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Nuriya Farah: The First Woman To Attain A Degree From Northeastern

Born in an ultra conservative community Nuriya’s fate was cast in stone. Being a girl, she was not expected to go to school and her best option was  to be a good obedient girl and get married as soon as she came of age.

That was her fate until a guardian angel in the form of her brother, Omar Sheikh Farah,  stepped in and changed the course of her life.

Here is her story as told by WoK.

Early Life

Nuriya Farah was born and raised in Wajir. At the time, education in general was seen as a waste of time and education for girls was unimaginable.

Her Father was a senior chief, who had four wives, and only the boys in her family, and indeed the whole community, were the ones sent to school.

Things took a dramatic turn, however, when Nuriya’s brother, Omar Sheikh Farah, who was an educationist at the time stepped in and had a talk with their father. He convinced their father that since Nuriya’s mother (who was the third wife) did not have a son, she should be sent to school.

It wasn’t that easy though and when the community heard about attempts to take Nuriya to school they were not pleased. Women friends and relatives came flocking to their home to talk to Nuriya’s mother, pleading with her to dissuade Nuriya from going to school.

Thankfully, her parents didn’t bulge and decided to send her to school.


In 1963, Nuriya was enrolled in Wajir Primary School. At the time, there were no schools for girls in the area, so she was the only girl in the boys school. 

At school, Nuriya had to quickly develop a tough skin. One of her biggest challenges was the taunting she got from her male classmates who argued girls didn’t have brains.

When she beat them during exams, they claimed it was only because the teachers were helping her. While this was going on a number of relatives regularly visited her home on a mission to save her from “Western education”.

It took a delegation of Ministry of Education officials from the province, led by Shem Watuma, the Provincial Education Officer at the time, and her brother Omar, to convince the family that high school education would be good for her.

She then enrolled in Kangaru High School in Embu for her A Levels. Later she got admitted to the University of Nairobi where, in 1979, she attained a Bachelor’s degree in Education focusing on history and English literature.

After a long tumultuous journey, upon her graduation Nuriya effectively  became the first woman from the North Eastern region to attain a university degree.


Nuriya was appointed the headmistress of NorthEastern Province (NEP) Girls High School in Garissa in 1982 and held the position until 1990.

During her tenure at NEP Girls High School, Nuriya managed to have two girls admitted to university, which was something highly unusual at the time.

She says she chose to study education so she could give back to her community and try to ensure that other girls from her region didn’t struggle to get an education.

Today Nuriya is seen as a pioneer of girl-child education in the region. She is the founder of Gargaar Kenya, a Non-Governmental Organization that aims to be a leading Girl Child and Women promotion Center – Promoting, Empowering and Sensitizing The Girl Child And Women On Education and other Developmental Issues.