By Fiona Imbali.

 

Jerusalem Girls perform a dance for visitors from the United Church of Canada.

Jerusalem Girls perform a dance for visitors from the United Church of Canada.

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.

Principal Naibei talking to the girls.

Principal Naibei talking to the girls.

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 four girls narrating their stories.

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

Gloria Cherop

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

Philomena Chemutio

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.

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