It was rather one of my amazing and exciting moments. My mother reached out for a letter that marked the beginning of my new high school life.
The journey to my new school was rather long, one that took hours. This was miles away from home. A place I had never been before.
We reported the following day after traveling the whole night. Many questions ran into my mind. Will I get friends or bullies and how will I react towards them. A worry many girls joining high school had at the time.
Many days passed by and all was well. There was no bullying allowed in school. The girls at the school were friendly. I realized also that I was the only girl and the first from my community (Maasai community) in the school. Most of them were from different communities.
They asked me lots of questions. Why I didn’t have my earlobes pierced like girls from my community, whether I lived in a ‘Manyatta’, do you sometimes dress like your people-in Maasai Regalia? These questions remind me of those first days in the school.
My third year of high school was rather interesting. Most girls had ‘boyfriends’ unlike me. The thought of having one at the time had not sprang into my mind. A friend of mine asked if I had one and to her surprise I said no. She thought I was joking and wanted to know why. I explained to her that I had never thought of it. I advised her to concentrate with school work. She laughed as she walked away.
School closed for recess. At home, my father’s elder brother had started negotiating with his friend to have me marry his friend’s son. The son was a stranger to me. I had never seen him nor spoken to him. My mother explained to me of my uncle’s intention. I couldn’t believe this was happening.
I quickly thought of my friend’s idea to have a boyfriend. This was the last thing that I wanted. I loved school but the thought of a forced marriage was really not for me especially at the time. I thought of my parents struggle to pay school fees to keep me in school. The thought of me as the first born having my siblings copy anything bad that I was to do. That’s when I got the idea of having a boyfriend. Someone I could relate to and not a forced one but someone of my choice.
One day I attended a function that saw many young people gather together with some leaders. I was approached by a young, tall, handsome, educated gentleman. He introduced himself to me and from then we became good friends. After completing school he proposed to me and eventually we got married.
This foiled my uncle’s plans to have me married off by force to someone of his choice and most off all a stranger.
I never thought of getting married then but it happened. Fortunately he never stopped me further my education he instead encouraged me. He knew I did well in school and gave every support that I needed.
My life in high school gave me my current life, a different life from most girls in my community, who married men of their parents/ relatives choices. Many of my girl cousins went through forced marriages. They suffered a lot from such. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help them. I was as young as some of them were. They suffered in the hands of men who beat them and treated them very badly. It hurt me to see them suffer yet I had no solution for them then. My boy cousins were happy everything seemed well for them.
I later realized that I could make a difference for other girls not to suffer as they did. Today I thank God for the chance to make this difference, to stand in for girls suffering in my community, in Tanzania and anywhere else to raise their voices.
Fighting for their rights and educate men, morans (warriors) and boys on the need of supporting their sisters, wives, mothers and other girls and women, support girls access quality education to enable them become better women, leaders and mothers and wives while educating them to understand and acquire their rights.
The traditional and cultural norms of most indigenous / pastoralist communities are deep rooted and might take long to stop early/ forced marriages in Tanzania. The recent reports on the same in Kenya (a country that shares its border with Tanzania to the North) and other countries is an indication that it can take long to stop this kind of practice especially due to high poverty levels that have contributed to the exchange of girls for dowry (cattle/ goat) for many years. This negative practice is embroiled in traditional/ cultural norms.
Although it might take long for changes to be seen I want to appreciate the efforts made by my country Tanzania, on the amendment of the law to stop early/ forced marriages and want to educate my community/ country on the new law. This is worth celebrating during the World girls’ day 2016.
That’s why I and my organization Girls’ Empowerment Program and Network (GEPaN) -Tanzania want to ensure acquisition of rights to education, health, economic empowerment, protection of girls, women and our environment and a full participation by all for future sustainable development.
I want to stand by all girls and let them know of our support for them wherever they are in Tanzania and the world at large. To also let them know they can make better choices in their lives where and when they can.
“Am the girl who made her choice- Make a good choice for yourself where and when you can”. Let education be your priority and the rest shall follow for education is a sure way of ending poverty (economic empowerment) and its a fundamental human right.
I wish all girls a Happy International Girls’ Day 2016!
This post was submitted in response to Growing Up Girls.