Out of Africa
Facing an early marriage and a life being treated inferior to men, Ritah Maitha made the difficult decision to leave her family in Kenya and seek a better existence in America.
Ritah is one of eight children consisting of two girls and six boys. Her experiences in life compelled her to share her amazing story through an expressive essay in Julie Kratt’s English Composition 1 class.
“It was actually very easy for me to put my thoughts to paper because my life experiences in the village still torments me and it is very difficult to forget,” Maitha said.
Ritah’s father catered to his sons’ needs but cared little for his daughters’ education.
“My father took me to school unwillingly, so I was in and out of school most of the time because he was getting late to paying my school fees,” Maitha said. “He made sure that my brothers’ school fees were paid and right on time, but he never cared about my sister and I whether we attended school or not.”
Ritah’s teachers in Kenya saw great potential in her and approved a full scholarship for her because of her academic prowess. However, her father was not happy to hear of the scholarship, and when Ritah reached the age of 15, he asked her to drop out of school and prepare for marriage.
Ritah’s mother did not share the same belief as her husband because she knew that one day Ritah would rescue her and her daughters from the brutal traditional culture.
“One of my aunts from my mother’s side was educated; therefore, she had rejected all those traditional cultures because it was a way of belittling women and girls in the society,” Maitha said. “My mother talked to my aunt about my full scholarship and my father’s plans. After hearing what I was going through, my aunt decided that I should move to her home to avoid the early marriage and to complete my education.”
Angry at his daughter’s decision, Ritah and her mother endured horrible threats from her father unless she returned home and got married. Hearing of the threats, Ritah’s aunt hired security guards to watch over her house.
Despite the chaos, Ritah continued her schooling and ended up graduating from high school two years later.
“I admire Ritah,--and her mother, and aunt-for being willing to risk their security, homes, and lives to help Ritah attend school,” Kratt said. “I know that many students face challenges in being able to come to college. Sometimes there are family issues and sometimes there are financial challenges, but rarely do we see a case where someone has to risk his or her life to gain an education.”
After high school, Ritah dreamed of becoming a lawyer.
“After all that I had gone through with my father and knowing that many more girls are out there facing similar problems and they have nobody to fight for them, I decided to take a career that will benefit the women and girls in the society,” Maitha said.
However, Ritah was unable to afford college. She continued to live with her aunt, working blue collar jobs and holding onto her dream.
After several years, Ritah got the opportunity to come to America.
“I was thrilled because I knew that my dream career of becoming a lawyer will be possible in America because it is the land of milk and honey,” Ritah said.
Ritah wound up living in Wichita, KS and obtained a full-time job. She heard from colleagues at work that Cowley College offered online classes and enrolled at the school majoring in pre-law.
“My experience at Cowley has been wonderful,” Ritah said. “My instructors have been very good that I recall some very good comments and encouraging words from them.”
Once Ritah graduates from Cowley, she plans to pursue a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Law.
Thereafter she plans to return to Kenya and fight for women’s rights.
“I plan to mobilize women from grass root and train them on issues of self-independence,” Maitha said. “I also plan to set up a law firm that will provide pro bono services to women who are running away from FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and forced early marriages.”
Kratt said Ritah’s education is of incalculable value to her and it was an honor and a joy for Cowley to be a part of her dream come true.
“I don’t know if these eighteen- and nineteenyear-old students had ever considered what a privilege education is before hearing Ritah’s story,” Kratt said. “Sometimes those who grow up with milk and honey fail to recognize its sweetness; however, I don’t think Ritah will ever forget it.”