How a determined Ethiopian student empowered herself and others
Adu Worku related this inspiring story of one of the beneficiaries of the Zoz Amba programs.
Her name is Shashe Kassaw, and she is now 23 years old. She was born in North West Ethiopia, in a small village called Ababikla. Her parents are illiterate peasant farmers. Educating their children was not in their plans, but giving their daughters in marriage was. Little Shashe had her own ideas. She wanted to go to school. But her parents said no. There was a small elementary school not far from her village, and she desperately wanted to join the lucky few in school. Her parents would not budge. Shashe’s older sister was given in marriage at age 12, and Shashe dreaded the day she would turn 12. That was the average age girls were given in marriage. When Shashe turned 12, her parents informed her that she would soon get married. They had already given their word to the parents of her future husband, and her fate was sealed. First, Shashe pleaded with her parents to please spare her, and send her to school instead. When her plea fell on deaf ears, she mustered all the courage she had and informed her parents that she would take drastic measures to make sure that the marriage failed. Her parents knew Shashe was not bluffing. They knew how determined she is, and how decisive she can be in taking actions. Shashe’s parents backed off, temporarily.
When she turned 13, they tricked her into going to visit family members in the next village. Shashe did not suspect that what was awaiting her there was what she most dreaded. When she and her parents reached the village, the drumbeats started, and the wedding songs erupted. She knew then that what she tried hard to avoid had now become unavoidable. She was angry, very angry! They literally grabbed her, dressed her up, and wedded her to a total stranger much older than her. She was taken away kicking and screaming and began planning her escape immediately. She ran away from her husband soon after the wedding and returned home. Her parents beat her severely and returned her to her new husband. She ran away again. Shashe was prepared for a long fight, and she was determined to win it. She kept running away, and they kept beating her up and returning her to her husband. It was time to take a more drastic measure.
One day, she picked up a rope and ran away. She made sure that people saw her with a rope, to make them think that she ran away to hang herself. The news of her disappearance spread fast and wide, and her parents were panic-stricken. They knew what their daughter was capable of doing when sufficiently provoked. An intense search ensued, but Shashe was nowhere to be found. She hid well in a thick forest and waited it out. She could hear the search party going back and forth, and calling her name. In desperation, her father blurted out a promise that was music to her ears. He said, “We promise that we will end the marriage, and send you to school. Please come back to us. Don’t hurt yourself. We will keep our promise.” Hearing that, she came out of hiding and triumphantly presented herself to a stunned and relieved search party. Her parents kept their promise, and Shashe graduated from high school in 2014. That was the school we built in that remote area, with generous donations from generous individuals and organizations. Shashe is now a junior in college, with a chemistry major and a 3.87 GPA. Her goal is to convince rural peasant parents that educating their daughters will pay dividends. She also wants to inspire rural girls, and their mothers, that there is a better alternative to life than early marriage. Shashe’s mother and grandmother were her worst roadblocks, and she is determined to change minds, touting her success in school and her career as a professional woman.