Martha Hargura Semat, a graduate of CTIE (Christ the Teacher Institute for Education) Nairobi, Kenya with a degree from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, was born and raised in Marsabit in Northern Kenya. Martha was raised in the Rendille tribe and her family were pastoralists that depended on agriculture to sustain their family needs and frequently moved from place to place in search of pasture for the animals. Pastoralists don’t believe in children’s education, in particular, a girl’s education because they are considered a source of labor and wealth when married off to a suitor regardless of their age difference. Often girls are married off as early as ten or eleven years to men as old as seventy years.
Martha grew up in a humble family of 3 boys and Martha, the only girl. She was the first born and was fortunate to pursue her studies despite the many challenges. Her education was not a guarantee and she shared she always prayed to finish her studies and be a tool of change for her people. Martha’s prayers were answered when she sat for her national primary education exams that she passed with high marks and proceeded to secondary level. She shared that she sat for that exam as a teenager and only 2 girls, including her, proceeded to the next level! Some of the young girls lacked school fees and others were married off at an early age. Martha finished her secondary school education and passed the national examination with high marks but had no hope of attending university, even though she had the qualifying grades. Martha began to look after her father’s few goats and kept on the faith that one day she would pursue her higher education and become a teacher! Martha believed in teaching and knew it would give her the chance to touch someone’s life and leave a footprint and bring change!
One day, as she was looking after her Dad’s goats, she met a Salesian of Don Bosco (the late Fr. PD George) who gave her the opportunity to go to Nairobi and pursue a course in computer studies.Without hesitation, she grabbed the opportunity and went to study at Don Bosco Boys Centre in Karen, near Nairobi, where she completed the computer course. After finishing the course, Martha was introduced to another Salesian priest, Fr. George K., who was then the Director of Tangaza College. He hired Martha to be a receptionist at the institution. Martha worked as the receptionist for two years. During her time there, she met Br. Paulo, the director of CTIE. Upon learning Martha’s story, he challenged her to aspire big and get back to her studies at the university level! Martha shared, “Br. Paulo rekindled my passion to pursue my studies in order to make a difference in my community!” She attended CTIE and expressed her financial need. Br. Paulo allowed her to join the institution and he granted her a partial scholarship to pursue her studies. Martha expressed, “I am indebted to him and also Sr. Jane who was the dean of students then at CTIE!” She found a home far away from home in CTIE. It gave her the strength to remain focused. Martha graduated with a degree from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Kenya! She is 1 of some 1,200 alumni from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota that reside in Africa.
Post-graduation and after some time, Martha married Sammy Semat, who not only is her husband but a great friend too. Martha shared with him her passion of being a tool of change in her society through education for the less fortunate. He listened and responded by giving her three acres of his family land to make her dream of having a school a reality! The physical school is not yet built, but Martha continues to share her dream and one day a school will sit on that piece of land. Martha and a friend went ahead and started a Sunday feeder school in her local church where young kids who couldn’t walk six kilometers to access a school get an opportunity to learn the basics and a meal for the day.
In 2018 Martha was involved in the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Joint Alumni Service Team that comprised of the CTIE (Kenya) and American alumni. They met great brothers and sisters. Martha shared her story and it’s now the dream of many more than just Martha!
Fellow teacher, Abby from Illinois, sat with me and let me share my story. Talking with her reminded me that dreams are valid and to never to let them go. My passion to give back to the needy and poor through education is a great example of living a Lasallian life! By bringing education and hope to others, I believe my society and the world will be a better place for all to coexist and grow regardless of their gender or status. All children are equal and need to be treated without undermining either gender. I believe that society will be different if the seed of education is sown to these children, and in generation to come, girls won’t be a source of labor and wealth through forced and early marriages but a resource and an instrument of change.