Mwangaza Primary School

Some of the beds at the girls' protection centre at Mwangaza Primary School in Isiolo County as pictured on August 5, 2021.

| Waweru Wairimu | Nation Media Group

Light at the end of the tunnel for notorious Isiolo locality

What you need to know:

  • Worried about the dimming future of girls, some locals two years ago approached an organisation to help them set up a safe place where affected girls could be housed.

Mwangaza, an area on the outskirts of Isiolo town in Wabera ward, is synonymous with land disputes and grabbing cases.

The situation is so bad that prospective buyers have to first request to deliver a lorry of sand to the land and undertake some developments before paying for it just to be sure that the parcel has no disputes.

In the event it is contested, the buyer faces resistance, sparing his hard-earned cash.

Besides hosting several schools to provide light to the populace, as the name suggests, the area, which has been neglected, with a majority of its roads in a pathetic state, is beset by an array of crimes such as burglary and motorcycle thefts.

Just recently, a cleric and a 14-year-old boy were shot in the leg and stomach respectively by bandits attempting to steal goats about a kilometre past Isiolo town.

The boy, who was rushing home after the curfew hour of 10pm, was shot by the armed men, who were fleeing with more than 80 goats while the cleric was shot at his homestead in Mwangaza trading centre.

Illicit brews are also in plenty for lovers of cheap thrills, with a majority of brewers being women.

The availability of cheap alcohol has been blamed for the rising number of young addicts who have become beggars and turned into zombies, with some terrorising residents.

Isiolo sub-county police Commander George Kariuki said most of the crimes reported in the area, including assault and burglary, start from land disputes or attempts to dispossess residents of their land.

A gang of young men used by rogue individuals to eject people from their land to aid their land-grabbing are on police radar, Mr Kariuki said.

Mwangaza Primary School

A girls' protection centre at Mwangaza Primary School in Isiolo County as pictured on August 5, 2021. 

Photo credit: Waweru Wairimu | Nation Media Group

Parental neglect

While cases of parental neglect are reported countywide, Mwangaza is among the areas with a large number of single parents who either broke up with their spouses and were abandoned with the children or are raising the children single-handedly.

Out of desperation, many single mothers have resorted to illicit brewing and prostitution to earn quick cash and provide for their families.

“I have no one to raise my children with and I have no job. What do you want me to do?” a young mother said.

One mother of three was celebrated in July last year for committing her time to fetch water for the sick, elderly and disabled to ensure they observed better hygiene when Covid-19 hit.

Using a motorcycle, Irene Kanana, 44, would spend half a day distributing water to 20 families in the area, an undertaking that cost her at least Sh1,000 daily.

Poverty and neglect by parents have pushed some girls to flee their homes while others are lured into sex-for-basic-necessities unions as their parents are also addicts who cannot fend for their families, let alone pay their school fees.

Cases of men sexually abusing their own daughters have also been on the rise in the area recently, authorities say, and teachers at local schools, through children’s officials, insist many cases are not reported.

Many girls are left home alone, forcing older ones to take care of younger siblings, exposing them to risks, including being preyed on by young men and enticed into promiscuous behaviour and criminal activities.

Place of refuge

Worried about the dimming future of girls, some locals two years ago approached an organisation to help them set up a safe place where affected girls could be housed.

At least 40 school girls in Isiolo sub-county became pregnant between March 2020 and July this year, according to sub-county Education Director John Nzinga.

Crowded Mwangaza Primary School is among those affected, with at least 50 girls subjected to forced labour, neglect or sexual exploitation.

A Sh4.1 million dormitory that the Nawiri Child Development Programme built at the school in partnership with Child Fund Kenya has since been converted into a safe house.

It will accommodate 40 girls who have been neglected by their parents, abused, exploited or at risk of being exposed to harmful practices such as FGM, to ensure maximum study time for improved performance so that they do not drop out of school

Speaking at the commissioning of the facility, Child Fund Kenya Upper Eastern manager Zack Lenawamuro said the building equipped with 40 beds will ensure girls have a safe and secure learning environment.

“The building has taken three years to be ready and we believe in education, especially for the girl child and want to see it translate to better performance of our girls,” Mr Lenawamuro said, asking the local community to support the facility so that it achieves light as the school name implies.

Education champion Lucy Mworia asked girls not to shy from reporting abuse, exploitation and neglect to teachers, among other people they feel comfortable sharing with, so that necessary action and interventions are made.

“There is a need to bring all stakeholders on board including parents for them to own and support the facility so that it does not become a white elephant project,” Ms Mworia said.

Mwangaza Primary School

Some of the beds at the girls' protection centre at Mwangaza Primary School in Isiolo County as pictured on August 5, 2021.

Photo credit: Waweru Wairimu | Nation Media Group

Nawiri coordinator John Leshalote said girls at the primary school will be given priority before picking those from neighbouring areas and schools and that the organisation will continue monitoring its progress and offering support.

The protection centre needs, among others, a nurse, a matron and a teacher to watch over the girls.

Mr Nzinga, the Isiolo sub-county education director, said the school must change its registration to a day and boarding school to ensure the facility gets government support.

“The project marries with the government’s efforts to remove all barriers to access to education and there is a need to (seek help from private companies) and other investors” to make the facility sustainable, he said.

Isiolo Parents Association chair Ismael Galma decried the surge in gender-based violence on girls during the Covid-19 period, saying the facility, though small, was timely.

He urged local elected leaders to pool resources and build similar but larger facilities to accommodate girls and boys to ensure they achieve their dreams.

Grace Lolim of Isiolo Gender Watch said there was a need to also focus on boys as the group had become more vulnerable than before.

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