When Herieth Mkaanga retired in 2017 as a public hospital nurse at the age of 55, many thought she was tired.
But the awards she has received, including the recent one for transforming the community through empowerment, has proved beyond reasonable doubt that she had all along planned to retire after attaining 60, the limit age.
"As a trained nurse, I experienced a lot of challenges facing girls who sailed through difficult conditions after being raped, trafficked to urban areas prior to honey coated promises of handsome salaries," the retired nurse says.
After experiencing the hardship life of girls resulting from Gender Based Violence (GBV), in 2014 she founded 'My Health Foundation', a non-governmental organization (NGO) with the aim of transforming the group's life through counseling. Three years later, she retired from the public service to run the NGO.
At Malkia wa Nguvu gala held in Dar es Salaam early this year, she said "I scooped an award for my in the society."
At the award gala held in Dar es Salaam, my phone number was displayed. Someone phoned me but I failed to respond at the time.
I phoned back to know who called and the reason behind the call. It was a girl’s untold story Maria [not her real name] was working for a family in Singida town without pay.
Aged about 17 years, the young mother who was denied the right to education, laboured for nothing to ensure that her beloved daughter gets her daily bread from the family.
"After I gave birth to my baby girl, I was informed by the host that I could no longer stay with the family because they can no longer sustain my needs and those of my baby... it was true based on their economic condition, but I had no option," she says amid tears as she recounts her turbulence life she had gone through after her mother disappeared, leaving her the burden of taking care of her two siblings in Geita town.
Months passed, but her mother was nowhere to be found. The landlord decided to take the children to stay with her family just to pave the way for a new tenant as they were waiting for the disappeared woman to come and collect her children. Maria, who was very concerned for her siblings, says she decided to look for a job to sustain their lives, including education.
As she was pondering where she could get employed, a young man whom she declined to his identity informed her that there was a job in Mwanza.
"I was convinced after being told by the man that I would be paid very handsomely, though when I arrived there, I was not even paid. Life became harder by the day, and I found that I could not help my siblings who were not attending school.
I was forced to return to Geita," she said. While in Geita, she found another domestic work in Geita town, where again, she was mistreated and raped by a man who pretended to help her but ended up impregnating her. “I discovered that my tummy was growing bigger every day…I didn’t realize that I was soon going to be a mother, because it was not my plan.
I informed the man about the issue but he left and until now, I don’t know where he is,” Maria says.
Maria meets her savior
After calling Ms Herieth early this year while the right activist was attending the ‘Malkia wa Nguvu awards’ gala, she responded to her later and made arrangements for Maria to travel to Morogoro.
Previously, Maria had no clue about her relatives from both her father and mother, but she was recently reunited with some of them after participating in one of the local radio station programs, where she called on listeners to help her find them.
Currently she is in Geita waiting to be reunited with her two siblings and other relatives. Herieth says so far she has managed to transform the lives of nearly 100 girls who were forced to become mothers without their consent.
“I have also managed to transform the lives of 33 girls who were working as sex workers. Most of them become mothers either after being raped or accepted to engage in sex with men who promised them money or any other valuables.
Violation of Child Act No.21 of 2009
Child Act No.21 of 2009 stipulates clearly that the rights of the child promote, protect and maintain the welfare of a child “with a view to giving effect to international and regional conventions on the rights of the child,” but people who are supposed to protect child’s rights are those who are infringing them.
A recent Police Force report indicates that out of violence reported in 2020, sexual attacks to children had increased by 26 per cent to 7,263 incidents compared to 5803 reported in 2015.
More Opportunity needed?
Girls are mostly affected by GBV compared to their male counterparts, according to nurse Herieth.
Since most of them are forced to abandon their dreams to deal with consequences resulted from GBV, HakiElimu Executive Director and Chairman of Tanzania Education Network (TEN/MET), Dr John Kallaghe calls for stakeholders to have a round table discussion over social, cultural, policy and laws challenges to give more room for girls who dropped out of school to go back to school.
He cites the Marriage Act as one of the obstacles towards development of girls' education, as he called for alternative pathways for betterment of the group.