Janet Sein is smart, confident and has a contagious smile. When she finished her primary education in 2018, the possibility of going to secondary school was next to impossible.
The 17-year-old girl from a remote rural area Iltilal Village, Kajiado County recalls how she had opted to be married off since her parents could not afford to pay school fees for her secondary education. Her hopes of becoming a lawyer almost faded when she was to go through the harmful transition of childhood to adulthood through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
“In 2018, I sat for my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam at Iltilal Primary School and scored 326 marks out of 500,” she says.
Upon completion of her primary education, she was selected to join Omotaseni Secondary School. However, her parents could not afford to pay for her school fees. She stayed home for several months.
‘My parents told me I would undergo FGM alongside other girls in my village and get married. Luckily, my primary class teacher informed the area Chief who intervened, and I did not face the knife,’’ she confirms.
Following the Chief’s intervention, Amref Health Africa in Kenya offered her a scholarship to continue with her education. Amref in the USA funds the scholarship programme. It targets girls who are at risk of being circumcised and ultimately married off at a very tender age, giving them a chance to advance their education and pursue their career dreams.
“I can never forget the year 2019 when I was admitted in Form One at St Claire Secondary School. My parents and I were very happy,” she recalls.
Like Janet, most girls and women in her community drop out of school because of numerous obstacles such as poverty, early marriage, among others. According to the 2015 Kenya National Adolescent and Youth Survey (NAYSHC), teenage pregnancy is one of the leading causes of school dropouts in Kajiado County.
The sad reality is that 78% of girls in the Maasai community are circumcised, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) published in 2014.
In addition to lacking school fees, Janet could not afford other related expenses such as sanitary and school suppliers. She gets emotional when speaking about the challenges she has gone through “Every time the school opened, I stayed home for over two weeks since I did not have money for transport and other related school expenses,” she explains. This meant that she missed some classes and would catch up with other students and teachers when she eventually reported.
She continues to put in intensive effort and studying hard to overcome all obstacles to achieve her goals. Her mother, Mary Ankoi, appreciates the financial support from Amref that has greatly helped the family. “I am excited to see my daughter going to school. For us, we did not have the chance. It is good to break the cycle of early marriage,” she says.
Janet would like to become a lawyer and help her parents by building them a modern house and moving them from their current grass-thatched house. “One day, I will change the life of my family,” she says firmly.
Unable to access internet, electricity and textbooks like her more fortunate peers, Janet continues to read her notes during the COVID-19 pandemic as learning institutions remain closed. She utilizes her free time reading with her friends, cooking and helping her mother with house chores. “It is difficult to read at home due to the lack of textbooks, but we still use the few resources we have,” says Janet.
Janet represents thousands of girls who are struggling to access education. “I am a strong girl. I can make my own decisions,” she concludes. She will, without a doubt, make her parents and community proud.