By Martin Muluka, World Vision Communications Specialist, Kenya
Esther (not her real name) was rescued from FGM and child marriage in 2016, when she was just eight years old.
Her father had forcefully married her off to a 40-year-old man, so he could benefit from dowry (in the form of livestock) which was given in exchange for her hand in marriage.
This ordeal crashed Esther and filled her with deep sadness and grief. She felt betrayed by the people she trusted the most.
Upon her rescue, Esther was taken to a children's rescue centre supported by World Vision at Ilbisil Primary School in Kajiado County, Kenya. The institution offers refuge to children fleeing injustices such as FGM, child marriage and child labour.
Esther notes that the centre has changed her life and makes her feel safe and peaceful.
"Here, the teachers take good care of us and protect us from people out there that can harm us. I also have friends who love me and they are like my sisters,” she says.
In 2019, Esther met World Vision's International President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Andrew Morley and shared her story.
"The fact that he came to personally talk to me, really made me feel loved and cared for. It was the first time that I saw a man tear up and this really touched me. I felt that here was someone who really listened and cared about what happened to me despite meeting me for the first time," she says.
Before the doomed marriage, Esther stayed at home herding goats and was not allowed to go to school. Back then, the dream of getting an education seemed far-fetched and unrealistic for her. She is happy that it is now a reality that she enjoys.
"Being in this rescue centre has given me the opportunity to learn. Now I can communicate in English and read books, " says Esther with a beaming smile.
While at the school, Esther has also benefitted from mentorship and awareness creation forums on children’s rights that are supported by World Vision. This has enabled her to learn a lot about child protection matters and come to terms with the gravity of what was done to her.
As a child rights champion, she is keen on awareness creation and believes that empowered children are able to play a key role in preventing and speaking out against injustices facing them, so as to bring change.
“When I was brought to this rescue centre, I was shy and didn’t trust people, especially men. I thought they would take me away and cause me harm like my father did, as well as the man I was married off to. But through counselling, as well as the love and support that I receive here, I have come to realise that there are very many good people in the world, even though my family wronged me, I have learned to forgive them because the bible teaches us to forgive.” she says.
Esther’s story has inspired many people, including the World Vision Kenya Board members. Together with World Vision staff, they recently spent a day with her and other children at the school where they had fun together and gave hope to the children.
“The stories of these children have really touched us. No child should be subjected to any form of abuse. They need to enjoy life and be happy,” states Paul Lilian, the chair of the World Vision Kenya Board.
The board members also spearheaded a fundraising drive that enabled them to pay school fees and buy shoes as well as other necessities for other needy rescued children at the school.