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Hope in the Horizon; A Better Life is No Longer a Dream for Dama

dama dress

“If we are going to see real development in the world then our best investment is WOMEN!” Desmond Tutu

In most of rural Kenya; girls growing up in impoverished conditions are forced to drop out of school due to teenage pregnancy or early marriages, putting an end to formal education for them. The case is not any different for Dama, now a young mother living in Kilifi County near the coast of Kenya.

Kilifi County is one of the poorest counties of Kenya. Women and girls face further marginalization and experience multiple denials of rights due to gender ascribed roles. The Kenya Demographic Health Survey Report (KDHS 2014) indicates that 19 % of girls aged 15-19 in Kilifi have had a live birth, while 3 per cent are pregnant with their first child.

We meet Dama, 17 years old, carrying her 2-year-old daughter Pili on her back as she is headed home from the market. She has bought some groceries which she is dropping home before she heads out to attend her tailoring classes at the resource centre. She is young with her whole life ahead of her. Her radiance hides a gruesome story, one she narrates to me as we tread the 15-minute walk to the resource centre.  It is a cloudy day today and intrigued by her story that resonates with that of many others in her village; the walk to the centre seems shorter.

Dama was brought up in a very poor family together with her other 8 siblings and faced a lot of challenges ranging from lack of basic needs like food to regularly missing out on school because her family couldn’t afford to pay for the small fee that was required at school.

"I dropped out in my final year of primary school when I was 15 years old after getting pregnant. My father was furious with me because I had disgraced him and he kicked me out. My dream for a better life from that we lived at home was shattered.

My daughter’s father had told me that he loved me very much so I moved in with him because, at that point, I felt welcome to stay. He was 24 and was also a school dropout without any sources of income. And so I moved into his small grass-thatched hut that shared a compound with his parents. I had to look for alternatives sources of income to make some living.  

A year later, life was unbearable because my husband took to heavy drinking of local brew and he would turn violent almost every night, especially if he found no food on the table. He had left the responsibility of feeding the family to me. At 16, I was a breadwinner, caretaker and had to live up to other expectations from my matrimonial family. I wasn’t old enough to even bring up my child in a proper manner. Life became too harsh and I decided to back to my father’s house after my father passed on in 2016.

I used to wake up early in the morning to do casual jobs for money with my baby strapped on my back. This marked a beginning of an even harder life for me since women who get pregnant outside marriage in my community were disregarded and ridiculed.  I would go to the forest to collect firewood for sale; sometimes I would fetch water or burn charcoal for sale. 

Early this year, I was at the market in our village when I met a woman who told me about a meeting in our village for girls who had dropped out of school and I attended.  During the meeting, we were taught about our rights as girls and how we could become better women in future if we became more confident and practised the livelihood skills they taught us. This information was new to me and I was excited because finally, I had found a way to get a better life. Hope was not lost after all.

In April 2017, I joined the Marafa Vocational Training Centre to train in dressmaking and I am excited to be graduating soon.  Life for me is different since I enrolled for this course.  Actionaid together with Sauti Ya Wanawake and the training center allow us to study on a flexi-schedule. This gives me time to go about my house chores and take up casual jobs for pay, then come for my classes in the afternoon. Many girls here do the same too and we are even allowed to come with our babies to class!”

tr liz
Tr Elizabeth is Dama's dressmaking instructor. She is dedicated in her work, empowering the young mothers to learn the skill so that they can earn a living for themselves.
Jane Kigen/ActionAid Kenya

Dama is full of aspirations for her future. She confidently shows us the dress that her daughter had put as one of her beautiful pieces of work.

Empowering girls and women is essential to the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda promises to leave no one behind – this must start with marginalised girls, whose needs are greatest.

ActionAid supports the economic empowerment of young women out of school in Kilifi by offering alternative livelihood options in conjunction with Marafa Vocational Centre. We continue to conduct community forums targeting Men, Women, Boys & Girls on the importance of girls' education, safety and participation in decision-making.