Married at 17, mum of two beats odds to earn degree in Physics

Hellen Chelangat (second right) with (from left) Paul Oduor, Kissilah Kenneth (lecturer), Clinton Mwangi and Dr Elicah Wabululu (lecturer and supervisor) on the day of graduation at the Catholic University of East Africa.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • At the age of 17, Hellen Chelangat was forced into early marriage after failing to join Form One twice.
  • Together with her husband, they moved to a nearby trading centre, where they survived by hawking doughnuts.
  • In 2013, she registered as an adult candidate and sat for KCPE exams, for a third time.
  • Through the help of her brother, a sitting MP, she completed her high school at Ngeria Girls High School.

On October 28, more than 2,500 graduands were conferred with degrees and awarded certificates in their respective faculties, during Catholic University of East Africa’s 41st graduation ceremony.

Behind the beaming faces, tales abound of sheer struggles by some of the graduates. These tales now serve to offer hope and inspiration.

Hellen Chelangat was one of the graduands.

Her journey epitomizes the adage ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonades out of it.’ And as they say, there is no challenge without solution.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physics.

At the age of 17 years, after failing to join Form One twice, she was forced into early marriage.

Two children and two decades later, she was back to school after registering as an adult student. She secured an admission in high school and passed her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) before being admitted to university.  

Born in 1988 at Kaptarkok village in Elgeyo Marakwet County, Ms Chelangat narrates how struggle and optimism would have been her other name. She, however, surmounted the challenges that threatened to curtail her dream of becoming an electronic engineer.

“I was born in a financial obscure background compounded, in an environment awash with busaa and changaa (traditional brews). Affording a meal was a challenge. My siblings and I attended the local primary school which I joined in 1994. In 2003, I sat for my KCPE and gained admission at Kaptagat Girls High School,” she narrates to Nation.Africa.

Missed admission

“And because the situation at home had degenerated to unbearable levels, I failed to join Form One and opted to repeat Class Eight. I had hoped that lady luck would knock at my door upon writing my national exam.”

And as fate would have it, she again missed admission to join Metkei Girls High School for her secondary education, in 2005.

“I was only 17 when I got married. The abuse at my home was sickening and I saw no hope. I thought marriage would offer me solace. Together with my husband, we relocated to a trading centre, which was near Kapkenda Girls High School. We survived by hawking doughnuts,” she recalls.

“What pierced my heart was when I met my former schoolmates in school uniforms, carrying books, while I was hawking doughnuts. I had a passion for education but I could not satisfy it because of lack of funds. I asked my husband if we could save some of the proceeds to allow me to go back to school,” she notes.

Ms Chelangat narrates how a compassionate teacher, who lived in the same plot with them, would bring her revision materials after sensing her thirst for education.

Sometimes later, the couple relocated to Uasin Gishu County and while there, she plotted how to go back to school.

Boarding school

In 2013, she registered as an adult candidate and sat for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams, for a third time, at Uasin Gishu Primary School. She passed and through the help of her brother Gideon Kimaiyo (sitting MP Keiyo South) she joined Ngeria Girls High School, a boarding school.

“By then, my brother had been employed and he took it upon himself to educate me and our siblings. He was our guardian angel and agent of change in our family. At Ngeria Girls, I promised never to let myself down,” she reminisces.

She was the top student from Form One through to Form Four and because of the hard work and discipline, she was a prefect, and was eventually appointed the school president while in Form Four.

“I never shared my story with anyone in school because I never wanted to be pitied or stigmatised. I took up my student days like any other learner even though I was a married woman, and my colleagues were much younger,” she says.

Back home, her husband took care of the children and she would see them whenever school closed and during half term breaks.

“I have learnt there is no challenging situation that is permanent; everything has a solution. It only depends on your perception and how you approach it. Sometimes life struggles are meant to strengthen us,” she offers.

Second chance

She asks those with dreams to achieve, no matter the situation, to just start, be determined, resilient, and persistent, stay focused and always give their best.

“To the young girls out there, who without their consciousness got themselves into early marriages, all is not lost. Wake up, dust yourself and focus on your future. Let no one discourage you, there is always second chance,” she opines.

Ms Chelangat says she never thought of giving up in life because she always thought of a solution.

“I believe that failure is experience to success. Sometimes people might not understand you and they hurt, but we should remain optimistic in all that we do. My sight is set on enrolling for a Master’s degree and eventually a PhD,” she says.

The MP tells Nation.Africa hard work, discipline and being goal-oriented are among the virtues every person who wants succeed must possess.

“My sister’s education journey to attaining a degree Physics even after going through several challenges, should act as an inspiration to anyone out there - that you must keep going. Sometimes the challenges you go through in pursuit of a desired goal are important in preparing you for your destiny,” states the lawmaker.

“My office will ensure all the bright but needy students are assisted to ensure their education goes on uninterrupted because education is the key and the greatest equalizer.