay my school fees. I am working hard as I would like to join university and become a teacher.”
Another girl narrated how she was married off early and got pregnant while in standard 8. After giving birth to 2 children her husband died and she was to be inherited by an older man but she was lucky to escape and found shelter at Jerusalem girls’ school. Her parents had already received dowry and could hear none of it but her relatives assisted her to join the school. She’s currently a Form 3 student.
Philomena Chemutio a Form 3 student narrated how she was forcefully married off after her parents received dowry. At just 23 she has 3 children. She got her first child at 16 years. Her husband’s family also wanted her to undergo FGM as she has not been circumcised. She ran away and found refuge at Jerusalem girls. She hopes to study and secure a future for her children. She hopes to join University and become a teacher of Kiswahili and Mathematics.
Felistus Cherop and Dorcas Cherotich who also ran away from early marriages want to be doctors after completing university. The school’s annual fee is Kshs 29,950 (USD 300). OAIC and other partners continue to support the school.