Young mothers in Wabera Village say no to child bride

The marriage of a 15-year-old girl to a much older man in Wabera Village, Isiolo County began a movement that has significantly transformed lives.

The movement, dubbed Young Mothers Initiative, addresses issues such as early marriages, Female Genital Mutilation, multiple births, girl child education and access to economic empowerment for the women in this village.

On the heels of this marriage, 10 women gathered, speaking in hushed tones about the future that awaited the 15-year-old girl who would first have to drop out of school and begin a long journey with an early pregnancy to be followed by many others in quick succession.

The girl would know no better. Yet these 10 women were themselves young, married with children and sitting on shattered dreams.

“Out of the 10 women who sat together on this particular day, the youngest was 18 years and the oldest was 32, most of us were giving birth every other year,” explains Anab Kasim, a member of the Initiative.

As young mothers, the women realized that they were facing similar challenges, little education and a lack of access to financing. They also realized that it was not too late to improve their lives and that of their children.

In 2006, they decided to be more proactive and were able to receive a grant designed for women’s empowerment.

“There are a number of grants targeting women developed by government or non-governmental organizations,” Kasim explains.

Further saying: “Although the dream had been born by 10 of us, when we started applying for the grant, the number has grown to 35 women.”

According to Kasim, making a decision where many people are involved can be difficult. For instance, the women had agreed that they would buy land “but what to do with the land would be agreed upon once that goal had been achieved.”

The group has within a short time been able to buy three acres of land in Gambela, Isiolo County at a very fair price. However, by the time of buying the land, the women had reduced to 25.

“We had introduced a monthly contribution of KSh500 so some women found it difficult to raise the money,” Kasim explains.

Once the land was bought, a majority decided to emulate the women in neighbouring Meru County and began farming.

“We believed that even though we have an exclusively pastoralist background, we had what it takes to try our hand in farming,” Kasim explains.

By this time the number had decreased to 20 women because two of the members had moved to another village and three others were not keen on farming.

To cater for the needs of all the members, Young Mothers opened two accounts, one for the entire group who were still willing to contribute, and one for those interested in farming.

“Twenty-five of us own the land jointly but only 20 benefit from the activities that are carried out on the farm,” Kasim expounds.

The women’s first experience in farming was not very promising because they had not fully grasped best agricultural practices.

“We had grown onions but used too much fertilizer so the produce was not very encouraging. We did not lose money but neither did we make much profit,” says Kasim.

Since the women were very busy with their projects, they begun encouraging each other to reduce multiple births.

“We were giving birth at a very high rate. I’m only 35 years old yet I have given birth to seven children although one passed on,” observes Kasim.

She notes: “Our leader is about 42 years and she has 11 children.”

She says the young girl who was only 18 years when the group started would give birth every other year.

“There is a time that this young mother gave birth and after only a few months she fell very ill. Nobody even suspected it was because she had fallen pregnant again. She became very traumatized, depressed and anaemic,” Kasim explains.

Like many in the group, the young woman is now on a family planning method. However, Kasim says most of the women choose exclusive breastfeeding to avoid falling pregnant in quick succession.

When a mother is breastfeeding exclusively, has a baby younger than six months and is yet to receive her monthly period, this reduces chances of getting pregnant by 98 percent.

Some of the women have also gone back to school with one of them currently pursuing a diploma in Community Development.

“We are doing all these to give our children a better life. I am particularly very passionate about education,” Kasim explains.

As a result, Young Mothers have a rule that the women must be either in the Parent Teachers Association or be a class representative in their children’s school.

Kasim says that women can inspire change in schools and also help improve the performance of their children.

“When your child knows that you have very easy access to the teachers and visit their school regularly, they tend to be very disciplined which inspires them to perform better,” she says.

Through their monthly contribution and activities on the farm, there are available resources to keep the children in school and institutions of higher learning.

The women had also purposed to ensure that no one would be living in a rented house in 15 years from the time the initiative was formed, this dream has also taken shape. Only five members live in rented houses.

Kasim says that some harvests are really profitable noting that there is a time they made a profit of KSh300 000 and each one got KSh30,000.

“This is in addition to our other profit-making ventures. We individually buy goats when they are cheap and sell them at twice or thrice what they cost us,” she says, adding “the goats feed very well from materials in our farm”.

Many also have camels that they are able to milk and sell the commodity.

“We also decided to tell our husbands what we do and how much we make. They were very surprised and have been very supportive,” she says.

“When our husbands are struggling with raising money we come in and provide the deficit so it has really improved our living standards and relationships at home,” Kasim explains.

Women are also able to take a share of their deposits but only for emergencies. The money cannot be used to buy things like food or clothes.

“We have planted vegetables and are able to feed our families very easily,” Kasim notes.

“Twenty members have each bought a plot in Wabera Ward, Kiwanjani Sub-location because it was fairly cheap some years back and we had the money,” reveals Kasim.

However, where there is success, there are also challenges. Due to lack of extra finances, the women are yet to buy more land and run other projects.

Lack of education has also been a barrier towards them raising funds since writing proposals is still a very difficult task.

Insecurity in Isiolo County has also paralyzed their beekeeping venture.

“Because there are many trees on our land, we started keeping bees but thieves harvest our honey at night so we have not been able to make any money,” observes Kasim.

The community has continued being in awe at how much ground the Young Mothers have covered although many feel that the name has overstayed its usefulness.

“They make fun of us and say, ‘Young Mothers, you have not grown old after ten years’. They laugh when we call ourselves Young Mothers but we tell them we are young at heart,” she quips.

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