Ahatho Buroya, 16, was a form two student at Loglogo Girls Secondary School in Marsabit County before schools in Kenya were unceremoniously closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Girls from her Rendille community are treated as inferior, with 54% of them getting married before reaching the age of 181. “The girls in my community are considered to belong to another family because they will eventually get married and leave,” she says. Ahatho disclosed that girls face tough challenges in their community. They walk long distances to fetch water from deep and dangerous hand-dug wells carrying 10-20 litres jerricans of water, search for firewood and often get bullied, harassed and sometimes raped by boys and older men. They also cook and wash clothes for the family while the boys are allowed to play and wander off.
Coming from a family of seven (three boys and four girls), her father never understood the importance of taking his girls to school since they would be married and leave his homestead. He made sure that all his male children attended school without fail. As the last born child, Ahatho was headed in the same direction as her parents waited to get her a potential suitor when she turned fourteen after her primary school exams. “My father told me that they were not able to support my quest for further education, therefore making me a potential target for marriage just like my sisters,” she reveals. Through the USAID-funded Koota Injena scholarship programme, Ahatho was able to continue with her education. “It was like a dream come true. I knew I could not go beyond primary education. I knew what was waiting for me, marriage. But when I got the Koota Injena scholarship, I was saved from the jaws of marriage,” she quipped.
“When I got the chance to go to school and learnt of my rights as a girl, I shared this information with my parents, telling them that I can do what my brothers can do and make independent decisions regarding my life. Their perspective changed. My parents have been very supportive since then, and despite being home for the better part of the year, they have agreed that marriage at my tender age is not an option.” Ahatho feels that her sisters could have had a better life if they had the chance to pursue their education and been aware of their rights.
Ahatho heard about the Koota Injena project in 2018 while she was in primary school through the school health club meetings. So far, the Activity has health clubs running in 20 schools (15 in Marsabit and five in Samburu County). “I learnt a lot about sexual reproductive health, FGM/C and early marriage through the dialogue sessions,” she notes, adding that she is grateful for the opportunity to continue with her education which motivates her to work hard every day to achieve her goals.
In school, she is a member of the journalism club. “The club which meets every Wednesday and Friday is a safe space for us to practice reporting and document anything that happens in school. This is my favourite thing in school, and I am convinced that I will pursue journalism after my high school because I want to use that as an avenue to address the challenges girls face in my community. I want to be the voice of Rendille girls,” Ahatho reiterates. She added that education gives girls a voice to speak for themselves, freedom to make independent decisions and the opportunity to prove that women are not lesser beings than men. She is grateful for the opportunity to continue her education. She cannot wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to be over so that she can get back to class. “I want to be a journalist and address the challenges the girls in my community face every day. I want to be the voice of girls in my community by speaking for them and show my community that harmful cultural practices should be abandoned altogether.”
Koota Injena is a three-year (2017-2020) USAID-funded proof of concept activity designed to implement and test the effectiveness of engaging clan elders, community leaders, and members through intergenerational dialogue and strengthening positive youth and male engagement as levers to change norms and behaviours for the abandonment of CEFM, FGM/C and low value of the girl among the 40 clans of Samburu (nine clans), Borana (seventeen clans), Rendille (nine clans) and Gabra (five clans) communities in Samburu and Marsabit Counties.