Irene’s story is one such story that is marked by resilience and raw determination. She is one of the few lucky girls from her community to have successfully completed secondary school education. She underwent Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) when she was barely 10 years and her parents were already grooming her for marriage by the time she was 15 years. When she learnt of her parents’ plot to marry her off to an old man as his fifth wife, she drew a hasty escape plan. Irene knew she was not ready for marriage thus decided to run away to her distant uncle that she had only set eyes on once during her bride-price negotiations. The daylong journey and search for her uncle’s home landed her at Mr. Paul Lotudo’s home in Chemolingot. She had carried with her a pen, a book and a skirt though she could neither write nor read.
Irene, 28, narrates how her desire for formal education was birthed, “Some time back after I had been taken through the rite (FGM) I went to stay with my relatives who were educated. I could see a notable difference between them and me and really admired their lifestyle. I also began harbouring a desire to learn to speak Swahili for I could listen to people talk but grasp nothing.” This longing for education simmering deep within her is what made her escape an early marriage by seeking refuge in Lotudo’s home. Her desire materialized days after she had run away from home; she was enrolled in class one at the age of 15 under the guardianship of her uncle. Her pursuit was never devoid of challenges as she had to face a lot of stigma especially from her fellow pupils who never shied from making demeaning remarks about her. “Msichana mkubwa ameingia class one” (A big girl has joined class 1), they would say. She also recalls how her cousins would force her to speak Swahili and then later on make fun of her. Such did not deter her for her zeal for education was unquestionably irrevocable.
Irene was among the last in her class in the first term exams that year but by the time she was in class three she was already leading. She never looked back after that and went on to pass her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams bagging 344 marks out of 500 that earned her a place at Kapropita Girls’ High School. It was during her first year in high school that she was introduced to RWPL and was thereafter enrolled to the Kenyan Girls’ Forward Education Support and Mentorship program. Under the program, St. Martha’s Episcopal Church went on to sponsor her secondary school education. She sat for her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams in 2016 getting a mean grade of C+ and has been granted admission to Masinde Muliro University.
The future looks bright now for Irene whose fate seemed to have been sealed like that of many Pokot girls who have been forced to undergo the cut. She, however, reveals that she does not hold any grudge against her parents but rather blames it on sheer ignorance. While ascribing the entire success of her marvelous journey to God, she is very grateful to RWPL’s mentorship program for sponsoring her education. Interestingly, she has already begun giving back to the community by spending her time talking to girls in her community about the importance of education and the harmful effects of FGM. As the curtains roll on yet another success story in the fight to save the girl child, one can only imagine what great things await Irene Kakuko in the days ahead.