Gartee is a fourth grader and attends an elementary school in Hill Town, Bomi County. She goes to school every day on time with her four month old son, and she has been doing just that since school started a month ago.
“I wake up at 5:00am every morning to get both of us ready for school,” she told me.
It takes Gartee about an hour to walk to school from her village. Firmly tied to her back is her sleeping baby, whose head and face are fully covered with an old diaper to protect him from the morning dew and anything that might be flying around.
No matter the distance or the challenges that Gartee faces when her baby is seen by the other children at school, Gartee says her education is important to her.
“I want to finish school, that’s what’s important to me. Everybody knows the boy is my baby because after school, they always see us walking home together.” she added.
Gartee’s school has a total population of 301 students but only two of its female students have babies. According to Gartee, she was impregnated by a man in a nearby village, a place she said she visited a couple of times after school.
“I don’t regret giving birth to him because I still have a chance to go to school,” she added.
For the moment, there are two main areas where the road is in poor shape going to Hill Town, one being a very dangerous place to cross.
“There’s a stream of water that divides the road. When it rains, we can’t cross to go to school until the rain stops and the stream slows down. When it’s full like it is right now, we can’t take the chance to cross,” she added.
School started last month and lasts from 8:00am-3:30pm daily. Luckily, the school is also catered to by Mary on Wheels, a feeding program.
Gartee nurses her son four times during the school period and says she can’t leave him at home because there is no one to take care of him.
“When we arrive, I give him breast milk and leave him with the kitchen attendant who ties him to her back. I give her whatever I can through the day to help me because she knows it is not easy for us,” she added.
In response to why her parents do not help her with her son, Gartee says that her father reminds her every day that she shouldn’t have had him and because of that, she keeps the child out of her parents’ way.
Aiessate Cooper is the only girl in the 6th grade at Hill Town Elementary, which intimidates the six male students and encourages her to work harder.
“My class is all boys. Sometimes I feel like I have to work harder, sometimes I feel like my teacher will ask me more questions than normal because I am the only female,” she added.
According to Aiessate’s father, Principal Cooper, his daughter has had a challenging past. A few years ago, he said he had to give her to a relative in the hope that she would have the opportunity to go to school in the city. Unfortunately, Principal Cooper said, he was forced to bring her back to live with him when he found out that Aiessate was being taken advantage of and not going to school.
“When we learned that More Than Me Academy was taking over this school and is free of charge, I registered my daughter right away,” Principal Cooper stated.
The Hill Town Elementary was recently handed over to More Than Me Academy, one of the nine partners that teamed up with PPP, which was given six schools in various locations, four in Bomi County. More Than Me has begun renovating the school. They have already spent over US$5,000 on lumber for chairs and tables, which the school lacked.
Although Katie Meyelei, founder of More Than Me, looks forward to this new expansion, the challenges of renovating the school are still there, including bad roads that make it difficult to get supplies to the school.
For now, these two girls seem to have a bright future ahead of them despite the challenges they had to face. Both girls have begun appreciating the opportunities that they have with the new school system.