Where There Is A Will

October 12, 2021

By Grace Wandia~


Sandra Kemer is one of among eleven girls who went through the Helen Valverde Scholarship Program through Valvisions Foundation. Sandra, for some reason, grew on me after I met her the first time. I remember Sandra being timid and very skinny. She was always quiet but also very observant. She barely said much; she had a sadness about her. When the rest of the girls would be jumping up and down and chatting away, Sandra kept a safe distance and just watched. I was always curious to find out what was going on in her mind. Because of the circumstances the eleven girls had come through, it was hard to tell what had happened to each one of them. They had all come from a rescue Centre because they were at risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). They had run to the rescue Centre or had been taken there by the authorities for their safety.

The eleven girls all received scholarships to join secondary school sponsored by Valvisions Foundation through the scholarship fund. It was hard for them to adjust at school. They had all come from a village set up, and they did not know much about town life. They had never seen a proper toilet. In Pokot, where they came from, pit latrines were used and those were for the fortunate few. The rest just helped themselves by going into the brush. Taking a bath was a rare occurrence too. Bathing took place at the river when the girls took their animals to drink or when they went to fetch drinking water. The watering wells were separate for the men and women. A group of women would be at one point fetching water, below them would be another group of women and young girls bathing, and below them the animals would be drinking.

It was, therefore, very confusing for the girls when they arrived at school and found showers, toilets that one could sit on, and other facilities they had not seen or used before. I remember them all laughing and huddling together in a corner to discuss the facilities and wondering if they would be able to use them. As the other girls excitedly discussed the facilities, Sandra just watched with no emotion on her face.

As time went by, I slowly managed to crack the shell that Sandra had been hiding under. I came to know that she came from a terribly needy home. She and her siblings had been raised by a single mother who brewed local brew for a living. The customer’s, the majority, men, came to her home to drink. And, as to be expected, when the men got drunk, they started making advances towards Sandra and her sisters. Their mother was too busy brewing the alcohol or too drunk to notice or care. Sandra told me she learned at an early age to keep the drunk men away by being silent and not talking back when they talked to her: silence and distance were her escape plan.

In school, the Pokot girls were all very green. Sandra, however, showed strong determination to catch up with the rest of her classmates, though most appeared to have far more privileged backgrounds. Sandra put great effort into her schoolwork; she was very well behaved and soon everyone began to recognize her potential. After the four years in secondary school, she managed to get a grade C which allowed her to join college. In college, she was very disciplined and worked hard. She graduated at the top of her class and was able to join the teaching profession as a P1 teacher.

We talk by phone most of the time. I hadn’t actually ‘seen’ Sandra in a long time. It was, therefore, such a pleasant surprise when she called to tell me she was planning to pay me a visit. She came to visit me, and I was overjoyed to see her again. She has not changed much, but she now smiles and talks more. She is still a little guarded but laughs easily. She told me she has managed to put her sister through school and that none of her other sisters have been cut. Sandra is respected as a teacher now, and she persuaded her mother to stop brewing local beer. She supported her mother by setting up a vegetable stall for her. Her mother now gets produce from farmers in town and sells to her neighbors.

The best news is that Sandra has managed to further her education. She is doing a higher diploma and hopes to start on her degree immediately, afterwards. As a result, Sandra will be able to obtain better teaching opportunities by which to better both her life and her families.

Sandra has endured a lot, but she has stayed strong and focused. At her age, most Pokot girls are married with at least 3 children, but she has put off marriage until she finishes college and is able to take care of herself without depending totally on a husband’s income.

‘Well-done Sandra! We wish you all the best in your endeavors. Yours is a story of resilience and hard work. For sure, where there is a will, there is a way…!’

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