‘Make It Happen’: Educating young girls in northern Kenya

By Naomi Senda

Poverty, cultural practices, and the pastoralist lifestyle of the Samburu community have greatly contributed to the high levels of illiteracy among the women of Laisamis District of Marsabit County, Kenya.

Naringiso Lemara is in the beginner class at Koya Non Formal Education Centre in Laisamis, which is sponsored by Adeso’s Mobile Non Formal Education project (MNFE). At the age of 17, Naringiso is a mother of two who makes time to come to school every day at 10am after completing her morning household chores. She had never been to school before and is excited to learn arithmetic and other skills, which she intends to apply when she opens her tailoring shop soon. Owning a tailoring shop has been her dream since childhood.

Speaking to me after her class, Naringiso confidently explained: “Education can change the mindset of our community against the beading culture that affects young girls.”

Beading is a cultural practice in the Samburu community. The practice allows young Moran men to put beaded necklaces around young girls’ necks. This act symbolizes a man’s intention to ‘book’ a girl for marriage. These girls, some as young as seven years old, are immediately considered the Moran’s girlfriend and can be married off to him at any time.

One of the side effects of this cultural practice is that girls are forced to drop out of school at a very young age to take up their duties as wives.

When I was in Marsabit, I met with Mr. Jonathan Ilimo, the teacher in charge at the Koya Non Formal Education Center. As we celebrate International Women’s Day and focus on the theme of making it happen, we should celebrate men like him who are working hard to ensure access to education for young women such as Naringiso.

Mr.Ilimo is on a crusade. He meets community members and leaders through local get-togethers (or ‘barazas’) and door-to-door visits and sensitizes them on children’s universal right to education. “Our community faces poverty because of the high levels of illiteracy fostered by some cultural practices like beading,” he explains.

“Challenging culture among people who have not been exposed to any alternative way of life is difficult. However, along the way community members, especially women, are appreciating the importance of education and are registering for classes so as to improve themselves.”

Despite the challenges he faces, Mr. Ilimo puts up a spirited campaign for women’s education, as he believes that his community will develop faster as a result.

With people like Mr. Ilimo on board, I’m confident we can ‘Make it Happen’!

Adeso’s Mobile Non-Formal Education project works to ensure that all children and youth can not only go to school, but can also acquire the knowledge and skills they need in a bid to lead healthy, productive lives, secure meaningful jobs, and contribute to society