, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 26 – No Kenyan who grew up in the era when caning was perfectly normal, dared cross their parent to an extent where threats of an approved school would be made. And for most Kenyans the term ‘approved school’ was just a euphemism for children’s prison.
It was also believed that no good ever came out of children who were committed to such institutions.
But then given their history, one would not be blamed for holding the misconception.
Nuru (not her real name) has been staying at the Kirigiti Girls Rehabilitation centre in Kiambu since 2009. The 15-year-old who comes from a broken family had low self esteem and would take out her anger on her parents. The situation took a turn for the worse when she attempted to poison her parents.
With her voice trailing off, Nuru says that at first, being sent to the center was synonymous with being imprisoned. She tried to escape several times but then she would get rearrested.
But Nuru has since reformed. She wants to catch up with her childhood and make a good name for herself.
“I never used to think that I could have dreams for my future. But then the teachers here kept telling me that it was only me who could determine my future. And I know God and my parents have forgiven me for my actions. I believe that I will achieve great things,” she says with a hint of confidence.
The girls’ center, like many others in the country, started as a detention camp for female freedom fighters during the colonial period.
However, after independence there was a change in operations and it was converted to a juvenile holding facility. It was also home to orphaned girls and those from poor backgrounds.
In 2001, things changed again and it became a full rehabilitation centre for girls who held criminal records. The girls are held for a maximum of three years and must be aged between 10 and 17.
The center’s administrator Truphena Chemining’wa explains that the girls go through the normal 8-4-4 system and also get a chance to acquire vocational skills. Both systems are graded either through the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination or the government trade test III (for vocational skills).
Last year 24 girls sat for their KCPE examination with the highest scoring 347 out of a possible 500. The lowest score was 162 marks.
“When the children are apprehended by police, they are taken to court and then their probation officer writes a report to the children’s officer. If the officer recommends institutional care then the girls are committed to rehab schools,” says Ms Chemining’wa.
Mary Njeri who is currently in her 40s went through the system after losing her parents. With all the odds against her, Njeri is a perfect example of the center’s many success stories. She has two diplomas and is currently pursuing a degree in education.
She also works as a social worker and uses her background to give hope to the 102 girls at the institution.
With a radiant smile on her face, Njeri says Kenyans’ perception of rehabilitation centers should change. In her view, everyone deserves a second chance and it is up to individuals to decide what direction they want their lives to take.
“On top of that I am a mother of three and a grandmother. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Kirigiti Girls’ Rehabilitation Center. Not all my colleagues at the time made it in life, but I did,” she says.
Perhaps it is that attitude that has got her where she is.
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