Tuesday, 13 November 2012 13:59

Profile: Pauline Akai Lokuruka

Written by Duncan Mboyah

Destined for early forced marriage, death of livestock saved her schooling

Born to a church employee 53 years ago, Pauline Akai Lokuruka would not have attended school and achieved her status were it not for the death of her parent’s livestock.

The priest then at Baragoi Catholic Mission had asked Lokuruka’s father to enrol her in school but he adamantly refused, forcing him to quit his job and move with his family to Sukta valley. However, things would not go right here and he soon lost all his animals.

“My father lost all his livestock to a strange disease and was forced to go back and work at the mission for fear that his children could die of hunger,” says Lokuruka, a specialist on youth and women empowerment and development.

According to her father girls should be married at tender age to fetch many livestock for the family, a tradition that has evolved over centuries among the Turkana community and other pastoralist communities.

Pressure

Father Peter Talone piled pressure that Lokuruka should attend school together with some of her agemates who had already been enrolled.

Her father gave in and the priest ensured that she was admitted at Baragoi Boarding Primary School in 1966.

Growing up as a young girl and studying under the hardships in Northern Kenya, Lokuruka vowed to one day return and help emancipate the people in the area by helping solve some of the problems they were facing.

With the devolved government, courtesy of the Kenya’s new constitution that has created various elective positions, Lokuruka is set to contest the seat of woman representative during the coming general elections.

Mission

“My objective when elected is to help empower women and also ensure that all Turkana children get education,” says Lokuruka, a deputy director Institute of Women, Gender and Development Studies, Egerton University.

For Lokuruka, poverty in Turkana has affected growth and development of children, denying them an opportunity of competing favourably with those from other parts of the country.

She observes that culture is partly to blame as many young girls of school going age are married off by their parents at a time when their agemates are going to school. This habit, she notes, has contributed to lack of women from Turkana in positions of leadership both in the public and private sectors.

“Something must be done to reverse the trend and ensure that girls go to school just as their boy counterparts,” Lokuruka reiterates as she reflects the situation on the ground.

She notes that while joining school remains a challenge for the Turkana girl, completing primary schooling and moving on to secondary level is not easy either. She recalls that during her time in secondary school out of 36 girls that joined Form One, only  18 managed to complete as the rest were married off on insistence of their parents.

Achievement

To have moved from being forced out of school and back, Lokuruka was determined that she would prove her father wrong. She managed to go through secondary school after becoming the best overall from the school and ended up being the first female to attain university education from the County through the support of the Catholic Church and the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation.

From Wambaa Secondary School where she was appointed the school  head girl, she got admission to Loreto High School where she did her levels.

Even as she was excelling in her education, back at home his father was a worried man as he did not have livestock and his brothers refused to give him some livestock claiming that he blundered by taking his daughter to school instead of marrying her off to have livestock.

She graduated with Bachelors of Education and was posted as a teacher to Lorgum in Turkana County. She would rise through the ranks to the position of deputy principal.

However, teaching was not going to help her meet the dreams that she had harboured of helping her community. Soon Lokuruka quit teaching and joined a Norwegian project that was involved in collection of Turkana community cultural heritage as a project coordinator.

This did not last long as she became jobless when the government severed diplomatic relations with the Norwegian government on allegation that they were supporting fugitives that were planning to topple the government of then President Moi.

Later in 1992, Lokuruka joined Egerton University as an administrator and was posted to the department of admissions.

“I realised that there was no student from Turkana and the rest of Northern Kenya. I soon embarked on ensuring that students from the region also get admission in the college,” she notes.

Courtesy of her initiative, 300 students joined the college and today the number has risen as the college administration has seen the need of admitting students from all parts of the country.

In a bid to help improve the education standard in the county, Lokuruka has managed to get scholarships for 20 students from poor families.

She soon fulfilled her father’s wishes of getting married. Lokuruka is married to Prof Michael Lokuruka, a lecturer at Karatina University and they are blessed with four grown up children.

She is one of the founders and chairperson of Turkana Women Development Fund (TWDF), an organisation that helps women from the region in their development needs.

Through her experience and involvement in women and girl-child development, and education issues Lokuruka founded this organisation to help educate women from Turkana community to begin to value  education of their children.

Advantage

Having been among the first girls from the community to go to school, Lokuruka’s efforts towards creating awareness amongst the people on matters of education and general development places her ahead of other contesters whose role towards giving back to the community is minimal.

“Just like women from other communities, Turkana women too need to wake up to the reality and stop marrying off their young daughters at early age and allow them go to school for the sake of their education and have a better standard of living,” she says.

{jb_quoteleft}“Just like women from other communities, Turkana women too need to wake up to the reality and stop marrying off their daughters at an early age and allow them to go to school for the sake of their education” — Pauline Akai Lokuruka{/jb_quoteleft}

Having grown up in the region, she has lived and seen firsthand the constraints facing girl-child education and empowerment within pastoralist communities.

Lokuruka observes that many young girls drop out of school and marry early on insistence from their parents; something she says must stop to help the region produce women leaders as is the case with other parts of the country.

“You must all go to school and begin to help other people as well for the betterment of the region,” she tells young girls from the area. However, even though the girl child has suffered greatly from gender discrimination, Lokuruka also has great interest is the state of the boy child that is too not taken care of just like is the case with the girl child.

“I intend to promote the education of the boy child by promoting activities that empowers them just as is the case with the girl child so that they both develop at par,” she says.

Lokuruka now hopes to benefit from women and male voters following her effort in bringing women together in discussing development and education matters. She is encouraging voter building capacity so that both men and women can see that they are the same and should have equal entitlements.

Through the fund, most women have been empowered as majority have taken up managing their own businesses instead of relying on livestock keeping. This has enabled them have a sustainable source of livelihood.

While working as curator designate with the Norwegians, she documented information on indigenous food plants amongst the Turkana community in order to sustain their use and conserve seeds.

She also promoted home tree planting pilot project with emphasis on indigenous food and fuel wood plants in the area.

Besides serving as a lecturer, Lokuruka is also sits in the board Nakuru District Education board and also board member of Turkwell boys High School and Turkana Girls High School.

She has previously served as a board member of Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA), a regional development authority with the mandate of developing rural areas.

To date, she is a National delegate of Kenya Union of Savings Cooperative organization (KUSCO) where she will serve till the end of next year.

 

This article was originally published in the Kenyan Woman Issue 32

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