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New Trust to give education chances to more children

© UNICEF Kenya/ 2011/ Gangale
Girls attend a class in Horyal Primary School in North Eastern Province, Kenya.

By Daisy Serem

NAIROBI, Kenya, December 8, 2011. Ever since she was a young girl Sofia dreamt of being a mechanical engineer. Big dreams for a little girl whose chances of going to high school, let alone university, were pretty slim.

Growing up in Mandera, in North Eastern Province of Kenya, Sofia could have easily become part of the statistics of girls from the region who did not go beyond primary school. Her parents could not fully support her educational pursuits, owing mainly to their financial constraints. These, coupled with cultural vices, such as early marriages, restrict many other girls in the region from attaining an education.

In 2007, less than 10 per cent of girls from North Eastern Province advanced to secondary school, shocking statistics that led UNICEF in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, to establish a scholarship programme supporting bright girls from the region through their secondary education.

It is this programme that has enabled Sofia to inch closer to achieving her childhood ambition, which continues to be the driving force in her studies. She will be progressing to her second year at Maryhill Girls’ High School, a national school in Central Province, and is still overjoyed to have come this far.

“I never dreamt of ever being in a national school because of all the financial constraints my family faced,” Sofia says. “UNICEF has changed everything for me and now I believe I can achieve all that I once dreamt of … I know I can be a mechanical engineer.”

Rising above limitations

So far, more than 360 girls on the scholarship programme have risen above their limitations and benefited from quality education in some of the best schools in the country. Many speak of achievements they want to attain one day: to be doctors, accountants, teachers, and so forth; and eventually give back to their communities.

For 17-year-old Fatuma Abdul, her dream career is in medicine, which she wants to pursue once she completes her secondary studies at Loreto Girls’ High School, Limuru. She hopes to be a gynaecologist, one day, so that she can assist the women in her community who fear addressing their reproductive health concerns with a male doctor. It will only be through education that we finally break the cycle of poverty and injustice. Education is surely the great equaliser of the human condition.

These and many other success stories have led to the launch of the Northern Kenya Education Trust (NoKET), which has institutionalized and expanded the scholarship programme to include 12 nomadic counties in Kenya. Through NoKET, bright children from northern Kenya will now benefit from scholarships not only for secondary school but for tertiary and university education as well. 

Setting examples

If Sofia and Fatuma needed affirmation that a scholarship could indeed change the course of one’s life, then the inspiring example of UNICEF Representative Olivia Yambi was sufficient.

Addressing some of the beneficiaries during the official launch of NoKET in Nairobi, Ms Yambi shared her own experience of how a scholarship had enabled her to attain an education and scale career heights.

“Education for children and youth, especially girls, should be a top priority for every country,” Ms Yambi said to government officials and leaders attending the launch. “There is evidence that children born to educated parents, particularly mothers, are less likely to be malnourished, illiterate and less at risk of dying from preventable diseases,” she added.

NoKET seeks to provide access to quality education for children in northern Kenya by offering scholarships to bright but needy children, particularly girls. Through this, the Trust will be addressing the existing disparities in secondary school and university enrolment.

 

UNICEF Kenya/ 2011/ D'Elbee
© UNICEF Kenya/ 2011/ D'Elbee
Girls attend class at Loreto Girls' High School where some of the beneficiaries of UNICEF's scholarship programme are enrolled.

Higher Education

Just five years ago, not a single girl from North Eastern Province had qualified to join university. But today, thanks to the scholarship programme, young female academics are making their mark in higher education institutions across the country.

Hodhan Hassan, a First Year student at the University of Nairobi, is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce and stands as a testimony to just how far determination and hard work can take you. Growing up in Mandera, Hodhan was under pressure from her parents to abandon her studies and marry early. But she firmly disapproved and went on to Mbooni Secondary School where her grades granted her a spot in university. Today she mentors other young girls from her hometown on the importance of education.

“One can do anything that you put your mind to. Just observe, reflect and commit yourself to the best and you will get there,” she says to the younger beneficiaries of the programme.

“Never lose hope – If I can do it, you can too,” she asserts.

Equity for all

The Minister of State for Development of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands, Mr Mohamed Elmi, emphasized the need for equity, especially in education.

“Ours is a very unequal society, in a very unequal world. There is no justice in how the life chances of our children are currently distributed,” he said. “In my view, it will only be through education that we will finally break the cycle of poverty and injustice. Education is surely the great equaliser of the human condition.”

 

 
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