The Academic Fortunes of Stellah Rinka
Stellah is a graduate of Mara Girls Leadership School and first recipient of our scholarship program, now at an academic high school in the region. Amos recently visited her family and shares this story.
How interventions rescued a Maasai girl at the verge of marriage. A story of hope, determination, courage, and hunger for education.
by Amos Kipeen
Stellah Rinka is a 15-year-old girl from Talek village, Maasai Mara, Kenya. Born and raised in Ole Kasoe village near Basecamp Explorer, Stellah has three brothers and one sister. Her eldest sister, Mary Rinka, is in high school Form Three, while the brothers are studying in Talek Primary School.
Despite that both parents are alive, Stellah's mum, Karsis Rinka, has had to raise and provide for the five children alone. Karsis got married at the age of 10 without any education; she had to fight her way as breadwinner of the entire family.
Karsis is a humble 30-year-old mother, a loving, smart, and very strong woman who is doing her best to survive with her five lovely kids. Originally the family migrated from Eastern Mara to Talek seeking opportunities to raise the family, and through Karsis's hard work and skills in bead arts, she was absorbed into Basecamp Maasai Brand (BMB) women's beadwork cooperative. Her diligence has enabled her to earn her family a living. Paid on quarterly basis, her wages are between 100 to 150 USD over three months. That is the amount she can make in a good tourism season and less during low seasons.
The family is regarded as among the poorest. They possess barely any milking cow, 3 chickens, and nearly 10 sheep. In Maasai Mara, many families are dependent on either livestock or monthly incomes. Given that the family of Rinka has no alternative source of income apart from the wage from the beading workshop, the family has no economic muscle to send their kids through secondary education, university, or tertiary level.
Mara Girls Leadership School (MGLS) is an upper-primary school sponsored by Basecamp Foundation Kenya (BCFK) to provide opportunities for bright and talented Maasai girls. Stellah is one of them. I knew Stellah when she first joined MGLS in the year 2018, as I was the school's program manager at the time. Given her academic capabilities, she was among the 16 girls selected from the region to be sponsored by BCFK through upper primary; unfortunately, the BCFK scholarship does not go beyond 8th grade.
Wekesa, teacher of English, describes Stellah as an avid learner, academic giant, disciplined genius, and leader in the making. During her time at MGLS, Stellah headed a number of school programs: the environmental club, the Christian union, and a class governor position which enabled her to earn a lot of recognition.
Upon sitting for her KCPE national examination in March 2021; Stellah emerged among the above-average pupils nationwide with 338 marks out of 500, despite all the turbulence brought by Covid-19, lack of essential facilities at home, a poor family, and traumas in life arising from experiences with family violence. Sometimes she used to report to school instances where her father physically assaulted her mum, a very unfortunate situation for kids to be exposed to mother-father conflicts.
Stellah's love for education and her ambition of securing a career in aviation has kept her going. She vows to help her mum and siblings after school. She also pledged to help other kids with similar challenges like her family.
After 8th grade, her father brought forth a disheartening message of attempting to marry her off. He claimed that he has no ability to school her further; therefore the only thing for him was to trade her for some cows to school her younger siblings. He claimed that girls are for marriage and he would rather get cows for schoolboys. Stellah and her lovely mum's situation became worse. They ran back to MGLS for help. Thanks go to the teacher Mouline, who popularized her story and helped to connect Stellah to a sponsor through Oliveseed.
Stellah’s story isn’t unique, but a true reflection of many girls in this part of the world still facing hurdles to access education. Gender violence and discrimination of women is nearly an everyday threat to the girl-child. The issue of retrogressive cultural practices such as FGM, forced marriages, parent attitudes, and peer influence among other life risks are but a few of the threats to mention facing girls.
In Narok County, at all levels of school there are more boys than girls. The fact that many girls are not in school has been cited as one of the contributing factors to high teenage pregnancies. In Narok, a girl aged 15 years is ripe for marriage; thus Stellah is at that age where her life hangs in the balance. This assertion of early child marriage corroborates well with the findings from Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS 2014) that Narok County has the highest teenage pregnancies, standing at 40.4% of total cases in the country.
Stellah’s life was highly at risk of missing an opportunity to join high school; however, because of timely support from Oliveseed, she is now among the lucky girls to transit into high school upon securing a full scholarship from Oliveseed through Becky for the next 4 years. She joined St. Mary's Girls Boarding School in Bomet County, an excellent academic mission school. Her life is completely transformed, and she is safe, loves her school, and is working hard to achieve her best.
As the leadership of the Mara community, we are grateful for the swift kind action. We hold much hope in Stellah, as she is a potential role model. Her life story and that of her family is changed forever.
God bless you.
About the Author
Amos Kipeen is the Director of Oliveseed Kenya. A native of the Maasai Mara, he is a lifelong conservationist and activist for education and community empowerment. Amos is also the founder and CEO of Mara Discovery Community Empowerment Centre, a program supported by Oliveseed; and is program manager of Basecamp Foundation's operations in the Mara.