Lilian Awino: “Marriage is not the solution”
Lilian’s early childhood involved a great deal of shuffling around. Her father kicked her mother out of their home when Lilian was quite young, forcing her to stay with her grandmother and eventually her uncle in Muhuru Bay.
By the time she reached Class 8, Lilian was being steered towards getting married, as her family had little hope of paying for secondary school. Feeling trapped, she ran away. Lilian’s parents began staying together again, but her mother had begun selling chang’aa (home-brewed alcohol) to make ends meet and was an unreliable caretaker.
Eventually, Lilian resigned that she had no option but to get married and began to make the necessary preparations. Her husband-to-be, however, was skeptical as she was still very young. He told her about a new secondary school that was going to offer girls full scholarships and encouraged her to try and get accepted.
When Lilian was called for an interview, he told her that if she was not selected they could continue with their marriage plans, but that if she was given the opportunity to attend WISER, she should continue her education. Through WISER, Lilian’s life has taken a drastically different turn. As she put it, “WISER has made me realize that marriage is not the solution to girls’ problems and that girls have equal abilities to boys. Education is for all people!” Lilian hopes to pursue a degree in medical laboratory sciences and work to improve the health of her community.
Joy and relief.
WISER seniors finish their grueling national exams and four years of hard work. Now they wait for the results to find out who goes to university.
Before coming to WISER, Modester used to travel a long way from home to primary school each day, often moving alone as early as 5am. This was extremely risky as there were many cases of rape along the route to school. She began attending classes late to avoid having to walk in the dark but would often be caned for arriving late to school. In keeping with expected female roles within the community, Modester was expected to bear a great deal of the labor burden at home, often helping her father in the shamba (farm). Although Modester’s older sister was very bright, their father refused to educate her claiming that he could not afford to educate his daughters. Eventually she decided to get married. Modester feels very fortunate that she will soon become the first woman in her family to finish secondary school! Modester sites that WISER has helped to transform parental attitudes, including that of her own father so the future looks much brighter for her younger sister: “By now my father’s attitude has changed and he now believes that what a boy can do, a girl can also do.” Modester hopes to become a teacher, a psychologist and/or a journalist and would like to eventually become a WISER donor to ‘pay back’ the amazing opportunity she has been given and enable more girls to become empowered through education.
Diana is an academic powerhouse! Before learning that she was admitted to WISER, Diana feared that she would not be able to afford secondary school and, like many girls in the community, would have to get married. She has excelled across the board academically and recently earned the second highest score of ALL of the girls in the District during mock exams! After finishing Form 4, she hopes to spend some time tutoring younger WISER girls before attending university – her fingers are crossed for admission in the US – where she plans to pursue medicine. WISER has, most importantly, enabled Diana to “…have big dreams. I have the ability to do better and I’ve realized that I’ve made it!”
Houses of Wisdom
Every Monday afternoon at WISER the girls can be found sitting in circles under trees or around various corners of the campus. They group themselves according to their ‘Houses of Wisdom’ (peer support groups) and hold lively meetings where a different theme is selected each week. The girls discuss everything from shaving their armpits and what length their skirts should be to sexual violence, early marriages and HIV/AIDS.
Spaces where girls can candidly share their experiences and views are a rarity in rural Kenya, yet they are such an important vehicle for personal growth and transformation. As Lavender, a Form 4 student, put it, “I was very shy in Form 1. House meetings have helped me to become a good public speaker and to have the courage to speak in front of bigger groups.” Other girls cite becoming more principled, spending their leisure time productively, more effective problem solving, and relating better to one another despite differences as benefits of these gatherings. Most importantly, House meetings give girls a voice in a community where female opinions are traditionally seen as secondary to those of their male counterparts.
The bouts of laughter and heated debates that ensue during meetings are a testament that the girls have become wildly more self-confident. They have the gumption to challenge one another, a skill which is seemingly lacking from the Kenyan school system. They recognize the power of having a voice. This was entirely reaffirmed after the very first Houses of Wisdom meeting that I ever attended when one of the girls approached me and confidently announced, ‘I want to tell you my story.’