While the country grapples with the massive failure in last year’s KCSE, a Pokot girl in Baringo county is dreaming of becoming a doctor after scoring A-. She escaped FGM and early marriage to become one of the lucky few who succeeded in the exam.
Immelda Chepchumba, 19, from Tiaty subcounty, studied at Alliance Girls’ National School in Nairobi. The Pokot community turned up in great numbers to celebrate her performance at their home in Ng’inyang on December 28.
Tears of joy filled her eyes as elated relatives’, most dressed in traditional attire, carried her shoulder-high, chanting songs of success in Pokot dialect.
Besides completing and excelling in her secondary school education, the girl is also happy that she narrowly escaped female genital mutilation and early marriage. FGM in the culture is used to tame a woman’s sexual desire in the belief it will make her faithful.
While in primary school, Chepchumba lived with her aunt Chemket Nyang’atiang, 45, at Cheptuimet village in Tiaty subcounty. The aunt was averse to seeing her going to school. Instead, she wanted the girl to be undergo FGM and married off to bring wealth to the family.
However, the girl’s father, Musa Lochom, intervened.
“My stubborn sister wanted her married off while she was in class eight in 2014. I had to surrender my two camels for her to leave my daughter alone to continue with her studies,” Lochom said.
He said he had seen in Chepchumba the potential to succeed in her education and become a doctor. “So I had to save her from the grip of early marriage,” he said.
Chepchumba attributes her success to the support and constant encouragement of her parents, especially her father.
“Seeing many successful learned women in the society pressured me even more to work tirelessly hard to achieve my best, not forgetting self-motivation and putting God first,” she said.
Chepchumba said it was always hard to travel from home to school, given the insecurity caused by cattle rustling and intertribal clashes among the Tugen, Ilchamus and Pokot communities.
“Sometimes I stumbled on roadblocks in Loruk and Marigat, forcing me to take the all day finding long routes through Laikipia county to reach my school in Nairobi,” she said.
The girl appealed to the warring communities to stop the clashes and coexist. She also urged parents in her Pokot community to consider taking their children to school.
“It is always through education that children will grow up to help develop and improve the economy of this country,” Chepchumba said.
The girl wants to pursue medicine at the University of Nairobi. She says she is driven by the hardships faced by her community in accessing health services. The county suffers shortage of facilities and drugs, with a malaria outbreak in Tiaty subcounty killing over 30 people in October last year.
“So it is my personal calling to give back to the society through the health sector,” Chepchumba said.
Furthermore, her father Lochom said it was difficult but worth it, paying his daughter’s school fees of Sh137,000 a year, after meeting her form one personal requirements worth Sh79,000.
“I am a mere teachers’ college tutor but I used to complement my little salary with the sale of my camels, cattle and goats to pay her school fees,” Lochom said.
He said he had to contend with droughts, frequent bandit attacks and cattle rustling, losing a lot of livestock in the process each year.
STILL FACE THE CUT?
Chepchumba’s auntie Chemket was happy but also annoyed. She said despite education, FGM is inevitable in the Pokot community.
“There is no harm always even if our daughters go to school as far as university, because they will still come back home to face the knife before giving them out for marriage,” she said.
Pokot elders Lopuwo Aturoit and Loruko Loliwale said education will only help to raise the dowry price for the girl, but she must face the cut.
“We lost many of our livestock to harsh droughts. Others were stolen by bandits and several shot dead in grazing fields by police during the security operation in Tiaty and Laikipia county. So as Pokots, we have decided to educate our girl-child to recover our lost livestock through dowry,” Loliwale said.
Pokot professional David Kudoo differed with the traditional folks. He said despite FGM and early marriage being rooted in the culture, most Pokots have embraced education.
He said more civic education is needed to change the mindsets of the Pokot community, who still believe and worship their retrogressive cultures.
“Myself being a native from this community, although working as a public health specialist in West Pokot, I stand to discourage my fellow Pokot tribesmen from over-relying on livestock for their livelihoods. They should consider investing in education for economic diversity,” Kudoo said.
He appealed to the national and the county governments to put up more boarding schools and hire more teachers to engage more children in school and help stop the crimes of FGM, early marriage and banditry.
While praising the government for introducing free basic education, Kudoo urged it to expand the School Feeding Programme to help retain students from pastoral communities, especially in the Arid and Semi-Arid Land areas.
He also urged the government to consider reducing the university grade for students from ASAL areas to C, “and admit those with grades C- and D+ to public colleges to scale up the number of professionals in the locality”.
FGM, RUSTLING LINK
More than 2,000 Pokot girls in Tiaty subcounty underwent FGM during the December holidays, despite the government ban.
A source told the Star the girls were nursed in the bush after undergoing the cut. Traditional women circumcisers were paid at least two goats or Sh3,000 per girl, with the mutilation taking place in August and December.
After graduating, the teenage girls below 15 years were considered to have graduated into grown-up women and ready to be married. Suitors would need to part with a handful of livestock as dowry to get a circumcised girl for marriage.
“One should part with at least 50 goats, 30 cows or 10 camels to get the woman,” the source said. “That’s why Pokot men raid neighbouring pastoral communities — to get the livestock to settle their costly dowry.”
Ng’inyang-based Anglican Church Bishop Christopher Chochoi has been a vocal opponent of violence against women and girls in Tiaty.
The bishop, who founded the Cana Girls’ Rescue Centre at Ng’inyang, says it was difficult rescuing Pokot girls from undergoing the cut last year.
“The circumcisers have mastered the trick of taking the girls through the rite 15-20km away from the main roads and centres, making it difficult for us and the authorities to reach them,” Chochoi said.
He said the rescue centre, established in 2002, currently hosts 50 girls. Some 12 beneficiaries have completed their education to university level with the help of other stakeholders.
The bishop said previously, FGM and early marriage stood at 100 per cent among the Pokot, “but we have cut it to 80 per cent”.
While marking the World Day for Gender-Based Violence, county commissioner Peter Okwanyo blamed illiteracy and ignorance for the prevalence of FGM, early marriage and cattle rustling.
Okwanyo denied the Pokot are the worst community in Baringo in the crimes.
“We are aware of a number of circumcised Pokot girls currently in the bush. Others have even graduated, although no one has reported the crime,” he said.
He said education has all but set free the neighbouring Ilchamus, Tugens and Marakwet communities from the outlawed practices.
The commissioner directed the chiefs and the village elders to identify the culprits, arrest them and hand them to the police.
Deputy Governor Jacob Chepkwony said the county is ready to work with relevant authorities to improve education in Tiaty. He said this will end the retrogressive cultures and gender-based violence.