Samburu village celebrates as first girl to earn varsity degree graduates

Nancy Loongonyek, the first girl from Lopesiwo village in Samburu East constituency to graduate with a university degree received by her family in the village on January 10, 2024, after she graduated from Maseno University. [Michael Saitoti, Standard]

In a small village tucked away in the rugged terrain of Samburu East Constituency, Nancy Loongoyek lives like any other girl from the pastoral community, but with a great feat, she is the first to achieve.

In her village, she is the first girl to graduate from a university.

Loongoyek like many other girls from her community, struggled with problems such as beading tradition, female genital mutilation, early marriage, and discrimination.

According to the beading tradition, the warriors (Morans) are allowed to have a temporary marital relationship with a very young girl from the same clan as the warrior. 

The moran buys red beads for the girl after getting the mandate from the family of the girl. The main objective of the beading is to prepare the young girl for marriage in the future.

Since the moran and his beaded girl are relatives, and the girl is uncircumcised, both marriage and pregnancy are forbidden. 

In the case of a pregnancy, the pregnancy has to be terminated through abortion by an elderly woman. 

If the beaded girl gives birth, the child has to be killed through herb poisoning, since the child is perceived to be an outcast. 

The lucky babies who survive are given out to other communities like the Turkana tribe.

However, the 27-year-old graduate in business education from Maseno University overcame all those challenges.

She also refused to be part of the county’s statistic of high illiteracy level, which currently stands at 78 per cent, and opted to give joy to residents of Lopesiwo village who joined her in celebrating the achievement this week.

Loongoyek obtained formal education at Ltpes Primary School where she was the first pupil to score 353 marks in her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination.

She proceeded to Gatero High School ion Nyahururu where she attained grade B- in her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams and was later admitted to Maseno University.

With the help of a scholarship from the Pastoralist Child Foundation, Loongoyek like many other children from her community managed to complete her university education.

“My long dream was to pursue a degree in the university, which none of my village mates has ever attained. When I managed a second class upper division, I was elated and decided to come and share that joy with my village,” she told the Standard this week during the celebration at the village.

“It feels nice that I became the first woman from my community to graduate. But at the same time, it makes me feel sad that so many women who could have done better in life before me could not do it because of adverse circumstances and lack of opportunity.” Loongoyek said.

She is now preparing to go on a scholarship abroad and says she hopes to be an activist.

Her father, Joseph Loongoyek told the Standard that he is optimistic her daughter will transform lives. “She can be the voice of the Samburu people,” Loongoyek said. “She is my only daughter, and I am proud of her.”

Damaris Lekiluwai, a mentor for girls from the community, described Loongoyek’s achievement as a historical event for the entire community.

Samuel Leadismo, the founder and director of Pastoral Child Foundation, said Loongoyek was now “an example for the community” after achieving the feat in an “extremely challenging situation.” “If we want more women like Loongoyek to be able to give back to society, we need to help them, and make sure that our policies support their education,” he added.

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