Rania* was born and raised in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia, and lived with her mother and father until she was 16. She was a very happy girl who loved school – her grades were always good and her teachers were proud of her.
“I hadn’t realised that life could change so completely in just a moment,” said Rania to her social worker at Retrak’s Deborah Lighthouse.
This is the story of a girl who escaped child marriage, after her parents secretly tried to marry her to a man who already had several wives. “I’d never even seen him,” Rania says, “People said he was in his late thirties. My parents promised his parents that they’d make me marry him – they even started to prepare food and drink for the wedding.”
Rania was unable to convince her parents that she didn’t want to marry a man 25 years older than her. “I didn’t want to leave school! I’d dreamed of becoming a teacher, and giving others the opportunity to learn.”
Rania continued to rebel and kept on going to school. The man who was to be her husband showed up at her home in a bid to convince her. “When I saw him, I was shocked to the core – he was even older than I expected. At first he begged me, but when I continue to refuse, left, only to come back the next day, aggressive and threatening me.”
The man continued to show up at Rania’s home, hoping she would change her mind. When he realised she wouldn’t agree, he chose a day when her parents were away, waited until she came home from school and grabbed her. She fought back and shouted for help. The neighbours heard her cries and rushed to help. In a fury, the man pulled out a knife and stabbed her. The neighbours came to save her, and took her to hospital.
Rania says: “Some people sympathised, and my parents were upset that I was hurt – but when the man brought them a sheep and apologised, they forgave him and continued to insist I marry him.”
Rania decided to leave home and travel to the capital Addis Ababa, where her aunt, uncle and young cousin welcomed her into their home. However, her aunt objected to her plans to go to school, compelling her to take care of their little girl instead. Soon after that her aunt and uncle decided to divorce, and Rania chose to stay with her aunt.
One day, Rania and her cousin were playing together when there was a knock at the door. Standing there was the man who wanted to marry her. He grabbed Rania and beat her badly. Rania says, “I thought I was going to die – the man said he would kill me unless I married him. He left me bleeding, saying he would come back.”
Rania went to the police, who referred her to Retrak. When Rania arrived at Retrak’s Deborah Lighthouse she was initially very distrustful of adults and wanted nothing to do with any other children. Most of the time she would play alone, showing little enthusiasm for her surroundings. When she did come out of her shell she would lash out at other children and staff, both verbally and physically.
Rania’s individual treatment plan included therapy for depression and withdrawal, and counselling sessions to stabilise her and encourage positive feelings about herself and others. After a couple of months, she began to exude greater positivity and demonstrated an impressive performance in the Lighthouse catch-up education classes.
Retrak social workers conducted pre-visits to Rania’s family, who desperately wanted her to return home – but she was adamant about continuing her education. After Retrak’s intense counselling and a childcare review, she decided to join a vocational training course at a restaurant and training school run by another NGO. She learned about food preparation during the day and at night worked as a waitress in a café. She developed practical skills and started to save..
When the training finished, Rania went to the city of Bahir Dar to stay with her older sister, which in a stroke of serendipity coincided with Retrak opening its newest Lighthouse there. She got a job at the Lighthouse as a cook, where the manager says, “Rania’s an excellent cook and professional in her work. All the staff and the children like her – she’s an asset to Retrak!”
Rania says: “I never used to think about my future – I was just going through the motions, out of control of my life. Coming to Retrak and getting support, friendship and people who believed in me meant that I started to work much harder to achieve my dreams. Things would have been so different, and so ugly without Retrak.”
Rania has worked hard to become self-sufficient, and with Retrak’s support has been able to take back control of her future. With the new determination that her independence brings, she has space to plan her education and career goals – her future shines bright.Attachments: