Jamillah’s father always told her she was beautiful – more beautiful than any of her sisters. Whilst this sounds like a lovely thing for a father to say to his daughter, in reality Jamillah’s dad was rubbing his hands in glee.
His daughter’s beauty meant that he would be able to command a large dowry (payment) when he arranged her marriage. Jamillah, 23, sighs: ‘My dad was determined my future husband would pay a high price for me.’
Two of Jamillah’s sisters had already been forced to marry elderly, Muslim, men because they were wealthy and able to pay a good dowry. ‘I was terrified the same thing would happen to me, so I decided to move in with my boyfriend because we wanted to get married,’ explains Jamillah.
‘When my father found out he was furious, even though my husband was willing to pay a dowry of two goats and five chickens. That wasn’t enough for my father, he wanted five goats, two sheep and ten chickens - my husband simply couldn’t afford that.
‘After giving birth to my daughter my father forced me to leave my marriage and return home. He wanted me to wait for a man who could afford the dowry he desired.
‘I missed my husband terribly and my father’s attitude made me hate myself - I wasn’t a daughter to him, I was an animal being fattened to fetch a higher price. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t carry on anymore.’
‘I began covering myself with Muslim veils because I was afraid if elderly Muslim men saw my face they would ask for my hand in marriage. I also stopped going to the mosque or any Muslim gathering in the village. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.
‘I was so stressed I couldn’t breastfeed my daughter anymore, nor did I have enough money to buy milk for her. She fell sick and while I was at the village clinic I met Juliet, a Kira Farm graduate, and shared with her what was happening in my life. She told me that if I went to Kira Farm my life would never be the same again.
‘Juliet explained that Amigos was a Christian organisation, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was getting as far away as I could from my family and village.
‘I told my father about the training, but I didn’t tell him that it was a Christian programme. He was so happy – I overheard him telling my brothers that once I’d acquired vocational skills I would fetch an even higher dowry. Instead of asking for goats, he was going to demand a cow now.’
Jamillah learnt vocational skills while at Kira Farm and didn’t waste any time putting them into practice once she got home. Although there’s been a famine in the region, Jamillah’s family haven’t suffered thanks to the support the young girl has been able to provide.
‘I have set up a tailoring business making school uniforms and mending people’s clothes, and I also do a little hairdressing,’ she explains. ‘Although I have the huge burden of buying food for all the family, I can still save over £2.00 each month.
‘I have been able to teach my family better hygiene practises and I have built a tippy tap (a tap designed for village settings) so that we can live in a clean environment. Since I started doing this no one has fallen sick - saving us over £20 a month on medicine bills.
‘I am so happy that since returning home I am more valuable to my family than my father could ever have expected!’
‘I’m a different person since I left Kira – I am so happy. I used to cover myself up, but now I walk with my head held high. I’ve had the courage to stand up to my father and he knows he can’t force me into a marriage I don’t want.
‘At Kira we learnt about restoring relationships, something that is essential in my family because my father has two wives which has caused endless conflict and tension.
‘I learnt that it’s good not to work on assumptions, but to talk about the problem. Applying this in our home has created a lot of peace and love amongst us. My father spends more time at home now because it’s much more peaceful. He’s even asked his friends if I can speak to their wives about how to solve family conflicts.
‘I plan to save more money to buy land of my own so I can set up a training school to help the many Muslim girls who are married off at a young age without any skills. I was saved from that fate and I want to save others too.’
Amigos Worldwide is a registered Charity/NGO both in the UK and Uganda.
Amigos Worldwide, Registered in England, Company Number 6122350, Registered Charity Number 1119450
Registered Office 7A Beech Grove, Pilton, Barnstaple, Devon. EX31 1PZ
(Amigos International and Amigos are working names of Amigos Worldwide)