Growing Up As a Girl in Poverty

In the Maasai community in Kenya, males are respected while girls undergo ridicule and abuse. The Compassion Child Development Program steps in to protect a mother and her six daughters.

Growing Up As a Girl in Poverty

By: Silas Irungu, Kenya Field Communication Specialist   |   Posted: May 03, 2011

Compassion steps in to help a mother protect her six daughters.

Violet (in red) with her three close friends from the Compassion-assisted center.

Purity's six daughters were born into a harsh reality and put on a difficult path without any choices. They not only came into the world surrounded by poverty, but they entered the world encountering ridicule and abuse.

In the Kenyan Maasai community, having no one to inherit the family's wealth is considered a taboo. Sons are an integral part of the family unit, while the daughters hardly have a place. After all, they would be married off and form part of other clans and families. Investing in girls is considered a waste of resources.

Trouble began when Violet's mother, Purity, failed to give birth to a baby boy after six consecutive tries. She did successfully give birth to six daughters: Vivian, Violet, Vienna, Valentine, Victoria and Patience.

The perpetual conflict at home caused by the lack of sons, the constant intimidation and verbal abuse eventually tore the family apart. So Purity chose to remove herself and her daughters from the abuse.

Where Do I Go?

Purity, confident she made the right decision, was still faced with this harsh reality: Where does one go with several young girls and no decent means of survival? The only place Purity could think of was her father's home in Konza, on the border between the Kamba and Maasai communities.

She knew that her well-to-do father would take them in until an amicable solution was reached. But being a polygamous man with several sons from his second wife, trouble soon followed over property ownership, leading her to regret the decision she had made.

Her stepbrothers, greedy for land and money, accused Purity with lie after lie to keep her from receiving any inheritance from her father. Threats to evict her from the homestead came shortly after the accusations.

Purity soon realized that staying with her father was too much for her to handle and could potentially be dangerous. Her prolonged visit only worsened the situation and her elderly father did nothing to resolve the conflict.

A Mother's Protection

Purity's stepbrothers threatened her daughters and were eager to get them all married off. Purity disagreed with this path for her daughters; she stood her ground and vowed to protect her six girls.

Violet was soon registered with Compassion-assisted child development center KE-552. Her mother stood by her promise to protect and provide a good life for her daughters.

Purity's stepbrothers became enraged and appalled that she would not get rid of her daughters. For the Maasi community, Purity's protection of her girls was a threat against the status quo, and there was no way it was going to go away unpunished.

Early one morning Purity and her daughters were disrupted from their sleep by heavy footsteps. The knocking down of doors and random flashlights pierced the darkness. A group of about 20 men broke into the house and started breaking whatever stood before them.

In the midst of the conflict Purity's daughters escaped through the window and hid behind the bushes for refuge. But Violet was left behind and exposed to the horrendous ordeal.

"They beat me up really bad and blood gushed like a broken water pipe," said Purity. "What pains me the most is the fact that my baby, Violet, witnessed it."

Purity was taken to the hospital after the attack. She suspected that her stepbrothers hired the men to send a message.

Purity is a resilient woman. Raising six girls in a male-dominated society takes more than tough skin. Yet she began to wonder, "How much longer can I last?"

Living in Fear

Violet and her sisters were living in constant fear of attack, though the matter had been reported to the authorities. The threats did not cease. Violet stopped going to school and to the Compassion center; she would only go where her mother could accompany her. Purity did not take any chances with her children and stayed home to take care of them.

Her stepbrothers still insisted that she leave. If she didn't, they would make sure that her house was burnt down with all their belongings.

A Vital Intervention

Together with staff from the Compassion-assisted center, Purity sought help from the District's Children Officer, who referred her to Taretuoki Rescue Center. This center is led by Bishop Osoi and is located in Emali. Workers at this center help orphaned and vulnerable children by providing them home-based care and advocacy. For Violet and her sisters, this offered the perfect haven.

The center also helped Purity rent a small room within walking distance of the dusty town. Compassion is helping to pay her rent and is providing food for Purity on a monthly basis. Violet had to be transferred from her previous Compassion-assisted center to a center nearby their new home, Sultan Hamud (KE-374).

Ensuring Safety

Jacob, the social worker at this new center, remembered how he met Violet and her mother. "She came to the center and did not speak much," says Jacob. "She was withdrawn from other children, but she was quite receptive when I talked to her." Jacob was instrumental in ensuring Violet's safety and care.

"Violet and her mother were taken through counseling at the center through the help of the child development workers and the church elders," says Jacob. "They were able to talk through the ordeal, which helped them to deal with the pain."

Purity is thankful for the intervention. "If there is one thing I am thankful about, it's the moral support I have received from the center workers," she says.

She also testifies that Violet's confidence has grown during her short duration at this center. Though Violet is a bit older than other kids at the center, she has Joyce and Edna as her closest friends. They play soccer and other games, and spend most of their free time chatting.

A Desire for Justice

As Violet sits under the tree enjoying lunch at the center, this reserved and shy girl is optimistic about her future. Now in the eighth grade, she is sure of what she wants to achieve.

"I want to be a lawyer. I desire to fight for the rights of children because I do not want any child to go through the violence we experienced at home," says Violet.

Violet and her sisters are happy to be together at Taretuoki Rescue Center. They will stay here for a couple of months until a permanent solution is reached. In the meantime, Purity's family continues to receive domestic assistance for their general care, keeping their harmful relatives at a distance.

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