Expecting hope: The story of Christine Nado Simon

Reproductive health is about guaranteeing human rights. When girls and women are denied the right to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, their general well-being is significantly affected. Yet, for many young girls and women in remote, underserved settings such as Turkana County, access to sexual reproductive services is just but a mere vision. Women and girls in Turkana county suffer disproportionately from unintended pregnancies and gender-based violence and are at a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

Meet Christine Nado, a grade six girl pupil in Village Three Primary School. Even at her tender age, Christine already has a lot on her own account to share, from personal life experiences, on challenges faced by girls in her community when it comes to sexual reproductive health and related rights. Christine suffered sexual abuse in the hands of known male acquaintances at the age of 14. This has had devastating effects on her life, and yet she survived and is determined to go on to succeed in recovering and regaining control of her life.

“When the sun sets in my village,” Christine narrates, “all forms of traditional celebrations kick in; men and women, girls and boys, alike come out to dance and celebrate. There a celebration every night.”

Unfortunately, these celebrations present opportunities for all kinds of crime. Gangs and rapists take advantage of these events to rape, sexually abuse, and violate the rights of unsuspecting young girls..

Christine was heading home after an event one evening, when suddenly, a man she clearly identified pounced on her in a shameful act and raped her. “This changed my life forever,” she narrates.

She struggled to get back home, her clothes drenched with blood. She quickly cleaned up herself and vowed to keep it to herself for fear of the stigma and shame. Little did she know that the worst part of her experience was yet to come. A month later, she learnt that she was pregnant and would soon became a mother. She was not only robbed of her innocence, but now she had to deal with the struggle of being a teenage mother.

“My life stopped! The man who raped me has since fled to his country of origin. I know him! Maybe he was afraid of facing the law,” Christine recounts with a teary face, almost sobbing. She had to drop out of school at grade 6 for fear of stigma by other pupils in schools. Christine now does menial, casual jobs within the settlement from which she hardly earns enough to feed herself since she is also living with Disabilty.

Christine wishes to go back to school after she delivers her baby. However, she has more than enough worries in her head. In addition to the time lost, mockery, and stigma,  she is now seriously worried about how she will feed, clothe and care for her baby.

Her mentor and neighbour, Naima, is understandably worried about her daughters too. “Sometimes, I think of taking them back home because I fear they might be abused. All my efforts to keep them safe are still not enough. They are still at risk,” she says, pointing to a fence of thorn she has erected around her house. Anytime her daughters go out in search of firewood or water, for instance, Naima is deeply worried.

Neither Christine nor Naima is willing to report this case to the authorities. They, as well as other girls and women in the village, understand that it is a violation of their rights and is a criminal offense punishable by law. However, when we asked, they replied in unison,  “We know no sexual offender in this village that has been prosecuted and convicted, yet we hear of  rape cases every day!” she adds,  “people are not free to report their cases since they often don’t get help anyway instead sometimes the people who report such cases get intimidated by the same authorities  who are supposed to help then.” “I have seen many people asking for repatriation to run away from the stigma of rape,” she says. She is afraid that as long as the night parties continue in the settlements, her daughters and many other girls and even women are at risk.

Christine and  Naima, have great hopes that  ADRA and the TOGETHER Project will not only support young girls and women to fully exercise their health rights, including linkages with health and nutrition opportunities that are available, but will also create new opportunities.  

They are optimistic that the TOGETHER project will support them in making healthy choices in their lives. Access to reproductive health services will support autonomous decision-making and healthy sexual and reproductive lives. They believe the knowledge, capacity, and economic empowerment brought by the project will enable young girls and women in their village to decide if and when to have children and under what conditions. It will afford them access to skilled care before, during, and after childbirth.

“Thank you, ADRA and TOGETHER project, for choosing to support our village; we know that our lives will be transformed for the better and good. “ I know this project will help protect other young girls like me from becoming wives and mothers when they are still children, giving all of us a greater opportunity to stay in school for as long as we wish and get new skills and maybe good jobs. That way, we will be able to contribute to the well-being of our families and our village.”