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Two girls, one pen and renewed hope

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Difficult circumstances facing numerous families around the country to a great extent affect children, and whenever timely necessary remedial measures aren’t taken to alleviate those situations their impact severely reverses all possibilities of the children enjoying their basic rights and thus negatively affecting their nascent lives.

An example of such a family can be found in Serengeti, Mara where we meet two young siblings, Magdalena (14) and Helena Julius (12), who had no bigger dream than to be in school with other students. They expected to start secondary school but their domestic circumstances appeared to throw a spanner in the works and curtail their dream to become teachers one day.

Magdalena and Helena have lived with their father for quite some time after their mother left as a result of an unbearably difficult life of poverty that she felt would never improve and therefore sought a better life elsewhere far from the family. Her absence meant that the entire responsibility of caring for the family fell in the hands of her husband Nyangige Mataro, who is unemployed and has no other means of income.

“The tough situation here has been the source of countless problems and as a result my children have become innocent victims because education which is vital for them has simply turned into an impossibility”, Mataro says openly.

For the two girls to go to school, Tsh.500,000 worth of supplies was needed, money that he simply didn’t have even so much as just a quarter of it. At this point the girls realized that they were facing the dire possibility of their dreams to change their lives being extinguished permanently. Their fear was made all the more intense by the fact that poverty was a reality that affected most families in their community.

The clear difference, however, between them and others was that their determina- tion to go to school pushed them to be forthcoming about the situation and their ability to articulate things moved people to listen to their plight. Their predicament gave rise to frequent talk among locals and some began turning the spotlight on children’s rights particularly education. This was a crucial step that to doors open- ing for them even without them expecting.

Locally-based Geitasamo Paralegal Organization (GPO) which provides legal aid and education throughout the district of Serengeti has become known for helping transform the life fortunes of many by enhancing their capacities to understand and use their rights. Magdalena and Helena’s story rendered the organization another opportunity to extend its services to a family in critical need.

Anthony Mayunga is a GPO paralegal and journalist. Realizing the magnitude of the predicament facing the girls, the speed with which a solution needed to be found and the broader role of paralegals in ensuring access to justice in all its forms including education, he, following deliberations with his colleagues took the decision to put his pen to work.

“When we learned about the challenges that Magdalena and her sister were going through my colleague and I took the opportunity to visit them to acquaint ourselves with the facts and furnish ways to help. Their immediate circumstances simply couldn’t extricate them and for that matter a new approach that would guarantee a major outcome was necessary. I opted to bring their case to the wider public’s eye by writing and publishing it in a daily paper,” recalls Mayunga.

As days passed and the dawn of the new school year drew nearer, other efforts intended to bring the matter to the attention of anyone willing to help continued unabated. Not long afterwards contributions in cash and in kind began arriving including from random individuals outside the district who had read the story in the paper written by someone who had borne it as his own responsibility to act.

“We couldn’t start school on time like other students but when we look back at where we were and where we stand today it’s a world apart. When Mayunga and other paralegals visited us they found us hopeless but they encouraged us and said education is our right and their job is to endure access to that right especially for girls like us who are effectively tomorrow’s women. There are strangers who spoke to us and said they had read about us, something we found to be out of this world! I’m confident this will be a firm foundation and education is a special opening through which to elevate a woman in society”, says Magdalena, adding that they are enjoying being in school.

Helena further says while smiling that despite the delayed start to school she believes they will do well because even during their primary school days they never had a proper supportive learning environment due to numerous difficulties at home including having to study under the flickering light of a paraffin lamp. She also says that if they had enrolled at a boarding school she believes they would have had sufficient time to focus on studying and get even better grades.

As is the case in every district across the country, paralegals in Serengeti have used their presence in local communities to enable ordinary people to access justice. By attending school Magdalena and Helena are adding to the number of girls embracing education as their reliable route out of poverty but also as a cat- alyst for building a society that is equal with added emphasis placed on women and girls who many communities around the country have left behind.

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