Story by Maureen Cherongis, Amref Health Africa in Kenya
She looks youthful in her neatly dressed school outfit, but she is 22 and already a mother of three.
Marisa Lenaitorono, a Community Health Worker (CHW) is in class three at Nkopeliani Primary School in Samburu County.
The young woman was 14 when she dropped out of school.
“I was forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and then married off to a man the age of my father,” she narrates.
“Not because I was in love with the man, but because of my tradition dictated so. I had no voice to say no,” she continues.
Faced with hard reality of motherhood at a tender age, Marisa’s dream of acquiring education and later becoming a doctor was in shambles.
At some point she says she wanted to return to school, but her husband wouldn’t allow her.
The year 2014 was a turning point in her life after she joined a community health unit in her village that was supported by Amref Health Africa’s Uzazi Salama Project.
The project exposed her to m-learning (Leap) innovation (integrated mobile platform which provides avenue to train health workers through text and audio messages).
Despite being illiterate, Marisa has a passion and determination to complete her training aided by the platform.
“I was passionate about helping my community live healthy lives. Unfortunately, I didn’t have sufficient reading and writing skills. I was relying on my friends to help, but this wasn’t reliable as sometimes they didn’t have time to listen to me,” she says.
With the little support she received, the young woman managed to cover a number of topics including, maternal, child and reproductive health issues (family planning) and antenatal care.
Additionally, being passionate about saving lives, she also learnt how to take care of pregnant mothers and children under five.
It is on this backdrop of being able to learn through mobile that Marisa’s quest and final resolution to return to school at her age began. And this shocked many.
Being a hardworking and actively involved in the community health affairs, she was chosen by her community remembers to take care of 24 households in her village.
After suffering for a long time in her marriage, Marisa saw this as a new opportunity knocking her doors.
The M-learning platform has a wide range of topics drawn from the national community health worker curriculum.
Today, the sky is the limit for the young woman, a resident of Nkopiliani village Loosuk Sub-location.
“When I am through with my primary education, I will proceed to secondary and later join University to complete my dream of becoming a doctor,” she says.
Because of her hard work, she was promoted to class three.
According to Gabriel Letukei, a fellow CHW, “Every time Malisa wanted to read her courses she would reach out to me. She is determined and hardworking in school; she will make it despite the negativity poured on her by other villagers. I am so proud of her.”
She is the best performing student and the class prefect in her class.
Her class teacher, Mrs Napunyu Leparasho said: “Malisa is an encouragement to other girls in the community. She is the oldest student in the school and many of her schoolmates emulate her.”
How does she balance between family, school and CHW work?
“I come home after school at 2 pm and prepare lunch from children. At around 4 pm, I take my bicycle and go to visit two or three households,” says Malisa.
“The bicycle has really helped me because I save a lot of time when visiting my households.”
In a community where most households are sparsely distributed, Uzazi Salama Project provided 300 bicycles in the county to be used by CHWs like Marisa.
“I only take at least an hour and come back home early to prepare supper for my children and do my homework with them,” she explains.
Before, she used to walk for long distances to provide primary health care for her community members.
Malisa hopes that she can set an example for both young and old people in her community and also her fellow CHWs.
Malisa’s encouragement to other girls of her age group who didn’t have an opportunity to go back to school is simple: “It is never too late.”
Today, she understands the importance of learning and believes through education, she has capacity to scale up her CHW work.
This is a true story of a girl who has proven that it’s never too late to chase your dreams.