PROJECT: MOI GIRLS SAMBURU SCHOOL
DIRECTOR: ALICE GITURU
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Alice Gituru is the Principal of AIC Moi Girls Samburu Secondary School located in Maralal, Kenya. While there are elementary schools all over the region, there are few secondary schools, so girls from small villages must relocate and attend a regional boarding school if they wish to continue their education. Although the school is very inexpensive, less than $500 a year for tuition, room, and board, few students can afford to attend. Many try, however, because the girls dread the alternative.
In the Samburu culture, men are divided into three age brackets: children, warriors (aka Morans) who protect the livestock from raids from rival clans, and elders. When a girl is circumcised, she becomes eligible to be married to an elder – thus young girls are married off to old men. Only the elders are allowed to marry, so the younger men do not have wives. So, how do they deal with their sexual desires? They will “bead” a girl who is not yet circumcised (thus the colorful beaded necklaces worn by Samburu girls you see in photos). When a girl is beaded, her mother builds a hut next to theirs, and the girl drops out of school to become the sexual slave of the Moran who beaded her. The two are not married, nor will the girls later marry the men who beaded them except in very rare cases. This is forced on her, and if she resists (as they often do) they are violently beaten. She is not “allowed” to get pregnant, despite the fact that no contraceptives are used. Most beaded girls have not yet reached puberty and that keeps them from getting pregnant for a time. If a beaded girl eventually becomes pregnant, she undergoes a very painful and dangerous “traditional abortion” where a group of women elders use their elbows and heels to forcefully push the fetus out of her body, often permanently damaging the uterus in the process and sometimes killing the girl. If that fails and a child is born, the baby, typically, is immediately killed or given to a member of a different tribe to raise. A beaded girl who gives birth is often shunned. So, first young girls are beaded and forced into what amounts to child prostitution, then they undergo female circumcision, and then they are forced into marriage to old men!! What a life!! There are a few organizations/churches that rescue beaded girls and put them back in school, so about 20% of the students at Moi Girls Samburu have experienced beading and were rescued. About 65% have been circumcised. All are trying to avoid forced child marriage.
Alice’s school doesn’t ever dismiss girls who have fallen behind in their payments (as many girls do), but when a family feels there is no hope of covering the growing balances, girls are often pulled out of school by their uncles who arrange for the girls to marry much older men. It is the uncles that make this decision, even against the wishes of the girl’s mother, and the uncle receives the bride price. This program is Alice’s attempt to protect these girls from forced child marriage. By covering half the outstanding balances of the girls most likely to be pulled out for marriage, the families retain hope that their daughters might complete high school. By only covering half the balances rather than the total balances, we can help twice as many students. The longer girls stay in school, the more confidence they develop. As they become bolder and more capable of taking care of themselves, they feel empowered to resist their uncles.
In addition to the 50+ students who are helped with their secondary school balances, as an added incentive we will be choosing 5 to 10 top students each year for scholarships to teaching or nursing colleges. This will not only encourage the girls to study hard and do well on their exams, the hope that they might be one of the few selected for college gives the girls added leverage against their uncles. In the words of some of the students in the program, “Words to express our gratitude cannot be expressed on a paper by ink, but by our hard work. Our happiness is beyond any form of expression. We will not let your toil go in vain.”
To donate to Kenya-Samburu click here.