If Josephine Rotiken’s father had been allowed to have his way, the young girl would have been married off in 2006 at the tender age of 12 years.
The father had already received six cows and an unknown amount of money from Josephine’s 33-year old ‘suitor’ and the old man was just too eager to marry off his class seven daughter.
But as fate would have it, a friendly cousin secretly referred Josephine to pastor Patrick Ngige’s House of Hope Rescue Centre in Narok where she not only found refuge but an opportunity to continue with her education.
After her Primary Education at Ilpolton Primary school where she scored 344 marks, the determined young girl was again advised to “hide” at Jomo Kenyatta High School in Nakuru-away from Maasai Girls High School in Narok (where she had initially been admitted) because her father was still determined to snatch her from the cradle for marriage. The bright girl managed a B(minus) at her KCSE.
Today, the highly articulate Josephine has not only completed her Law Degree at Kabarak University in Nakuru, but is currently bursting with energy as she awaits her graduation later in the year, before joining the legal fraternity as “learned friend”.
She has also been reconciled with her father who, according to Josephine, now talks positively about his educated daughter.
Her younger sister Harriet was not so lucky. She was married off at age 15. She is now a mother of four at 19. Josephine is hopeful that she will be able to save her last-born sibling, now in class six, so that she is not ensnared by the forced early marriage social-cultural trap.
Josephine’s story is not an isolated case in a highly conservative Maasai Community in Narok where girls are viewed as sources of wealth for the family and hurriedly married off barely before they can complete primary school education.
The House of Hope Rescue Centre in Narok is currently the home to another 107 rescued young Maasai girls aged between 12-18, among them Hellen Seteka who was snatched from a forced early marriage eight years ago. She then joined class one aged 16 years and is now in form one.
Another girl from Entontol village, Susan Sururu, who was rescued last year is 18 years but still struggling with her alphabets and digits 1-9 in Standard one.
These are some of the distressing stories told at the House of Hope Rescue Centre today as the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta met with some of the girls , not only to motivate them, but practically demonstrate her passion for the safety and welfare of the girl child.
“And today I can celebrate because I have met exceptional girls whose hopes and dreams are no longer out of their reach “, said the First Lady
The First Lady said the hope of these girls is the same hope that President Uhuru Kenyatta has promised to fulfill for all Kenyan children.
“That is why he has promised free education for all children from the age of age 6 to 18 years. He has promised to prepare our children so that they can be economically stable and we know that with hard work and a good education, they will have a promise of a better future”, she added
Although 26 of these girls have been reconciled with their parents, they still depend on the House of Hope Rescue Centre for financial, social and moral support
After meeting the girls at their proposed new Enkishon farm, the First Lady , in partnership with Ahadi Kenya Trust donated and commissioned a petrol-fuelled water pump to enable the rescued girls grow their own food under irrigated agriculture .
The girls welcomed the First Lady to the farm with songs condemning FGM and early marriages, the dark cultural forces that have forced them out of their respective homes.
The jubilant girls bade farewell to the First Lady by handing her with a T-Shirt with an affirmative message: “Say No to FGM (Female Genital Mutilation)”
The Safe House, is currently operating within Narok Town but Pastor Ngige (the Executive Director) of the home and his wife Josephine Nairesian have plans to move the centre to the more specious Enkishon farm through which the Narok river passes.
Milk cows, turkeys, geese, chicken and rabbits are the other projects on the farm that sits on a 5-acre parcel of land. A fish pod on the farm is ready to receive the first fingerings.
According to Pastor Ngige , a trained school teacher and a former Primary School headmaster, the safe house that started with only 12 girls in 1997 has so far rescued over 1000 girls from both early marriages and FGM.
He runs the centre with his wife who also resigned from her High School teaching job in 2010 to concentrate on rescuing the girls.