Too young to wed: Pokot men roped in to educate daughters

Irep Foundation director Domitila Chesang with children in Kalutupuo village in West Pokot County.

Photo credit: Oscar Kakai | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • I-rep Foundation and Too Young To Wed have started Dads and Daughters initiative to strengthening and enhancing the bond between fathers and their daughters.
  • Their goal is to end harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and early marriages that have left many lives in ruins.

At exactly 4pm on Wednesday, Josephat Long’ole Loremoi, 45, is sitting on akicholong (a traditional stool) outside his grass-thatched hut in the midst of Kotulupuogh, a remote bushy village in Masol ward, Central Pokot, West Pokot County.

The father of 16 is a happy man, smiling as he, with hugs and warm greetings, welcomes back his two daughters, Sandra and Catherine, who are from school, for a holiday.

Mr Loremoi, who never got any formal education, serves his daughters with milk as he enquires about their school life.

This is unheard of in the Pokot community, where young girls are viewed as sources of wealth. It is now possible, thanks to Irep Foundation and Too Young to Wed organisations, which have changed the mindset of a number of fathers.

For a long time, fathers here have been custodians of retrogressive traditions, but now the platform will allow them to discuss with their daughters the issues affecting them.

Changing tides

Mr Loremoi’s daughters, Sandra Kaplech, 11, and Catherine Chemawieny, 12, of Ortum Girls Primary School, are testimony the fact that men are embracing education.

In an interview with Nation.Africa, Mr Loremoi says he it was until he joined a local church that he understood the importance of education.

“The church has helped me a lot. I have taken all my children to school. Since then, I have seen a difference,” he says.

Mr Loremoi is now optimistic that his children will be a blessing to the family.

I-rep Foundation, in partnership with Too Young To Wed, a US-based organisation, have started Dads and Daughters, an initiative aimed at strengthening the bond between fathers and their daughters to end harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriages.

The organisations have been visiting the remote areas to talk to parents who still have a negative attitude towards girls’ education. The new concept is being implemented for the first time in the Katulupough area, where FGM prevalence is high.

Removing hurdles

The approach minimises obstacles to fathers' involvement in their daughters’ education. The fathers discuss with their daughters the issues that affect their lives.

It started in 2021 after Covid-19 hit the country and led to the rise in FGM and early marriages. The organisations are sensitising the community to the importance of girls’ education.

Irep Foundation director Domtillah Chesang tells Nation.Africa that they are convincing parents to understand the effects of FGM and early forced marriages for them to make informed choices. She said they are creating awareness of negative health implications and empowering girls through education.

“We want to root out gender-based violence, child marriages and abduction,” she says.

They settled on Kotulpogh village because it is the most marginalised and remotest in the county, and children have no access to basic education. She said the area has 100 per cent FGM prevalence.

“The area has very high illiteracy levels due to cattle rustling and banditry,” she says, adding that, traditionally, Pokot girls do not sit down with their fathers to discuss their problems.

Protection

Ms Chesang has called on fathers to take an active role in educating and protecting their daughters.

“Don’t shy from sharing views with daughters. We want fathers to embrace education,” she says, and urges the government and nongovernmental organisations to also step in.

“The world has changed and people are moving away from retrogressive cultural practices.”

They have talked with more than 20 fathers and supported 14 girls at Ortum Girls Primary, which doubles up as a rescue centre and safe house for girls who run away from retrogressive traditions.

“Many other girls are still at home. We shall replicate the methodology in other areas within the county.”

Puropoi Girls High School principal Jamas Muray, who is also a volunteer at Irep Foundation, says the new approach has empowered many girls and given them opportunities they never had before.

Health risks

“We have empowered young girls on health hazards. Parents should embrace helping girls to realise their potential and dreams.”

She said FGM is a recipe for early marriage. “The Kotulupogh area has no health or education facilities. We came and engaged fathers in a conversation.”

She urged fathers to be at the forefront of addressing the problems. “At first they gave us five girls. Now we have 14 at a safe house in Ortum Primary School. Fathers should understand the benefits of education.”

 She noted that the girls taken to the school have transformed. “They can speak Kiswahili and English. They had never moved out of the area. We need to embrace child protection.”

Ms Muray noted that fathers are important in developing a strong bond with children and helping girls realise their potential. She urged society not to view girls as a source of wealth.

“Let harmful practices go. They are the enemies of development.”

Ms Celestine Chepkemoi, a caretaker at Ortum Girls, said Sandra and Catherine did not know much when they were admitted.

“They took little time to adapt. I helped them with translation, homework, sanitation, looking after their property, bonding life and taking them to hospital in case they fall sick. I’m like their mother,” she says.

Yvonne Chelimo, a pupil at Ortum, lauded the organisations for their help. “They came and spoke to my father and took us to school. I’m very grateful and want to fully pursue my education.”

Julia Chemtai, a Grade Six pupil, said her life has changed since she enrolled.

Pastor Daniel Kaporion said they have started a nursery school in the church and called on the government to set up a boarding school in the area.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.