Anjelina’s long road to learning Refusing the beads

When Anjelina feels overwhelmed, she sits down under a tree and breathes deeply.

Her own two feet brought her to this classroom in Kakuma, Kenya. She walked 90 km over three days to get here.

All because of the beads.

Beads: small, decorative objects formed in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, often woven together to make jewellery.

In some communities in Kenya, beads have a special significance. Known as Shanga in Swahili, beads symbolise a girl’s availability for marriage.

This was the tradition in Anjelina’s community. The 14-year-old is from a town in north-west Kenya, where her family lives in a small hut without electricity or running water. The town is in one of the poorest counties in all of Kenya, with 72 per cent of the population living in poverty.

Many of the residents are pastoralists, living nomadic lifestyles. In the village communities, the beading tradition and early marriage contribute heavily to violations of the rights of girls.

The journey to Kakuma

“I talked to my parents, informing them that I wanted to go to school,” says Anjelina. “They accepted. During the journey from my hometown to the school in Kakuma, I spent three days without food. I slept in strangers’ homes. I wasn’t scared. I just walked.”

On arrival, Anjelina moved in with her sister Sarah, who is married and lives in Kakuma. Their home is located right outside Kakuma refugee camp, which houses hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from Somalia and South Sudan.

Sarah was supportive of Anjelina’s dream to learn and helped her enrol at the local school.

Managing stress and pursuing dreams

A key part of the accelerated learning approach is the Better Learning Programme (BLP). BLP supports children’s recovery from the trauma of conflict and displacement, and improves their conditions for learning. BLP is one of Anjelina’s favourite classes because it helps her manage stress.

“I like how BLP has helped me in resolving some of the problems that I encounter,” explains Anjelina.

“This is what we’ve learned from our teacher: if I’m feeling stressed, I go under a tree and start breathing in and out. If I don’t find a tree nearby, I play with my friends instead. Now, when someone tries to provoke me, I leave and start singing gospel music.”

Adjusting to life in Kakuma

Though she is flourishing academically, Anjelina sometimes struggles with her new everyday reality in Kakuma.

One challenge is securing safe drinking water, a daily chore that can sometimes last hours and involve walking long distances with jerrycans in tow.

But no matter what problems she faces, she’s now equipped with tools to manage her stress – and has growing dreams for the future.

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