In the village of Rupa, about 40 minutes drive from the regional town of Moroto, I met 11 year-old Clementina Loduk . I had gone there with a group of academicians interested in the development of the region at the beginning of July. This was my second trip to a region, which remains largely unknown to many Ugandans. I asked someone in the group to tell me the last story they had seen in the national media about Karamoja and many couldn’t point out any. Later we had a meeting at one of the villages.
As others parted in groups for brief meetings and conversations with the community elders in Karimojong traditional houses – Manyattas, I stayed behind with a group of 15-20 girls.
There was one girl who could speak very good English who approached me. At first I had assumed she was going to school and I was amazed – she probably had a better grasp of English than when I was her age- but she later explained she had picked it up when she worked as a domestic worker in Moroto.
I was interested in life of the young girls. Among the many that surrounded me you couldn’t miss the smell of local brew and through my translator I learned they wanted some money to buy the alcohol.
I told her that I wouldn’t buy alcohol for young girls, then the reply came through and I was told she isn’t young since she was 18 and married. Still I insisted I wouldn’t support the alcohol-buying move. Among the group I saw three girls in their school uniform. It was about 4 pm and they had just come back from school.
The first one was too shy and then second one was very willing to speak to me. Clementina, was visibly astute but with a little shyness of 12-year-old when asked by a stranger.
In our conversation below, she told me she wanted to be a nurse and we went through the challenges she finds at school.
Later I spoke to Johann Lamongin, a Community Development Officer from Nakapiripirit who was part of the meeting. He told me that it is likely Clementina would be out of school in the next 1-2 years. Lamongin took me through the most common path of a Karimojong girl and the community’s attitude towards girls education.
In the audio clip below Lamongin explains how girls are seen as a symbol of wealth in Karamoja.
• From the age of 5 a girl in Karamoja is prepared for marriage.• At 12 years the girls are engaged to boys of about 18 years. • After 12 years most parents neglect duties of educating the girl and sometimes she forced out of school. • Parents think if a girl gets educated they may not get married • In Nakapiripirit for one to marry a Karimojong girl who has reached university you have to part with 10 million shillings (4000 USD).
No doubt life can be tough for everyone in this region and in place where illiteracy rate is somewhere between 88-90% girls face community attitudes that don’t encourage their education. Coupled with limited government involvement in the support of communities, few children here do finish school.
In 2012 aid agencies including UNICEF had a “Go Back to School’ campaign, working with local leaders to decrease school dropouts and also increase enrollment. In January 2012 in Kotido, one of the five districts in Karamoja, educational officials revealed that out of 17,000 pupils who had enrolled in primary school in 2011, only 10,000 completed the year representing annual dropout rate of 41%.
Poverty, poor infrastructure, nomadism, economic activities that preoccupy children of school going age stand in the way of education. For girls, a culture that doesn’t encourage girl-child education is an added hurdle.
Clementina was in primary four at the age of 12 and she told she would like to be a nurse once she finishes school. But in Karamoja you might as well say she will be if she is ever allowed to finish school.