From a Dusty Town to Medical School

Mandeq Adowo Mohamed

Medicine Student University of Nairobi

‘Growing up in Wajir was dry’, Mandek shares. ‘But when you are born in a dry place it does not seem as dry. It seems normal because you do not know any better.’ She attended Hotham Primary School until standard three but had to move because her parents believed that they were not being taught anything. Her next school was a private school. Mandeq exceled in her studies through her primary school and she got into Alliance Girls High School. One of the top national girls’ school in Kenya.

“My mother was and still is very forward thinking,” she says. “She did not have the opportunity to go to school. She is not learned. She gave birth to 10 children, but she encouraged me to be the best person I could be in life. She is my biggest cheerleader.”

Going to Alliance Girls High School proved tricky for her at the beginning. Her kinfolk said that her going to Alliance, a school different from her religion meant she would lose her faith. Everybody was against her going to Alliance because it was a school that did not allow the wearing of hijab.

 “It was really difficult for the first two years because I came from a very different environment where we were all largely of the same faith, we ate different food from what I found, I always wore a hijab to express my faith.” She says. “I was not doing well in class because of all the stress of this new culture. I was from a small town. But my mother kept encouraging me and eventually things got better after adjusting. I scored an A in my final exams.”

 Ironically, the experience at Alliance Girls made her connect with her faith deeper. “My biggest issue initially was not being allowed to wear my hijab.” She reflects. “It did not feel right. I did not feel comfortable enough to attend the classes. But after a while, I got used to it in a good way. That experience also made me realize how much I was taking for granted. So, it made me closer to God. I actually realized how I had taken the symbol of wearing a hijab for granted. Alliance, apart from giving me the best education and socialization, made me see that my faith was a matter of the heart. It also made me respect Christianity.”

Alliance taught her to live with a diverse group of people from different backgrounds. That people were just people regardless of their religion. What made them different was where they grew up. Mandeq learnt to appreciate diversity.

“I have been very lucky to get a good education despite my background.” She continues. I was sponsored by UNICEF for my secondary education who later introduced me to Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) who are implementing a girl child program by the name, Global Give Back Circle (GGBC) thanks to the support of the American people through USAID. I applied for a scholarship opportunity to pursue what I had always wanted to take after my secondary school, Medicine. The programme has not only catered for all my college fees right up to now that I am in my sixth year, but also attached me to a mentor and offered some key life skills training making me a holistic student. Of most use for me, has been life skills training on reproductive health and how to take care of my personal health, financial literacy and how to manage not only my upkeep but to save as well. Employment readiness workshops for those of us who are about to transition to the work place is also very helpful.”

Being a young girl from Wajir and from a community that really looks at the girl child from a different lens, going to school and pursuing a degree in medicine is a big deal. She is a unicorn. She is the one who has risen to show other girls in her town that there is a path and if she can walk it, they too can.

She is an inspiration to all her siblings, being the first born, especially for her six sisters who look up to her and are inspired by the fact that she followed her dreams of studying medicine. “I did not to get married soon, like most girls in Wajir, because it will send a wrong message to my sisters that it is an option. I want to make sure that they all get an education and better their lives.” Mandeq quips.

Her decision to pursue medicine did not arrive through any way other than the fact that she wanted to take on the hardest course that could test her intellect and one that not many students from her community were undertaking, let alone girls. “I knew I could do medicine because I loved the sciences and I wanted something that could make me gain respect back at home.” She shares. “Doctors are respected all over the world and I wanted that respect. I wanted the people from Wajir to say that one of their own saves lives now.”

Because she comes from an impoverished society, education is never prioritized, but because she has seen the value and the limitlessness of education, she wants more and more girls to embrace it. She belongs to a group called Wajir Enforcement Educational Group where they give talks and mentor young girls on education and life’s opportunities and challenges in general.

“This group has become a powerful forum where lives of young girls are changed by just changing their perception of education and life in general.” She adds. “I wish someone had done the same for me because there are many girls out there who need a sense of direction, who need to know that they too can make something of their lives and not see early marriage as a way out.”

For now, Mandeq does not know what branch of medicine she will specialize in as her focus is to complete her medical degree, get an internship opportunity with the government as a general practitioner and gain medical experience serving the community. What she knows for a fact is that she will want to empower as many girls to rise up from her village for as long as she is able to.

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