From: Toronto Star - How cows figured in a Kenyan Woman's Toronto Education - Louise Brown, Fri June 1, 2012 (edited)
“We’ve seen that girls’ education can bring in a lot to the community,” her father said.
But he didn’t always see things that way.
When the first of his 15 children was finishing primary school, she was draining her father’s patience.
His daughter, Teriano Lesancha, wanted to go to high school and that meant selling some of his cows and putting her arranged marriage on hold.
This was highly unusual in this community with no electricity or running water. Usually, girls didn’t go beyond elementary school and most got married by the age of 14.
Teriano had been “booked” in marriage the moment she was born, when the midwife asked that as payment, the baby marry her grown son.
“All the women in my family had arranged marriages — my mother, my grandmother, all my aunties — and we didn’t like it,” Teriano explains. “Girls don’t like it partly because the men are usually older.”
However, Teriano’s teachers were turning up the pressure for more schooling for this Head Girl who had scored a record mark in English.
Her father was also being pushed hard by her mother, the first of his three wives, not to make her drop out.
He gave in and agreed to split her high school fees with World Vision.
But after high school she wanted to take a college course in community development.
“It was the time of the worst drought in Kenya in years and almost all our cows died. If I got married, I’d get a dowry of five cows from the man’s family."
"My dad said, ‘Do you want me to sell the only cow I have left so you can go to college?’
“I was so stressed. The expectation was when I graduated I would get married to the man, but I hated the idea. He was the age of my father; I was going to high school with his son. And my dad finally began to see I was changing.”
Luckily her mother said; “If you go to college, you may help us more than if you get married.”
Her father sold his last cow and a year later she was back in her village as a community worker for World Vision. She held the job for three years to the gradual acceptance of the locals.
With her earnings she rebuilt her father’s herd — starting with 10 cows, twice what the dowry would have paid.
She also tried her hand at investing, buying some of the cheap, drought-ravaged cattle on their way to the slaughterhouse and giving them to her dad to fatten up.
“We sold them six months later for double the price,” she boasts, and suddenly the economic payoff of education was clear to all.
Her father bought off her fiancé by offering an uneducated daughter of his cousin as a bride to someone else in that man’s family.
Now, Teriano is graduating from Ryerson University in Toronto with a Bachelor of Social Work.
Three years ago, Teriano’s private sponsor fell through but Prof. Jean Golden planned emergency fundraisers, found scholarships and twisted arms on and off campus for donations to find the $16,000 per year in tuition that international students must pay.
World Vision hired Teriano as a public speaker which helped pay her living expenses.
Back at home, Teriano has become a hero who pays for her younger brothers to attend high school.
“Most Masai men became guards for private homes and get paid very poorly,” she says. “That really bothered me. I said to my dad, ‘I want you to let me send my brothers to school and I will hire people to watch the herd for you.’ And I have.”
Teriano also has launched a micro-enterprise called The Dawn of Kenya, led by good friend Magdalene Kaitei, which gives small loans to entrepreneurs, especially women.
She is determined to return to her village with a master’s degree in social work from the university and to devote her life to community service.
As they toured Ryerson on Friday with their daughter, Teriano’s parents thanked Levy for looking after her and presented him with some beaded handicrafts that the mother had made herself.
Says World Vision Canada President Dave Toycen: “This is one of those stories where a girl and her mother, against all odds, change their world. Her mother pressed against Masai cultural tradition when she pushed for a girl to go to school.”
Teriano’s formal learning began in primary classes under an acacia tree.
“About 20 of us girls started out, but by Grade 8 only two of us were left.” It’s no mystery why parents didn’t push schooling, she says.. “Then who would be left to help with the herds?
“I liked school partly because when I was not in school I had to herd cows, which I didn’t like.”
School was free but the uniforms weren’t, which proved a deal-breaker for some families. Teriano was lucky to get a sponsor through World Vision that paid for her uniform, which she says she wore “till it wore right through.”
When she was in elementary school, an Australian family felt moved to sponsor a World Vision child, and their monthly cheque of $30 to $40 went to Teriano for 10 years.
University of Toronto doctoral student Farah Mawani worked one year as a tutor at the village school, and her tales of university here planted an idea that Teriano never forgot.
Years later Mawani was surprised when the former student emailed her for advice. She has remained a mentor and friend who helped Teriano get into Ryerson and gave her somewhere to live when her sponsorship fell through.
“It really changed the perception of women when they saw the house I had built for my mother,” Teriano says. “Now, the community is blessing me.”
Moral: Money talks and 15 kids when you have no money is too many.