by Sanya Khetani

Age-old traditions are often the biggest hindrance to a girl’s education in developing countries, especially in rural areas. But one school in Kenya has turned age-old customs on their head, and is using them to their advantage to enroll village girls in school.

Child marriage is a common practice among the Maasai tribe. At a young age, the girl is “booked” when the man pays a dowry, called _esaiyata. _This brings their education to a grinding halt. To prevent this, the Naning’oi Girls Boarding School has begun their own dowry system: they pay the customary “dowry” of livestock or other gifts to the girl’s father to secure her a place at the school. “The traditions should not continue because we are losing so many girls from school through the traditions,” says Teresia Tikoishi, the headmistress. She says that school is the only place where the girls are allowed to be children, rather than somebody’s wife.

Tikoishi explains that with the rampant prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM) and society’s sanction for “temporary engagements,” where men can have relationships with girls as young as six, if the girls are not sent to school, they will be put into situations they will be ill-equipped to handle. “The mother has no choice and neither does the child. They are there to listen and do,” she says.

Tikoishi fervently hopes for change, and is doing everything she can to make it happen.