Its My Story

My name is Valentine Resiato Nkoyo

I was born and brought up in a small Maasai village called Eor- Enkitok in Narok County, Kenya in 1984. Growing up as a young Maasai girl in a big polygamous family wasn’t easy, especially because I was not given equal opportunities compared to my siblings. I was constantly sent home to collect school fees and because my mother could not afford to pay for my fees, I spent a lot of time at home helping her to run the farm and other chores like walking for miles to fetch water and firewood while other children were in school. Each time I was sent home, people pushed me to get married as most of my friends were married off to older men at the age of about 13. I never lost hope because I believed God would make a way for me as I kept praying that I will be the one to save my family from poverty. I got involved in a lot of charity work in our local church believing the rewards for serving God were greater than the challenges I was facing

I did my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) first in 1997 and then lost two years trying to join secondary school. I went from office to office but got no help. My elder brother (Ledama) convinced me to go back to primary school for one more year so as to sit for KCPE in 2000 for the third time after staying at home for a whole year. Because I was older than my classmates, they used to call me grandma but this never made lose focus.

Ledama promised that he will pay for me to take a tailoring course after my studies because he was not in a position to afford secondary school fees. Unfortunately he passed away a few months later and this was such a big blow for me and my family. The fear of not knowing how the future would look like affected me so badly that at some point, I felt like it was not worth living. I continued praying and I still had a very strong feeling that I had a call to change my own life and help others escape poverty. I was lucky to get some relatives commited to support me through my secondary education but they stopped paying my fees two years before finishing my education.

I had to fight so hard to remain in education and at some point the frustrations pushed me to write a poem to my father in my mother tongue pleading with him to consider my education as I was a child like others. As a teenage girl, I was not allowed to speak to my father directly about certain sensitive things as I could only do so through my mother. I requested him to listen to me.

This is the English version of the poem:

Take Me To School Father, Take me to school father, So I may be like Elizabeth, Who drives the red car, And who is always happy, For was she not a girl like me? Take me to school father, So I may not be like Naserian, Who has now five children, Strands of wire covered by skin, Is what they have for bodies Skinny, scronny, skimpy With teary eyes they gaze Despairingly at their mother Who has naught to offer. Take me to school father, For those children haunt me, Will I end up like Naserian? Whose husband whips her daily? For is she not his sixth sheep? And by the way, A present from a grateful age mate, Why was I born a girl? To become a symbol of gratitude? Take me to school father, You tell me I will deviate, And shame you with bad manners, Is rejecting an old man bad manners? Is declining initiation bad manners? Is planning my family bad manners? Is dressing smartly bad manners? Is being a girl child bad manners? Take me to school now For the symbol of labour I detest! The symbol of pleasure I detest! The symbol of gratitude I detest! The girl child is mouse no more, She is a tiger ready to fight for rights.

After reciting the poem, we both broke down. He vowed to do his best to ensure I got the best out of education! He sold one of his biggest bulls so I could go back to school

Unfortunately, I lost my dad several months after he vowed to see me have the best education. I was very lucky to get a scholarship to finish my secondary education. This was a great achievement and I did so well and got admission letters to three good universities in Kenya. This little poem changed my life and it has continued to have a positive impact on my life and the lives of others.

“...Growing up as a young Maasai girl in a big polygamous family wasn’t easy...

Joining the university in Kenya was just but a dream after I finished my secondary education in 2004. Through the support of family and friends from Africa, America and Europe, I managed to join Kabarak University, Kenya in September 2007 after trying for two years to raise funds for my further education.

After two years of my business course in Kenya, I felt I needed a challenge and I decided to take a six month break from my course to study Creative Writing and Film Making.

This was due to my passion for writing and the fact that I believe in the power of words and images in solving most of the social issues facing society. The poem had already worked for me and I wanted to nurture my writing talent to be able to address things I felt were unfair in my community. Efforts to go to America for six months never materialised. During a conference I was presenting at in Nairobi, I met with staff from York St John University (including the then Deputy Vice Chancellor). They later offered me a six month scholarship to study Creative Writing and Film Making.

At the age of 25, I needed to convince a panel of 7 village elders why I needed to travel to the UK given I didn’t have friends here and that I was also taking a break to study something different from my business course. They were also worried I would never go back home. I told them there was no other home I knew by then rather than my place of birth. I didn’t have to go to that meeting or justify to anyone why I wanted to leave. I was the only woman allowed in that meeting but I went along as I needed their blessings and never wanted to be an outcast in my own community. I got the blessings from them and came to the UK in January 2009. six months later, I returned home and started a project to help children through the primary school I went to in Eor- Enkitok village. Things changed so fast as I started getting visits from the same village elders who were questioning my intentions for travelling and most of them were asking for advise on how we could help the village. I will soon be embarking on a school project I started 2009 to continue supporting my village Eor-Enkitok. I am also involved in different campaigns and will be working on different community projects through my new foundation.

Each stage of my education was full of challenges. I faced the challenges with courage and confidence knowing that there was light at the end of the tunnel as all I wanted was a brighter future for myself, my family and my community. I also felt I needed to prove what boys could do girls could do as well. This has continued to inspire me to do good for other people back home and here in the UK.

During the six months I was studying in York, I got involved in a lot of volunteering helping with raising funds for other students, raising the aspirations of young people in schools, working with the local media among other things. The university was impressed with my contribution and performance and awarded me a full scholarship to come back and finish my business degree. I came back to England in September 2009.

Graduating with a first class honours degree, winning different awards and getting a job with an overseas Non- Governmental Organisation in the UK before graduating, is beyond what I imaged I could achieve only five years ago! All the adversities I overcame made me stronger to keep fighting for what I wanted and believed in. Among the awards I have won over the past four years include:

• In 2011, named The International Student of the Year for Yorkshire and Humber region in the British Council Shine! Awards, having been chosen from a pool of 1,200 students from 118 countries. www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/yorkshire-living/health- family/from-a-maasai-village-to-university-life- in-yorkshire-1-3211641

• In 2011, awarded the C & B Rouse Award by York St John University as recognition for community service, contribution to university life and academic achievement. www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/9366080.Special_ award_for_York_St_John_University_student/

• In 2010, named The Adult Learner of the Year for Yorkshire and the Humber region by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education. www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/8192498.Valentine_Nkoyo_wins_award_for_fighting_for_her_ education/

Six months ago, I was approached by a writer who knew about my story and we are currently working on a theatrical play script based on my story. He aims to have a film made based on my story as well. If I made it to where I am despite the constant knockbacks, young people going through similar situations and difficulties in life can make it as well with a positive attitude to be the change they want to see!

I am because I believe!

Valentine Nkoyo E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. M: +447794372214 W: www.valentinenkoyo.com www.mojatu.com/foundation