Compassion prevails as more girls in Kilifi South stay in school
It is not easy for the girl child in Kilifi South to leave culture behind in pursuit of education since try as she might, retrogressive cultural and traditional practices follow her all the way to school.
Many empty desks still remain the only evidence that a girl once sat on one of these desks holding her books and future in her tiny hands before culture, poverty, teenage pregnancies or child marriages came between her and her young dreams.
Sera Fredrick, the head teacher at Mikiriani primary school in Kaloleni Sub-County, Kilifi South in Kilifi County explains how each time schools reopen from a holiday season, “there is always a knot in my stomach out of fear that I will have lost more girls. There are always fewer girls who return.”
Kilifi is among the least developed Counties in the country with government statistics showing that at least 66 percent of the population lives in poverty.
“The gender inequalities here are also some of the worst in the country. Female adult literacy is only 38 percent, compared to 67 percent for men,” says Charles Njue, project director at the Africa Inland Church (AIC) Kilifi Compassion child development centre.
Within Kilifi County, Kilifi South is the most marginalized. “The South is a poor rural area where girl child education is not a priority,” says Fredrick.
Fredrick says that due to the prevailing poor attitude towards education, “most of our girls in lower primary are often adolescents aged 10 to 13 years.”
Sophie Kapendo is one of her pupils and at 13 years old she is only in standard three, while a significant majority of her peers in other parts of the country are either in their last year of primary school or the first year of secondary school.
Kapendo is nonetheless among the fortunate since she is still in school, many others are not as lucky.
Take Mary Ndege for instance, last year at the age of 17 years and a standard seven pupil at Ripebi primary school in Kilifi South she fell pregnant and dropped out of school.
Efforts by her teachers to get her to register for the compulsory Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations as an out of school candidate have fell on deaf ears.
Just like Ndege, Fredrick says that most girls who drop out do not return to school after child birth despite there being provisions for it under the return to school policy.
“These are some of the reasons why we need to help these vulnerable girls to avoid early pregnancies rather than dealing with re-entry after child birth because it has not worked well in Kilifi South,” she says.
“Furthermore, if these girls had problems before giving birth, those problems multiply after child birth and it becomes even more difficult for them to rediscover the passion that they once had to stay in school and to excel,” she adds.
It is within this context that a partnership between AIC Kilifi and Compassion International Kilifi, a Christian humanitarian aid child sponsorship organization dedicated to the long-term development of children living in poverty, has continued to give some of these girls a life line.
This partnership involves the sponsorship of children in the expansive Kilifi County to enable them to enroll and remain in school.
Known simply as Compassion, the program has seen many children from very poor households complete their primary education and transit to secondary school.
“Based on data from the most recent census, child population is about 47 percent of the 1.1 million people who live in Kilifi County. Out of the 517,000 children in Kilifi only about 155,000 are going to school,” Njue explains.
Margaret Ngale, the head teacher at Chanagande primary school says that although the Compassion program is still not big enough to help all the needy children in Kilifi South, pupils who benefit from this program have remained on the right academic path.
“Despite the poor attitude towards education, the community is very religious so using the church to encourage the community to send their children to school and to support them to remain in school is working,” she expounds.
“I have a student population of about 1,000 pupils and at least 100 of them are under the Compassion program,” says Ngale.
Catherine Mae who is a guidance and counseling teacher at Chanagande primary school and has a good grasp of the many challenges that children here face says that Compassion has significantly contributed to the academic performance of many female pupils in Kaloleni, Kilifi South.
She says that a pupil under the Compassion sponsorship is fully supported “even though primary school education is free, pupils are required to pay some levies for instance examinations fees, so Compassion pays for this, provides uniforms and food to ensure that the child is not too hungry to stay in school.”
Selina Kache, a beneficiary of this program and an A student at Memorial boarding secondary school explains that Compassion also provides a goat to each child that they sponsor.
“This goat is expected to give birth to other goats, the family is encouraged to take care of these goats and once we join secondary school, the goats can be sold to help pay for our school fees,” she says.
Though Compassion supports boys and girls, teachers in Kilifi South say that it is the girl child who stands to benefit the most.
“We have seen a steady rise in the number of girls who stay in school and their performance is also very encouraging. In fact, though we face more challenges compared to other areas in Kilifi, Chanagande is a leading performer in the County,” Ngale explains.
Ngale further says that female pupils are outperforming the boys and this she says is testament to the fact that “with the right interventions, girls can stay in school and excel in their studies.”
She further explains at as a result of well wishers who keep the Compassion program alive, there is a growing change of attitude towards girl child education.
Teachers have further enlisted the help of other stakeholders such as the children desk at Kaloleni Police Station.
She says that there is a need for interventions such as the Compassion program to be supported by other stakeholders.
“Where girls are at risk of sexual violence we quickly step in. Some of the teenage pregnancies are due to defilement so we are vigilant in as far as protecting the girl child goes,” explains Ali Ahmed, the Officer Commanding the Police Station (OCS), Kaloleni.
Ngale says that head teachers are now inviting police officers from the children’s desk as well as judicial officers including the magistrate, “to visit our schools and talk to the children about how to identify pedophiles, how to protect themselves and the reporting channels available whenever they feel threatened.”
She says that as various stakeholders continue to work together to improve the plight of the girl child in Kilifi South, “with time the tide will turn and our girls will enjoy quality education just like their peers in other parts of the country.”