As the daughter of a watchman in Nairobi, Marsabit Governor Mohamud Ali’s wife Alamitu Guyo Jattani, was once on the brink of dropping out of school during her formative years.
Her father, who earned a meagre Sh400 at the time, was unable to raise the Sh1, 300 school fee.
She attributes her education to the Catholic nuns who paid her fees at Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School, Nairobi.
Fast forward to 2018 and Ms Alamitu is determined to break the barriers that keep children in arid and remote Marsabit County out of school.
“Growing up in a poor family gives me the energy to want to uplift others since I know what it means to need and not have,” she says.
While most governor’s wives are content with remaining in the shadows of their spouses, Ms Alamitu he has come out to champion causes she believes in such as menstrual hygiene, maternal and child health, environment and education -- specifically refurbishing the schools and providing mentors to the students.
Early last week, through Mama Guyo Care, a community-based organisation she started in 2016, Ms Alamitu launched her Adopt a School Mentorship and Menstrual Hygiene Programme to provide mentors to schoolchildren and champion menstrual hygiene.
She says menstruation is the bane of many girls’ education in the county, estimating that adolescent girls lose about 45 school days annually due to periods.
Despite the importance of menstrual hygiene, there is a huge gap in sensitisation for proper hygiene and almost no support from men due to the patriarchal nature of the pastroralist communities.
It has been a source of ridicule for many girls and one that has led to school dropouts.
For instance, last Monday at Dr Guracha Memorial Girls High School in Sololo near Moyale, Marsabit County, this writer witnessed as two boys sniggered as they moved boxes of stationery out of a store room to an open field where tents had been erected for the launch of the function.
“Unabeba box ya Always (You are carrying a box with Always),” one of them sneered at a third oblivious boy who goes on to take the box into the field, unperturbed.
Such is the attitude that greets sanitary hygiene products in communities in rural Marsabit County.
And it is this bull that Ms Alamitu, 38, is prepared to take by the horns to ensure adolescent girls access essential sanitary products.
It is not every day that you see a group of men in a function as girls are educated on the nitty gritties of hygiene and the do’s and don’ts, as they are told to keep their children in school.
Ms Alamitu is also determined to break the barriers in advocating against female genital mutilation (FGM), early and forced marriage and the education of boys at the expense of girls.
These are the realities that girls in the region face, and as some of the women leaders in the county like nominated Senator Rev Canon Naomi Jillo and National Land Commissioner Qabale Tache stated, they too had to overcome those challenges.
Ms Tache’s father was resistant to her going to school since he associated education with losing morals, while Senator Jillo was betrothed while she was in Form 2 but was lucky that the man she was to marry was content with waiting until she concluded her education.
A 2017 report by the National Council for Population and Development titled Marsabit County Adolescents and Youth Survey found that only 66 per cent of children in the primary school-age were enrolled in primary school and only 13 per cent were in secondary school.
The key issues identified to be affecting the education of young people in the county are retrogressive cultural practices such as FGM, early marriage and child labour.
The report also found that education levels had dipped partly due to a lack of mentors and an overemphasis on educating boys.
These issues are mainly caused by lack of parental guidance (parents asking their children to look after livestock) and poverty, Ms Alamitu says
“Young people with mentors are more likely to stay in school and set higher goals for themselves. Children learn to expect more from seeing their mentors. They need someone that embodies their ambition and who can guide them,” she says.
To fill the gap, over 200 members of the community, some of whom have overcome the greatest odds to achieve success, including early marriage and FGM, have been trained and will be sent to all the 40 high schools and 179 primary schools in the county.
“The only way we can change the narrative of Marsabit from poverty, drought and marginalisation is through education. Education is the greatest equaliser,” she says.
But for Ms Alamitu, it doesn’t end with providing mentors. She is also overseeing the refurbishment of schools through the Boresha Elimu Initiative to improve the learning environment.
During the launch, she distributed 4,334 books for primary and secondary schools.