“Not only parents but even teachers weren’t as sensitive as they had to be about early marriage. There was this habit of labeling the gender club leader as the only owner of the issue until imagine1day’s project happen to our school,“ says Tejitu Niguse, Biology teacher and gender club leader in Kumbi Primary school.
Kumbi Primary School is one of 153 schools imagine1day is intervening with Educate A Child’s (EAC’s) LEAP – Leaders Educators and Parents project in Oromia region. Enrolling over 63,000 previously out-of-school children over the course of three years in 431 schools is at the hub of the project. Also part of the project is the training of 3,017 teachers, 1,293 Parent Teacher Association (PTA) members, 431 school principals, and 10,510 community leaders.
A lot of positive changes are pouring into education in Kumbi primary school following imagine1day’s intervention. Girls education is at its best.
“Including myself, five married girls and three about to be given for arranged marriage without their consent are back to school because of the gender club’s effort in collaboration with the PTAs, community leaders and religious leaders trained by imagine1day. This is like a rebirth to me, I couldn’t even imagine how my life would have been living with a man I have never seen,” says Bontu Mohammed, a 15 year old grade 8 student.
Tejitu says, “There is a tradition that is called ‘Chebsi’ a kind of marriage that happens suddenly without the knowhow of the girl and her parents. The bridegroom’s father along with elders unexpectedly goes to the girl’s home and takes her with them as a wife to his son. There was no way the girl or her parents say no to such kind of marriage as it used to be believed that the girl will have a bad fortune afterwar. Bontu was a victim of this tradition and luckily we heard what happened right away. Being with the community elders, religious leaders, PTAs and police officers we ended the marriage on the same day she was taken.”
Escaping from the unexpected marriage she was forced into was the last thing Bontu had thought at the moment.
Bontu says, “I felt hopeless and I was like ‘I better die’ while we reached the bridegroom’s home. I was crying my heart out while the crowd sings and chants hitting the floor to celebrate my wedding. Of course, I had seen a police officer but I couldn’t believe my eyes seeing teacher Tejitu walking in. I still get shocked whenever I think of that moment. It totally felt like I was dreaming. I ran to her and cried in her hug. She comforted me saying ‘we are here to liberate you don’t cry.’ They took me back home and the bridegroom to the police station for the attempt to marry me, who is underage.”
Bontu is wearing cultural dress to celebrate her school’s inauguration. She considers it as a bigger day than it actually is for her as the project is the reason for her second chance to schooling.
“I couldn’t thank enough, Run for water, costa foundation, EAC, imagine1day and teacher Tejitu for changing my life path for good. I am in debt and I am using the opportunity to my maximum best as a the pay back. I want to be a doctor to prove that girls can be more than a house-wife. Today is the happiest and of course the biggest day in my life. The day the project that freed me of unwanted marriage is inaugurating and that is why I wear the best thing I have,” says beaming Bontu.