When one thinks about Meru County, one gets the image of undulating hills covered with lush green vegetation of crops and natural forests sandwiched between the expansive Mount Kenya escapements; a picturesque depicting a region at peace with itself.
This is however a disguise to the scars of pain and anguish experienced by young girls as a result of the high prevalence of gender based violence (GBV) that has become part of the fabric of communities. The repercussions that not only render them into early motherhood but also compromise their health and security.
The National Crime Research in 2015 cited Meru County as one of the areas with increased cases of violence against women and girls. Among the GBV cases reported, Meru County reported 34.9% of killings and murder of survivors as compared to Nakuru and and Nyeri with a prevalence of 15.2% and 9.5% respectively.
It is against this backdrop that CREAW in partnership with the Embassy of Netherlands has been implementing a project dubbed Haki Yetu, Jukumu Letu (Our Rights, Our Responsibility) with an aim to stem out gender-based violence and keep girls in school.
The project that is in its first year of implementation seeks to strengthen the capacity of duty bearers on GBV prevention and response. Key among those targeted are headteachers among other duty bearers from across sectors in Meru and Kilifi Counties.
“After attending the trainings I went back and shared the knowledge with my pupils and other teachers. Since then, the pupils are opening up on the issues of violation on their rights both at home and in school,” explains Mugambi who was one of the teachers trained on how to handle the sporadic GBV cases meted on school going children.
“Before the trainings, the knowledge I had was just about the everyday curriculum. With the trainings, the management of the school operations has also become so easy,” he adds.
The trainings which are done in partnership with the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) focuses on issues of child protection, reporting procedures, investigation, collection and the preservation of evidence as well as the general judicial procedures.
Ankamia Primary School with an enrolment of 635 pupils in 2017 is not new to instances of defilements and teenage pregnancies. In 2017, the school reported one incidence of teenage pregnancy and children defiled by people known to them in the nearby villages.
“Recently there was a child who was defiled by a neighbour. When she came to school in the afternoon I noticed she was disturbed and was not able to concentrate in class. I first engaged female teachers to talk to her but she did not speak out. When I called her and encouraged her, she narrated her ordeals at the hands of the perpetrator that occurred earlier in the day,” he recalls.
“My first point of action was to go to police station and also to the girl for medical examination which turned out to be positive for rape. The matter is now in court but we continue to offer psychosocial support to her through our guiding and counselling teachers,” Mugambi explains.
Mugambi has so far put up speak out box to enable children open up on the issues that affects their everyday learning environment. The Speak-Out box, placed in a strategic place enables pupils to speak with confidentiality without having to shy away for fear of being recognized by peers.
“Last year there were class eight pupil who was found with a knife in school. I got wind of the information through other pupils who also said the said pupil was selling drugs in school. Since then we held various talks with the pupils theming the topics on issues of drugs and substance abuse within the health clubs to create awareness on the negative effects of drugs and how it affects performance. This year everything has started well and there are no major issues of indiscipline,” he explains.
Today, Mugambi says most of the issues found in the speak-out box are the issues of bodaboda riders luring girls with gifts to offer sexual favours when the are going and coming from school. We have also seen issues of drug abuse and domestic violence within the families in the villages bordering the school.
“My plan of action this year is to have teachers compose poems and plays that mirrors the society on issues of gender based violence for the music festivals. This will help sustain the sensitization efforts in school and to enable pupils understand how they can protect themselves from violations as well as get help,” he says.
GBV among children especially girls includes psychological abuse, defilement, child neglect and bullying from teachers and other pupils in school. It also includes practices such as the female genital cutting, which is performed as a right of passage to adulthood among communities.
Ankamia School also boasts of a counselling club that has a vital role in aiding discipline of school going children through talks that creates a positive tilt in their behaviours, academic and social growth.