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18 year-old Cellestine Adhiambo smiles as she talks about what she like to do for a job someday. “I would like to be a nurse,” she says, “and work at the hospital in Lwala.” Cellestine’s dreams for her future point to her resiliency and hard work, as she recently re-entered school after having dropped out for 6 months. When she was in Class 8 at Lwala Primary School, Cellestine became pregnant and stopped attending school once she gave birth to her baby girl, Francis Marion.

Cellestine is the 4th born out of five brothers and one sister. Her parents are subsistence farmers who grow maize and sugar cane. After giving birth, Cellestine dropped out of school since she felt she couldn’t balance her studies with taking care of her newborn child. Then, through her visits to the Lwala Community Hospital for her delivery and well-child visits, Cellestine heard from staff and other teen mothers about a group of out-of-school girls who were meeting together in a mentoring group called Salama Pamoja. Curious about the group, Cellestine attended her first mentoring session in May 2013 and remains in the group to this day.

She says, “In Salama Pamoja, I learned how to protect myself and I learned about reproduction. [The mentors] also told us if we continue with the spirit of going back to school, they can help us. They are always teaching us about how we can be courageous; if we get some challenges in our life, we can know how to solve them. As girls, you can know many things as you go to school.” When she first joined Salama Pamoja, Cellestine was trained in Lwala Community Alliance’s agricultural program and learned farming techniques so that she can learn to grow vegetables to sell in the local market. The female mentors have also created a safe space for Cellestine to can talk openly if she is experiencing difficulties and challenges. These same mentors also reached out to Cellestine’s parents and encouraged them to send her back to school.

As a result of what she was learning in Salama Pamoja as well as support for her parents, Cellestine re-enrolled in school in August 2013. She is now in Form 1 at Tuk Jowi Secondary School. Her favorite subjects are biology, English, mathematics, business, and agriculture. She hopes to be a role model for her younger sister and that someday Francis Marion will attend secondary school as well.

Cellestine is demonstrating that Salama Pamoja is effectively empowering girls to continue with their education, gain knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, and make wise choices that will protect them from the risk of violence and infection. She is also actively recruiting other girls to join the mentoring group. Cellestine remarks, “Nothing comes without working. I am always telling girls who have dropped out about the club in Lwala that is called Salama Pamoja. I tell them they can come with me. Some of them have come with me and two of these girls have now gone back to school.”

This is just a one of the stories we have helped co-create; lived by the newly empowered people we have been able to help. Make a donation and pledge to share our vision. Happy holidays!

excerpt from a report by Katherine Falk

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