UNICEF-supported initiative aims to make girls' education a priority in Kenya
By Daisy Serem
TURKANA DISTRICT, Kenya, 11 November 2011- Lowa Lokopu, lost her husband four years ago after he fell ill. Forced to take up the responsibility of running a family alone, she struggles to provide for her five children.
Lowa’s eldest daughter, Sheila, a student at Napuu Primary School, was only 13 years old when her father died. Her educational pursuits became increasingly challenging as the family did not have enough money for food and school supplies. Sheila would walk almost five kilometers to school and back home every day as she could not afford boarding at the school. It was during this time that she conceived her first child at the age of 15.
"I didn’t have money for boarding and the school was far,” said Sheila. ‘The person who impregnated me used to wait for me when I walk back home and give me money. He used to entice me with money but when I became pregnant he disappeared and it is my mother who has supported me.”
Back to school
Almost two years on, her daughter is healthy and happy and innocently unaware of the challenges Sheila and her grandmother have faced bringing her up. Despite her struggles, Sheila is determined to secure a better life for her and her daughter and has even resumed her studies at Napuu Primary.
The school has had its fair share of teenage pregnancies leading to school drop outs. Early marriages are also a common barrier for the girls who seek an education. It takes great courage and commitment for young mothers like Sheila to return to school, leaving their children at home to concentrate on their studies. For many this is an impossible feat.
“The issue of pupils dropping out of school especially girls has been brought out by the factor of poverty which is affecting almost all families in Turkana,” explained Napuu Head teacher, Gabriel Ekalale.
Making education a priority
UNICEF has partnered with the African Girl’s Education Initiative (AGEI) to promote girls’ education and ensure it is a priority in Turkana County. They have supplied sanitary towels for girls and boarding equipment such as beds, mattresses, bed sheets and mosquito nets in a bid to lessen the burden on girls seeking an education.
Anne Ekai, 15, says the sanitary towels and hygiene facilities have made a great change for the young girls in the school.
“Before UNICEF brought for us the sanitary towels we used to just stay home when menstruating and come to school when they finish,” she said. “It used to be very difficult but since then there has not been even one girl missing school because of their periods.”
Never too late
Back in Napuu Primary School, the evening is drawing in and Sheila has settled in to her bed at the school’s girls’ dormitory while her mother is at home taking care of little Napus. A few years ago she could not afford to board but the Government’s low cost boarding initiative has cut down on these expenses. And with the supplies from UNICEF, Sheila is even more motivated to stay in school. Some would say this is a little too late for this young mother, but for a girl who is determined to see through her ambitions, it is never too late.