A Daraja graduate who isn’t afraid to decide her own destiny
When Jamaica was very young, she was circumcised according to the custom of her tribe. Her single mother wished her girls didn’t have to participate in the practice, but she couldn’t risk being ostracized by the community. Life was difficult enough trying to feed 7 children on a farm worker’s wages with the nearest water source nearly 2 miles (3 km) away. Jamaica grew up walking to primary school barefoot, preparing for her education to end at 8th grade when she would be expected to marry an older man out of necessity.
Wonderfully, Jamaica was able to find an international sponsor to pay her secondary school fees when the time came. She started high school but was devastated when her sponsor returned to his native country and stopped paying tuition after the second term. Even after finding someone who was willing to pay for the rest of the year, she finished Form 1 with no way to continue.
At 17 years old, Jamaica stubbornly tried one last time to continue school: She applied to Daraja. Attending the school would require her to repeat Form 1, but she didn’t care. During the application process she wrote that educating a girl kept her from having to give herself to a man, and it gave her the power “to take care of her family and her parent’s family because a girl is a very merciful person.” Jamaica hoped for the day when she could provide support for her mother and siblings.
Jamaica was admitted to Daraja Academy where she worked hard and did well. She enjoyed the three simple daily meals that far exceeded anything she’d had at home, and like all Daraja girls, she loved the WISH program. There she learned that she was powerful, that sex was a choice, that a girl decides her destiny. When the time came for the Transition program, she enjoyed learning about business and about her professional potential.
She went on to college where she received a certificate in HR. That lead to her work with a large grocery chain where she specialized in promotions. She quickly became completely financially independent and began to send money home. She enjoyed her work so much that she is now returning to school for her full diploma to increase her knowledge and opportunities in the same field.
During her time at Daraja, returning home for visits always made Jamaica a little nervous. She didn’t want to fall back into some of the long-held beliefs of her culture. But each time she visited, she worked hard to discourage harmful practices and empower the women around her. She is proud to say that things really are changing—her nieces were never circumcised. As she says, “If you are educated, then the whole family and the whole community is educated.”
Jamaica looks forward to life. Goals include marriage, but only after she finds a man who treats her with respect. She also wants to buy land and build a house for her mother, and she plans to be the manager of a large company. “Right now I feel like a strong woman,” she says. “Now that I have an education, I know what I want. I know how to make my own decisions.”