From jaws of early marriage to sterling KCSE results

Nyanza Initiative for Girls' Education and Empowerment (NIGEE) founder Dr Kawango Agot at her offices in Kisumu, when she met some of the vulnerable girls who performed well in last year's KCSE . [PHOTO: RUSHDIE OUDIA/STANDARD]
A group of girls in Nyanza, who most tell tales of how they were saved from the jaws of early marriages, have defied all odds to attain secondary education and post not only good results but also university entry points.

The young girls after being saved from early marriages were taken back to school by well-wishers who paid their fees and are willing to help them go further to achieve even more in life.

Elizabeth Odhil, 21, narrates a sad story of how she had to keep out of school for three years just because she did not have school fees.

Odhil who comes from Nyandiwa in Kanyada Homa Bay County was happy when she attained 320 marks in Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations in 2007.

She later received a calling letter from Kereri Girls High School in Kisii County but wondered where her mother would pay her school fees from.

Odhil would join Form one at Nyandiwa Secondary School but later drop out due to lack of school fees.

"For those three years I was out of school I was seeing my peers going to school, I felt bad but never gave up that one day I will go back to school," says Odhil.

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During this time, Odhil stayed with her grandmother in Kanyada and many men offered her a hand in marriage. The saddest part, she revealed, was some instances when she approached relatives to help her raise school fees and what she got was offers to have her get married as soon as possible and forget about education.

"Some of the young men who wanted to marry me are not speaking to me up to now since I declined any offers of marriage," says Odhil.

But when she got wind of some well-wishers who could pay her school fees, she grabbed the opportunity and has never regretted.

So sharp was Odhil that after getting support from a local Non-Governmental Organization, Nyanza Initiative for Girls' Education and Empowerment (NIGEE) she went straight to Form three.

"The period I was out of school, I used to sit with my peers who were going to school so that they could share what they were taught. This helped me so much as I was at par with my colleagues," said Odhil.

Today, she has a B-(minus) with 57 points in the 2014 KCSE and is hopeful she will be joining university.

While expressing her joy at the achievement of the young girls, founder of NIGEE Dr Kawango Agot says their main aim is to ensure young girls' dreams are not shattered by lack of school fees or early marriages.

Dr Agot says they want the girls to be a testimony to others who are facing the same challenges their peers faced but succeeded by going back to school.

"These girls have performed even better than many who have everything they need in life," says Dr Agot.

Currently NIGEE is supporting 350 girls from Nyanza all the way from form one.

According to a report by United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), around 120 million girls under the age of 20 worldwide (about 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts.

Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. More than one in three (about 250 million) entered into union before age 15.

Nineteen year old Judith Oogo, also from Nyandiwa did her KCPE in 2013 and attained 251 marks. Being a partial orphan with a mother who cannot fend for her at the same time take her to school, Oogo was forced to shelve her dreams of ever joining Form one.

Hers was a different story since her grandmother told her to go and become a house help to at least earn some income for the family.

"Had NIGEE failed to come to my rescue, I would have been a house help just like many of my friends are doing having failed to raise fees," says Oogo.

Oogo who scored B-(minus) at little known Nyandiwa Secondary School, blames rampant cases of early marriages in Homa Bay County to illiteracy among locals, but states that with their success stories, residents are slowly changing their mind-set.

Sharon Achieng from Bondo in Siaya County fell victim of her step mother who was being given school fees to pay, but instead did not, forcing Achieng to drop out of school for a while.

Achieng had scored 312 marks in KCPE in Bondo Township Primary school, and got a calling letter from Kisumu Girls National School. She failed to join the school for lack of school fees and had to settle for Nyakach Girls High school, equally a performing school.

Achieng's aunty, sister to her late mother took her in after she could not stand her step mother, and connected her to NIGEE who took up her case from form two.

"Before that I almost lost hope, but when I got a second chance I worked hard and attained B-," says an elated Achieng.

Her counterpart from Migori, Elizabeth Faith was happy when she sat for her KCPE at Rongo Primary School and passed highly getting a call up from a national school, Loreto Girls in Limuru but was saddened when she could not afford school fees.

Faith says her mother who is a tailoring instructor had already started exploring other options of taking her to a provincial school then, due to lack of fees.

The option was to be St Albert's Ulanda Girls High school in Awendo but Faith's mother took a loan from Elimu SACCO that settled first term's fees for her daughter, but that was it since she got stuck come Form two.

"I had a strong feeling that a door would open for me, and it did when a huge burden was off loaded off my mother's back by the well-wishers," narrates Faith.

She went ahead with her education driven by the fact that she had been given a second chance and finally scored a B+ ( plus).

NIGEE programme coordinator Godfrey Ochieng says their initiative is an illustration to the community that things can be done in a different way and not stick to culture.

"Our intervention has reduced cases of early marriages and if you take your time and listen to the cries of many of these destitute girls, you will see a soul that yearns for education and not marriage," adds Ochieng.

The organization is currently undertaking recruitment for girls from Kuria community in Migori County, an area where early marriages and female genital mutilation is rampant.

So far 14 girls are being supported with school fees totalling to over 450, 000.

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