Throughout her 15 years of marriage, Diana Chirchir, a mother of seven who dropped out of school after class eight has faced immense challenges that have made her make a u-turn in her life, and go back to class.
“I have been yearning to go back to school, having dropped out after KCPE in 2003. I was living with my single mother and she couldn’t cater for my fees plus that of my five siblings,” she recounts.
Mrs Chirchir who scored 318 marks in KCPE at Kobil primary school got married soon after exam and started her family immediately as she had no hope of ever continuing with her education.
However, after many years, her thirst and hunger for education remained alive and she decided to seek for admission to high school. She did so in various schools unsuccessfully before getting a nod to join Kessup Day Secondary School in Tambach Ward, Keiyo North in the year 2019.
“My husband was sceptical about my going back to school but after securing admission at Kessup Day, he agreed to support me along with our children,” said the 34-year-old mother who is now in form two having joined the school in form one in the year 2019.
She said that by the time she joined school, her friends and neighbours supported her with necessities including school uniform and books, adding to the little money she had painstakingly saved for the same.
“All my friends and relatives who had promised to buy for me various items to make my dream come true honoured their pledges once I got the admission letter,” Mrs Chirchir narrated.
Due to her unstable economic background, worsened by heavy responsibilities of her large family with school-going children, she has been struggling to pay her fees. She used to do menial jobs with her husband when schools close for holidays to help them cater for their financial needs.
Her husband Oliver Chelimo, said he decided to allow his wife to go back to school and complete her secondary education after serious considerations.
He recounts the distance that she has to walk to school as she wakes up very early in the morning to read, prepare the family before leaving for school. He particularly expressed his pleasure with how she manages to handle herself and the family because they have young school going children.
Chelimo who is a small-scale farmer in Anin Village of Keiyo North Sub County, has been supporting his family from the proceeds of agribusiness but he said that getting her fees and that of their children is an uphill task.
“I am just a peasant farmer and unfavourable weather conditions are the greatest challenge to my hard work,” he said.
But the long school holidays occasioned by emergence of covid-19 last year would turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Chirchir.
During the period, she met Dr Elizabeth Kaitany, the founder of Gracious Women Empowerment Organization, a grassroot women empowerment organization who, after listening to Chirchir’s plight, pledged to cater for her school fees in full.
“I had met Mrs Chirchir earlier in a women’s group meeting where she narrated her story to me during the long break last year occasioned by the outbreak of the corona pandemic,” said Dr Kaitany.
“I was touched by her story and I decided to visit the school to get first-hand information from the principal, I was impressed by her resilience to life challenges and her passion to pursue her dreams,” she said.
She urged the society to continue supporting women who suffer the fate of early marriages after failing to pursue their education due to poverty, to enable them achieve their goals
“We need to give them another chance by supporting them to go back to school because we know that education is key to a better life,” she advised. She also urged various government institutions which offer bursaries to come to the aid of such girls to protect them from falling into early marriage.
Mrs Chirchir’s neighbours were elated that her story has touched many and she could now continue with her studies undeterred by unavailability of fees after getting assistance from Dr Keitany.
“She has been a source of inspiration to us and we were overjoyed when she told us that she is going back to school. We were happy and we supported her with the little we had,” Jane Jemutai a neighbour said.
Mrs Chirchir thanked the school principal for giving her a chance and the teachers for accommodating her despite her age.
Kessup Day Secondary School Principal Mr Stanley Amdany recounted how he was touched by Mrs Chirchir’s story and decided to help her by offering her a chance at the school. Mr Amdany said he agreed to give her the chance on condition that her husband gave assurance that he will support her for she was a married woman living in her matrimonial home.
“Since joining, Mrs Chirchir has not only been a good academic performer but also a good social influence on her classmates. She was even selected by students to head guidance and counselling,” the principal told KNA
Asked about what he would advise young school girls based on Mrs Chirchir’s story, the principle said that he would advise them to seek all avenues to ensure they complete their education before starting families.
He however advised those already in marriage to emulate her saying despite her academic journey being halted for more than a decade, all was not lost for she now has a chance to pursue her dreams.
“Getting married or being pregnant at a tender age should not be the end of life and all is not lost. That is just a challenge and challenges are meant to propel one to the next level,” said Mr Amdany.
Her class teacher Maureen Chepkonga described Mrs Chirchir as a quiet and well-mannered student who has remained focused and undeterred despite the challenges she undergoes at home and at school.
“She has been the source of inspiration and motivation not only to her classmates but to students in the entire school. It is hard to handpick her as the oldest student in class for she wholeheartedly accepted herself as a student and she is ready to be led by other students irrespective of her age,” narrated Ms Chepkonga.
She said she uses Mrs Chirchir to set a good example in class especially due to her humility and hard work in class. She however urged students to avoid making haste choices of being married at a tender age once they face challenges in life like lack of school fees.
Gideon Kibet, the form two class secretary described her as a disciplined student who is willing to help all in time of distress. He also recounts how her story has turned to be the greatest motivation to them.
“Her leadership skills are exemplary. She counsels and motivates us from time to time,” added Kibet.
“She not only advises us but as young girls, we have learnt a lot from her life. She always advises us especially on matters relationships and we can get a glimpse of how life is hard outside there. Whenever we experience any challenge, we run to her for help,” said Cynthia Jelagat one of her classmates.
Jelagat said Mrs Chirchir has turned out to be a motivation to her school mates and a guidance and counselling champion from her life experience.
Mrs Chirchir’s story is just one of the many cases of young girls who fall into the pitfalls of early marriages, but lack courage to pursue their education, she is just one among the few who have shown resilience and bravery to rise again amid the challenges thrown by life.
Indeed, education is limitless, knows neither boundary nor age, but only those who show great resilience, zeal and determination like Mrs Chirchir will be able to quench their thirst for education and achieve their dreams.
By Alice Wanjiru and Judith Jerono