I was a 13-Year-Old, 4th Grade Dropout by Gladys

Published on October 18, 2013 under Students Write
I was a 13-Year-Old, 4th Grade Dropout by Gladys

A Responsible 10-Year Old Girl

“Mostly, I think, I’m like my father…naturally shy.”

My name is Gladys Chepng’eno. I was born the 24th of July, 1997 to a Kalenjin couple in the Great Rift Valley Province. My father, Benard Ng’eno married Alice according to Kalenjin culture. Among the Kalenjin, marriage is properly conducted and supervised by elders. Dowry must be paid upon marriage, and the elders’ direction must be followed. This is applied to all Kalenjin indiscriminately, rich or poor. I’m the second born, behind my sister.

My parents were peasants. They earned their living on my father’s one acre farm. We grew our food right there and sold some milk to meet other needs. I grew up on the farm and started attending school, which was not near at all. As I grew up, I learned things that I had to do to help my parents. By the time I was ten years old, I could cook ugali, make tea, feed cows, and other tasks. My mother made me to do every kind of work to make me a responsible girl.

Gladys NgenoDSCN0196_1

However, my mother was not happy with my school performance. I wasn’t bright enough and took long to learn simple things like arithmetic. My father knew all about it, but he never said anything. He is naturally a very humble and patient one. If he is displeased with anything, he doesn’t show it, and I’ve never seen him confront my mother over anything. They’ve never had an argument to the best of my knowledge. So whatever advice the teacher offered, my father accepted humbly, which meant I had to repeat classes.

Mostly, I think, I’m like my father. I’ve never argued with teachers or anybody over anything they suggest I do. Furthermore, I’m naturally shy. Not many children agreed to repeat classes, and often they just dropped out of school rather than learn with their younger siblings in the same class.

Why a 13-Year-Old Drops Out of School

“The government got public schools full, leaving teachers with a bigger burden.”

My problems in school got worse when more children were forced to attend school. The law passed to arrest parents who kept children at home for any reason. Many children had excuses of school fees and poverty and did not go to school. The government got public schools full, leaving teachers with a bigger burden. My class got full and my teachers had less time for me. My performance went down. That’s when my aunt came up with a solution. She asked my father if she could take me with her to Nairobi and find for me a school that could help me before I dropped out of school.


Gladys with friends in 2009.


See larger images below.

That is how I came to Kangemi slum in Nairobi. We tried the first two schools but they were not good at all. It’s true that my aunt didn’t know anything about schools, and she was learning though experience. When I was in grade 5 and in my third school, my father visited us. He had problems at home. A drought had destroyed his crops, and everything was gone. He couldn’t stay there anymore and wait for things to come back to normal. This means he needed a job. He was done with farming for the time being.

Father was not able to find a job. He came to live with his sister and us. We all lived in one iron-sheet room in Kangemi slum. Eventually my aunt ran out of money. We therefore stopped going to school. Father went back home to the village. He became a cobbler in order to survive. Mother worked very hard on the land to grow some food. Later my aunt sent us girls to the village, too. Her job had ended.

Father and mother worked hard to send us back to school. They bought for us new school uniforms and books. The teachers wanted us to repeat two classes because we failed a short test. My sister refused and ran back home. I too refused, and we just stayed at home. Father tried all he could, but we just refused for good. So then we were school drop-outs!


Friends and classmates in 2012.


At Days for Girls Workshop, 2013.


Good, Friendly People at Hamomi

“She promised me the children would not laugh at me…I wanted friends.”

I was about 13 years old and in grade 4. We stayed home for about a year and a half. Even my father had given up the idea of schooling for us. But that was not all. My aunt came after us and got very angry with this situation. She wanted us to go back to school. She took me with her first and promised to come for my sister if she found a school. I was happy to be going to live with my aunt. She was a nice person.

When we came to Nairobi I said I didn’t want to go to school. Children would laugh at me if I joined their class. My aunt tried her best, but I said no. She said that she would not take me back to my old school but a new one. That was better. But where would she find a new one? Time passed, and she became desperate.

One day, she said she had found me a school in Kangemi slums. She promised me the children would not laugh at me. Some of them were my age and would be in my class. Now that was exactly the thing I wanted. I wanted friends. I got good, friendly people at Hamomi. I thank God. Now, my performance is very good. Even my father can’t believe it. I’m going to High School!


In 2012, American volunteer Bryn Mooney traveled to Hamomi to teach a photography workshop from which we got to see Gladys’ beautiful point of view.


Gladys, Class 7

Another photograph by Gladys.