heroes

What if we all went an extra mile beyond our line of duty? Wouldn’t the world be a better place? This is the impression I got after a chat with Sergeant Mwaura Gaitho, an administration police officer in Narok South Sub-county. Mwaura goes out of his way to rescue girls from forced marriages and takes them to school while pushing for the right to education for children in that community. He takes MWAURA MUIGANIA through his gallant acts.

Mwaura’s grey Toyota Premio car is loved and hated with equal measure in Narok South Sub-County. The car moves stealthily like a jet fighter. The occupants, Corporal Lincoln Mutiso, Constables Stephen Karunde, Nicholas Odinga and Sergeant Mwaura Gaitho as the captain, have a quiet but determined disposition. When the residents see it cruise by, they know there is a Meza ceremony somewhere. A girl is getting circumcised in readiness for immediate forced marriage to a rich old man. Never mind she could be 10 years old and the bridegroom 80, well into his sunset years.

However, the intervention of the police officers will spoil the party. Mwaura and his officers will burst in when everyone is making merry. He will arrest the prospective bride’s parents and the prospective bridegroom and take them to the police station. He will force them to sign an agreement allowing the girl to go to school and not interfere with her education until she comes of age to make her own decisions. If Mwaura suspects they might renege the agreement and smuggle her out of school, he will place her in a boarding school and they will pay all the school fees. He will visit her regularly to ensure her security and progress in school.

He has freely donated his personal car, money, time and other resources to rescue and provide an education to the Maasai girls in the community where he is stationed. His Okoa Watoto Initiative has so far rescued 225 girls. Another 175 boys and girls who would not otherwise have received education have gone to school through the initiative. His ear is always on the ground for any information pointing to early or forced marriage and he acts swiftly. He has retained respected village elders as informers who tip him when a girl is about to be married off. He has also earned respect from those in support of education and they provide him with this crucial intelligence. This noble duty coupled with his regular job ensures his plate is always full.

Birth of a rescue mission

He had a baptism of fire after his posting to the sub-county. He recalls sometime in 2009 when a girl burst into his house and behind her, was a crowd in hot pursuit. Panting heavily, she told him that she was a form two student and had been forced out of school to be married off but wanted to complete her education. She needed Mwaura’s help.

“I was impressed by her courage and I engaged her father who said she was denying them their community right and insisted she had to comply. According to their culture, a woman doesn’t have rights. I told them everyone has rights, which included education. The irony was that her father, a former chief, was aware that what they were doing was wrong. In the end, they agreed to let the girl go back to school,” he recalls.

Mwaura, who is also a chaplain and counsellor, ensured that they understood the importance of educating a girl child and he used the dowry bait to hook them. He advised the girl’s father that if he allowed his daughter to complete her education, he stood to get more dowry, as an educated girl fetches more money.

“She returned to school and I kept checking on her until she completed her KCSE, worked as an untrained teacher in the same school before enrolling at the university to study medicine. She recently got married to an equally educated man. Her father was very proud of her and brought me a goat as a present in appreciation of what I did,” he says.

This incident inspired Mwaura to start a campaign to rescue young girls from early marriages and take them to school. His action also inspired many girls to seek intervention from his office whenever they were to be married off. Mwaura and his officers would take it up from there to provide security since often, the parents and community would storm the school armed to the teeth to take away their daughters.

“Sometimes a girl would be herding livestock and decide to run away to the school. The parent would follow her there threatening to kill everyone and the school would come to a standstill with everyone locking themselves in classes and offices. The head teacher would send us an SOS and we would go to their rescue. We would and still do arrest the aggressive parent and only release him when he agrees not to interfere with her daughter’s education until she is old enough to make her own decisions. I would also advise him to take up the herding duties henceforth instead of idling in the town daily drinking, sniffing tobacco or playing darts,” he explains.

To the rescue of boys too

Mwaura also noted the high rate of child neglect in the sub-county. They were engaged in herding cattle and goats when they were supposed to be in school. He comes from a large family of 13 siblings and understands the meaning of poverty. But these parents are different; they are rich and able but unwilling to educate their children mainly because most are illiterate and ignorant. It was disheartening.

Mwaura is widely read and appreciates R. Bok who says, ‘If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.’ That’s why he cherishes the constitution and specifically where it guarantees the right of every child to free and compulsory basic education. He received an impetus to push for the education of girls and boys in Narok after a number of unfortunate incidents.

Usually, people bring to him official letters for interpretation because they are illiterate since the few among them who are literate take advantage and cheat them out of their property in dubious agreements. After learning they had been cheated, they take the law into their hands to reclaim their property sometimes resulting to violence. The police are then called in to intervene.

“One time during official duties, we asked a young man whether it was safe in the bush ahead of us. He would just nod his head and we took that for a yes only to venture ahead and be confronted by elephants and our motorbike’s engine went dead. It was through God’s grace that the elephants did not attack us. If he had understood us, he would have cautioned us,” he explains.

So bad was the situation that a local primary school had only 100 students despite having good infrastructure and being located in a populous area…

On the other hand, he and his officers are severally called in to disperse members of the community who have blocked roads protesting the employment of non-Maasai in the hotels, camps and other investments in the famous Maasai Mara game reserve. Since most youth in the community are not educated and the professional jobs are given on educational merit, the locals often miss out and they end up feeling aggrieved. The only way to sort out the problem is through education. That’s when he decided to call his officers and agreed to use their money and other resources to ensure every child in the sub-county went to school.

So bad was the situation that a local primary school had only 100 students despite having good infrastructure and being located in a populous area. The head teacher enlisted Mwaura’s help to boost the enrolment.

“I asked the teacher to be calling parents for meetings in the school, which I would attend with my officers, the local chief and education officers. The teacher knows most of the parents and would have a list of each of their children not in school. I would give

the parents a two-week ultimatum for the parents to prepare and enroll their children in the school failure to which they would be prosecuted for denying children their right to education. This would be followed by a series of meetings to ensure that parents complied. Some were adamant and even went as far as disowning the children when we forced them to go to school,” he shares of some of the challenges they go through.

He would give the parent time to cool down then counsel them and have them commit themselves in writing not to interfere with the child’s education. If he opines that a parent might eventually smuggle the girl child out of school to marry her off, or take her across the border to Tanzania and marry them off as most do, the girl is enrolled in a boarding school. The parent will pay the boarding fees before leaving the cells. If he violates the agreement later on, he is prosecuted. Mwaura and his officers also take the responsibility of visiting the school regularly to check on the child’s progress.

“From this intervention, there was an upsurge in school enrollment and another challenge arose – there were not enough teachers for all these children. My three officers and I offered to teach during our free time,” he shares.

In March this year Mwaura and his three officers received the Best Police Officers in Extra Mile Award from the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA). And this month during the Inspirational Women Award country edition organised by the ministry of devolution and planning, Mwaura was awarded in the special category for his work in helping girls and women.

The campaign has now been expanded to Okoa Watoto na Wamama (save children and women) in an effort to empower women. They use the chief’s barazas to also educate women on their health.

“We included women because during delivery, most women give birth at home and get complications. That’s when they remember to call us to take them to hospital. I quickly pick the doctor in my car and rush to the woman’s rescue to take her to hospital. I have rescued 12 women in such situations. Three of them gave birth in the car and another one unfortunately died on the way to hospital,” he explains as we conclude the interview.

Mwaura can be reached through:

willy.gaitho14 gmail.com

Mobile: 0720 247 462

Published in December 2015