Priscilla’s story of resolve and determination
It wasn’t that nobody cared. A lot of people wanted to know why 13-year-old Priscilla Harao had agreed to become part of the outrage they were trying to wipe out – marriages between rich old men and poor young girls. Priscilla had always been a good girl. Surely this was a mistake.
So she was called to the office of the District Commissioner in Marsabit, northern Kenya, to get to the bottom of this mystery. When she got there she wasn’t alone. Waiting for her was the full rescue team –her teachers and leaders of the Isogargaro women’s group who had reported her husband-to-be to the DC for abducting an underage school girl for marriage. The DC, a kind and fatherly man who took these matters seriously, asked her why she wanted to marry this old man, fully expecting that she would break down in tears, thanking him for rescuing her from certain doom.
Imagine his surprise when she responded Ni mimi ninampenda wala si nyinyi! (It is me who loves him, not any of you!) She was adamant that she was in love with the old man. Efforts to get her back to school completely failed as she ran away from her home and joined the man in Nairobi.
Of course, as happens in many stories there was more to it than that. The truth of the matter was that the old man was actually after her younger sister. When a sizable dowry was paid, the parents agreed, but the younger girl fled, never to be heard from again. The would-be bridegroom wanted to know where his bride was, and if she could not be found demanded return of the dowry. But the parents, who had already spent the money from the dowry, could see only one way out – let him take Priscilla instead. Understanding her family’s plight, Priscilla agreed.
This was why she was so stern at the DC’s office. She knew she had to make it appear that she really loved the old man; otherwise her parents would be subjected to ridicule or worse.
In Nairobi, at first things were good. Although he could not marry her legally because of her age, the old man treated her well, and within a year she became expectant. Unfortunately, she lost the baby. The next year she lost another baby, but finally, after a third try and in her 16th year she was able to carry her pregnancy to term, giving birth to a bouncing baby boy. Unfortunately, and to her utter dismay, things took an ugly turn after this delivery.
He loved me before I gave birth, but after birth he really mistreated me – physically and verbally.
As she recalls the events, her face turns sullen with a distant blank stare. Her eyes get teary and her voice trails off and she takes a deep breath.
He started beating me and just being very mean to me. I thought I was going to die. But I still stayed because I had a small baby, and I had nowhere to go. I was also ashamed and felt stigmatized. What were people going to think of me? I had failed. My mind was blurred and I just couldn’t see a way out. I never imagined things could change so quickly. I felt trapped in a nightmare. My family was poor and I couldn’t go back home. I didn’t even know Nairobi well, nor did I have any money on me, if I was to run.
My return home, unfortunately, brought a lot of problems to my mother, and caused a lot of tension between my parents. She was ridiculed and blamed for my dropping out of school, my failed marriage, and my bringing shame to the family as a young unmarried mother. However, I had endured too much suffering and was determined never to go back to that life. My mum understood and asked me if I was willing to go back to school, which I gladly accepted. She remains at home nursing my baby to this day and has been my strength and inspiration.
The Isogargaro ladies came back for her as soon as they heard that she had returned. Parents themselves, they have continued to be a pillar of encouragement and guidance, as Priscilla tries to rebuild her life and a future for her son.
I want to make my parents and especially my mom proud of me someday. I can’t change what happened, my age mates are ahead of me now… in secondary school, but I will not be discouraged. I will focus on my studies.
Her teachers are keen to support her and currently she is among the top 10 pupils in her class. She will sit for her Kenya National Certificate of Primary Education in 2015, and she is working hard to score above 370 out of 500 marks. This will enable her get a scholarship to a good girl’s secondary school.
Priscilla has willingly shared her story with the Pastoralist Education Program (PEP) to encourage other young girls and their parents who have undergone similar experiences to return to school. When asked what she would like to do with her life, her answer is ready. Her resolve is to one day become a lawyer or a journalist. She wants to defend the rights of young naïve girls from her community – just like she was – against cultural practices that hinder them from attaining good education and the opportunities that come with it. She is focused, determined and wiser!
PEP is a capacity-building project of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), an international organization that has been supporting local community organizations like the Isogargaro Women’s Group. The PEP objective is to work with marginalized communities to build the capacity of local institutions, in this case in education, to be able to support their communities so that all children may attend school.
Priscilla represents numberless young girls in pastoralist communities whose futures are broken because of the yokes of culture and poverty. IIRR, with local partners like the Isogargaro Women’ Group, is helping girls like Priscilla return to school to continue their education. Currently the PEP program has an enrollment of 4,309 learners (2,498 girls and 1,811 boys). The first Isogargaro girls to sit KCPE did so in 2014. The program is determined to support them not only to perform well, but also to move on to the secondary level where they will be equipped with life skills.
The program has strengthened the campaign to get young mothers back in school where they can get the education they need to help them later in life, using Priscilla’s story. Watch video