Veronica Jemanyur Rop’s Personal Life Experience
I was born over forty years ago in Moiben, a remote village at the heart of Uasin Gishu County in Kenya and grew up in Ndalat settlement scheme, once occupied by the white settlers, to a non Christian but traditional parents, Kipkosgei Arap Rop (Solomon) and Georgina Jeptarus Rop. My name, Jemanyur, is a traditional name given to a child born smaller than expected, such as in the case of premature birth. My parents told me that I was too small and that they never expected me to live, but God had great plans for me. God has not only blessed me but has also used me as a source of blessing to my family. I am the second born of my mother’s eight children, five girls and three boys. My father has four wives. My mother is the first of the four, and one of his two wives with children. One of my step mothers (second wife) has seven children while the other two have no children of their own but have each adopted a boy child. I remember that while growing up, two of father’s wives stayed in the same compound while the other worked in a small business, in turns, (before he married the fourth wife). In fact, they used to live in one hut until recently. My father, being a strict Kalenjin or Nandi man that he is, made sure that his family followed his Kalenjin traditions, customs, beliefs and practices. One of these is the stress on the role of women in bringing up their children, taking care of the household and being submissive to the head of the family. In the Kalenjin tradition, women own no property and depend entirely upon the male figure. So, from my earlier life, I sought to understand why women are put in a second-class status, and why men, my father being one, commanded such authority while women were discriminated upon and seemed hesitant to question their decisions.
When formal education was introduced by the British colonial government, the Kalenjin people were among those who did not encourage women to attend school. Educating women was seen as something that would distract them from their sole responsibilities of being mothers and wives. Likewise, educating women was believed to be a waste of resources. Hence, I grew up in a community where women did not take education seriously. Until recently, my father did not see the point of educating his children, his daughters in particular.
I started preschool at Chepilat Nursery School and then proceeded to Kamulat Primary School (elementary school) where graduated in 1976 with a certificate for Primary Education (C.P.E). I joined Ndalat Mixed Secondary School in 1977. This was the only parish-sponsored day school located in a rural area and five kilometers away from my home. I was one of 24 girls and 25 boys to enroll in the then newly started school with one teacher. Among the 24 girls, I became the only girl who graduated with a high school diploma. I had to struggle to see to it that nothing distracted me from achieving my goal of having a secondary education, not even the lack of school fees. I did all I could including brewing and selling local beer to meet my school fees and other needs. I vividly recall the times I sat under a tree before sunset and darkness could rob me of the only light I needed to complete my homework. I can remember with relief those sad nights filled with tears because my little bush-lump, Tamambul, ran out of kerosene and my mother’s firewood could not produce enough fire to light the house and allow me to study. With a grateful heart I thank God who gave me the grace to go through and complete my elementary and high school studies. Unfortunately, my other 23 high school classmates (girls) cannot narrate this of their lives, most of them were given off for early marriages or discontinued their education because they could not afford to pay for their school expenses. Thanks to my courage and determination, I am the first woman in my village, Nyogoon village, to pursue a college degree. In fact, my education came from a resilient spirit I developed in my elementary school. Despite every obstacle, God gave me the grace to go through and complete my education—which I loved very much.
I completed my high school education in 1980 with good grades—a requirement to join a college as well as my religious community. I joined the Assumption Sisters of Eldoret (ASE) and made my first vows in 1983 as the first religious from my home parish, Ndalat Parish, and made my final vows in 1989 with inculturated liturgy that figured some traditional Kalenjin marrige. It was at the convent that I pursued a teaching career. I enrolled at Eregi Teachers Training College where I graduated with a Certificate of Education in 1987. I am proud to say that at my graduation, I was declared the Female Student of the Year.
I have worked in three public schools where Iserved as a school principal in two schools. I taught and headed Kituro Mixed Primary school from 1987-1995. Here, I championed for the rights of girl-child education in a community that did not value education particularly that of girl child and show to it that school drop-out among students was reduced. I also encouraged my teachers, particularly female teachers to pursue higher education and seek educational posts in various levels. Which they did. In 1996, I was transferred to Our Lady of Mercy Primary School, Nairobi, but within six months I was posted to head Holy Rosary Girls Boarding School where I was able to have the first female as the school chairperson in about 50 years history of the school existence. This was an achievement as the girls and female teachers had some female role models. During this time, I was elected into ASE Council in which I was entrusted with a responsibility of being a councilor in-charge of education. Working as a school teacher and principal, enabled me to witness oppression and gender discrimination in various spheres of life in different communities. At one point, I was one of the handful female principals in the entire Educational District (Kabarnet District) and I made my presence felt. What contributed to me being accepted as a principal was partly because I was a religious sister.
I joined Barry University in Miami-US, in 2001 and graduated with a double major degree in Exceptional Student Education and Theology in 2005. The same University offered me another scholarship and I pursued a dual Masters degree in Counseling (Mental Health, Family and Couple Counseling and School Counseling). During my counseling sessions, I encountered various challenging issues that ignited in me a desire to want to know and understand what the Scripture and Church Teaching say about various moral and ethical issues such as different sexual orientation, role of women in the Church as well as Church’s stand on oppression of women in patriarchal societies. Thanks be to God, my desire to learn more about the Church’s Teaching was made possible with yet another scholarship to pursue a Master degree in Practical Theology. It was here that I was introduced to Moral Theology and Ethics and soon found out that Moral Theology was the right study to find answers to the concerns stated above.
I am very gratiful to the Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (CTEWC) for the scholarship that has enabled me to pursue a doctoral studies in Moral Theology at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Kenya. This study has challenged me to look deeper into the Church’s Teaching on diverse issues as well as on African Traditonal beliefs and practices and in particular participation of women in various spheres in the Church and society. I am now in the process of writing my dissertation on the contribution of women in Integral Human Development among my own people, Kalenjin, with the view of contributing towards conscientizing the community, promoting and empowering women in my own way. In fact, thank you so very much for the opportunity to share my reflections in CTEWC Newsletter as a member of African-Forum.
Looking back, I can say that growing up in a large and polygamous family, stiffed with strict Kalenjin traditions, customs and values exposed and equiped me with a lot of expereince, knowledge and the desire to challenge my own African traditional beliefs and practices particulaly those that discriminate upon other persons in society. On the positive side, growing up in an extended family has instilled in me a sense of community, a spirit of love, acceptance and a desire to reach out to others. Although it took my parents a long time to accept Christianity, they shared with me my native Kalenjin, Nandi culture, traditions and values. One of those values that has inspired and guided my life is the belief that ‘closed hands are never blessed’ i.e. it is in sharing/giving that we receive and John Mbiti’s proverb “I am because you are and because you are I am.” In my journey of life, I have learned that hard work coupled with determination, resilence and God’s blessings channelled through other persons is a call to participation in the realization of the reign of God, a reign marked with reconciliation, justice and peace.