Lunch Time in Kajiado

Posted on Posted in Kajiado, School Sanitation Improvement

Kajiado County is an arid, rural area of Kenya that has been experiencing severe drought. Many communities do not have enough food and water to go around, which takes a huge toll on children’s health and school attendance. We partner with six schools to provide lunch for their students. These lunches improve school attendance and student health, and help students focus on their studies—rather than empty bellies—while they’re at school.
But because the drought has dried up rivers and left sand pits, traveling around with pallets of beans and wheat can be rather difficult! We had quite an eventful—but rewarding!—trip delivering the food this term.

We started by loading food from central Kenya—where beans and wheat are plentiful and cheap—into the back of a lorry. The drive from central to the first school started early in the morning, but by the time we got to Kajiado it was already hot, hot, hot!

Thankfully, some strong students were there to help us unload the bags.


And it wasn’t just the boys!


Smiling faces all around after hearing they’d have lunch for the rest of the term!

The next school was just as happy to see us. The bags really were heavy, and we were happy we had such willing helpers!


We were glad we’d been able to bring so much food, but it made the lorry so heavy. Combined with the sandy passes left behind when the river dried up, we started to have some serious problems!

Fortunately, we were traveling with some really resourceful guys! Between digging and wedging rocks under the wheels, we were able to get the lorry…


To the other side of the pit! Where we promptly got stuck again.

We waited until the market was over for the day and people were heading back home. Around forty of us gathered around the lorry and pushed it all the way up the hill. Talk about some good Samaritans! “It takes a village” has never felt so true!

After sleeping at one of the schools, we got an early start the next morning.

We were saved by the community again when some of the parents organized motorbikes to get the food across another huge sand pit!


The rest of the day was filled with helpful parents and excited students.




And once again we were more than grateful to be part of improving nutrition and education in underserved communities in Kenya!

A Little Christmas Cheer

Posted on Posted in Kajiado, Sponsorship

One way Girl Child Network supports our sponsored girls is by empowering their own communities to support them. Many of our sponsored girls were previously child brides, and when they leave their marriages to go back to school, some members of their communities don’t approve. However, we notice that as community members watch these girls grow into educated, passionate, world-changing young women, they see the value of education! Every year, we throw a Christmas party to help reconnect girls and their communities. It’s always a beautiful time of sharing hopes, dreams, and chapati, and this year was no exception! May our Christmas story light up your March!

By the time we arrived, village leaders had already gathered everyone at the local school, and were chatting with each other outside.

After greeting everyone, we helped grab chairs and carry them outside, under a tree.

Our project coordinator Peris welcomed everyone to the event and made sure things were off to an energetic start by getting people singing!

The fun continued when our sponsored girls got up to share a song and dance with everyone!

Their mothers looked on proudly.

And younger girls watched with admiration.

Afterwards, one of the mothers explained the impact education was having on her daughter’s life. She had once wanted her daughter to marry early, she admitted, but now she is excited that her daughter will have so many more opportunities in life!

The last speaker of the day was one of our sponsored girls. She has completed secondary school, and is now attending university. She took the opportunity to encourage the girls to stay in school, the mothers to support their daughters, and the men to support all of the women in their lives.

Of course, not EVERYONE managed to pay attention the whole time…

We wanted to end the ceremony by giving the girls an opportunity to thank their mothers for their support. School is certainly not always easy, and support from family has played a key role in getting our sponsored girls to where they are now! Each girl presented her mother with a kanga, a beautiful piece of cloth with an inspirational Swahili message printed on it.

But the mothers had a surprise for us! They had prepared a song and dance to let their girls know how proud they are of them.

After a closing prayer, we headed off to enjoy lunch together!

Another day celebrating inspiring girls and the amazing community that supports them!

$20/month, 1 condition: Keep your girls in school (Part 2)

Posted on Posted in Let Girls Learn, Tana River

This is Part 2 of a 2 part series about our cash transfer program. Read Part 1.

After years of working for girls’ education in the northeastern and coastal regions of Kenya, we noticed one thing that seemed to keep more girls out of school than anything else: money. Sometimes it was not being able to pay school levies, and other times it was depending on daughters to generate income, but it was almost always something that could be solved by families having consistent and sustainable income sources. And of course, families themselves have the best ideas about what kinds of businesses work in their areas and for themselves.

We are now three months into an eight month program that provides business training and $20 a month to 939 families in the communities where we work. To receive the money every month, all the children in the family must be attending school, which we monitor with the help of head teachers and community health volunteers. In addition to educating their children, families are investing money in new businesses that will keep them financially stable—and keep their children in school—long after the project ends.

Shaban

Shaban’s daughter Martumo is in class 5 and loves math. Their family used the cash transfer money to buy two goats, which they will breed and then use for milk. The income that they will get from selling the milk will allow the family to save “for a rainy day,” says Shaban. This kind of financial security greatly increases the probably that Martumo and her sisters will stay in school even if the family begins facing new challenges.

Shaban also bought three chickens, one of which already has six chicks! The eggs the family will eventually be able to get from the chickens will supplement both their diets and their income.

Shaban is thrilled that the additional income will make it even easier to make sure her daughters are in school. She knows that their education is an investment that will pay off for the daughters and for the whole family. “A girl will always grow up to take care of her parents. Even once she is married, she can’t forget about them.”

Mohamed

When your daily income is just enough to get you to the next day, unexpected challenges like illnesses can have enormous consequences. In the past, Mohamed’s daughter Hazijah had missed a lot of school from being sick. Because her family did not usually have the money to get treatment immediately, she would stay sick for a long time before getting better.

But this year was different.

A few weeks after her family received the cash transfer money, Hazijah came down with smallpox. What would have normally been a long—and dangerous—recovery process turned into a quick trip to the clinic, where she immediately got the medicine she needed. Within a week, she was back in school.

In addition to keeping more cash on hand for emergencies, Mohamed is using the cash transfer money to make long-term, sustainable investments for his family. He has bought seeds, fertilizer, and petrol for the water pump, so that he can plant and sell vegetables at the market. He’s even using a local savings program called M-Shwari to save money and earn interest on it.

Mohamed is excited about how the cash transfer money will help him create a better future for everyone in the family. “I’m so happy that my children don’t have to miss school or tests anymore. They get the medicine they need to stay healthy, and I’m able to improve personally and professionally.”

$20/month, 1 condition: Keep your girls in school (Part 1)

Posted on Posted in Let Girls Learn, Tana River

After years of working for girls’ education in the northeastern and coastal regions of Kenya, we noticed one thing that seemed to keep more girls out of school than anything else: money. Sometimes it was not being able to pay school levies, and other times it was depending on daughters to generate income, but it was almost always something that could be solved by families having consistent and sustainable income sources. And of course, families themselves have the best ideas about what kinds of businesses work in their areas and for themselves.

We are now three months into an eight month program that provides business training and $20 a month to 939 families in the communities where we work. To receive the money every month, all the children in the family must be attending school, which we monitor with the help of head teachers and community health volunteers. In addition to educating their children, families are investing money in new businesses that will keep them financially stable—and keep their children in school—long after the project ends.

We’re excited to share some stories with you about what families are doing with this money. This is just Part 1, so stay tuned for Part 2!

Shufea

Shufea’s five children all attend the local primary school, and have been doing even better in school since their mom used part of her cash transfer money to connect their house to the Kenya Power grid. Now that their house has electricity, they can keep studying and reading even after it gets dark outside!

She also bought six chickens, and is currently focusing on letting them produce more chicks. After a little while, she’ll begin selling the eggs for 10-15 cents each.

Shufea already owned a plot of land, but she didn’t have a way to irrigate it. The river is too far away for her to carry enough water to grow crops. But now she’s able to buy petrol to service a water pump in the area, and she’s able to buy sukuma wiki (collard green) seeds as well. She now sells the greens at the market in the nearest town. By using the cash transfer money to take advantage of the resources she already had, Shufea is building a more stable future for herself and her children.

Alimi

Alimi’s oldest daughter, who loves science, attends school with her six siblings and Shufea’s children. Alimi used cash transfer money to buy chickens, but for now she’s focusing on using the eggs to make sure her children are getting enough protein. She’s happy that the chickens are able to provide her family with a more balanced diet!

Alimi also bought ten doves, and once they reproduce, she will begin selling the meat and eggs at the market to increase the family’s income. The cash will provide a safety net in case someone gets sick, and it will ensure that school levies can be paid! 

Rukia’s Story

Posted on Posted in Let Girls Learn, Tana River

For most of the year, Tana River County is hot and dry. But during rainy seasons, short thunderstorms can cause flash floods because the dry, compact soil can’t absorb the water quickly enough. These floods can temporarily displace entire communities, causing confusion and disrupting education.

At 14, Rukia lived near Chifiri Primary School and walked there every day with her siblings and friends. But when the floods came, she and her family had to carry what they could and go to find higher ground. In the transition, an older boy took her back to his community, away from her family, and tried to marry her.

Once her parents figured out what happened, they went with the area chief to track their daughter down. Rukia begged to be able to go back to school, and the boy agreed that their marriage would be ill-timed. She would go back to school, for now.

The rainy season ended, Rukia’s family returned to their home, and she went back to walking to Chifiri Primary. But a seed had been planted in her parents’ minds. In Kenya, when a girl is to be married, her family receives a dowry payment (in Rukia’s community, usually six cows). After losing most of their possessions in the floods and then almost losing their daughter to a stranger, her parents started considering finding Rukia a husband.

They identified a 22 year old young man from their community, and started meeting with his parents to discuss dowry and wedding preparations. As part of the negotiations, the young mans’ family gave a pre-dowry gift of tobacco, which was a symbol of commitment from both parties. The couple was as good as married, until one of the community health volunteers trained by Girl Child Network found out what was going on.

We identify people in each community who are willing and have the time to advocate for girls’ education in their own neighborhoods. We train them and provide them with support so that they can work toward reenrolling girls in school. Mohammed was one such volunteer, and when he heard about the negotiations, he set up a meeting with both sets of parents at the area chief’s office. Mohammed knew from his training with GCN that the law was on the side of Rukia’s education, and he wanted to make sure an early marriage didn’t keep her from accessing this basic right.

According to the Marriage Act of 2014, only people 18 years or older can consent to marriage. In the meeting at the chief’s office, Mohammed was very frank. Not only does the law prohibit the marriage of people under 18, it also allows for the prosecution of anyone who tries to marry a minor. Rukia’s 22 year old suitor was now in hot water. He had to either pay a fine (which he didn’t have the money to pay), or go to jail. After a few tense moments, his father offered to pay the fine on his behalf. The young man breathed a sigh of relief that he wouldn’t have to go to jail, and Rukia smiled to herself, knowing she’d be going back to school after all. Everyone left the office with the understanding that both Mohammed and the chief would be following up to make sure Rukia stayed unmarried and in school.

Word quickly spread through the community about what had happened, and people began to realize that Girl Child Network and community health volunteers would be working with the local government to make sure that laws preventing child marriage were enforced. Because they became aware of the consequences, parents were now afraid to agree to the marriage of an underage girl, and instead worked harder to make sure they continued to go to school.

Not only is Rukia now doing well academically, but she has also become a leader in singing and giving presentations to guests at school. She’s confident about continuing to have access to education, and she’s confident in herself!

Ismael’s Story

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Let Girls Learn, Tana River

One of Girl Child Network’s ways of engaging with communities is through community health volunteers. We identify people in each community who are willing and have the time to advocate for girls’ education in their own neighborhoods. We train them and provide them with support so that they can work toward reenrolling girls in school. Some CHVs take the training and run with it, identifying additional ways they can advocate for education in their communities! Ismael is one of these CHVs.

Most children in Ismael’s neighborhood attend Bahati Primary School. After spending some time there, he realized that the school was lacking some of the things it needed to function effectively. He started meeting with the district commissioner for education and various NGOs working in the area to advocate for the school. Due in large part to his advocacy efforts, since 2013, Bahati Primary has gotten a preschool unit, nine toilets (four funded by Girl Child Network!), a fence, two new classrooms, and four classroom renovations. Because the community knows that the school is becoming safer and healthier, they are sending their children to school in record numbers. Since 2013, their population has increased from 60 to 114!

But Ismael’s greatest impact has been on individual girls and families. By going from house to house in his community, Ismael has identified out-of-school girls and started conversations with their parents about why they should send their girls to school. Although many parents pull their girls out of school so that they can support the family by making money or doing housework, he explains that having educated girls will help the family much more in the long run. Because the parents already know Ismael as a neighbor, they’re willing to listen to what he has to say. Through these conversations, Ismael has gotten six girls reenrolled at Bahati Primary School! One of those girls has now completed primary school and taken the national examination. Because of Ismael’s dedication and Girl Child Network’s support, these six girls will have brighter futures with greatly increased opportunities to support themselves and their families!

Bahoni Bahatika Caregivers

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Let Girls Learn, Tana River

Many Kenyan communities have what are called chamas (or table banks)– groups of people who contribute money each month and take turns receiving the pot. It’s an effective way for people to save money, but it doesn’t generate any new income. Because of Girl Child Network’s community conversations, some groups are finding ways to use the chama structure to generate new income for themselves and their families. This, in turn, helps them keep their girls in school!

Bahoni Bahatika Caregivers Support Group is one of these groups. Around a year ago, Girl Child Network came to a community in Tana River County and led a community conversation. It was an opportunity for the group to dream of and plan for a brighter future for themselves and their families. They decided that one way to make this happen was to participate in a communal income-generating activity. They started a chama to come up with the capital they needed to get started.

After discussing a few ideas for what they could do, the members of the chama decided to make something that wouldn’t require expensive equipment, training, or materials: beaded bags and wallets. Members would be able to sit on mats below a central tree, working together to create beautiful items to sell.

Unfortunately, the beads were in Nairobi and the chama was hundreds of kilometers away. But after asking around, the group identified a man in a nearby town who was already going to Nairobi reguarly to get beads for his own business. They placed their first order with him, and the income-generating activity was off the ground!

Since then, the group has increased from the initial few to twelve members and counting! They’ve found a market for the goods in nearby Hola town, and are making $7 profit from each bag. For now, all the profits are going back into buying more materials, but in the next couple months the group is going to start using some of the profits to cultivate a piece of land. The small farm will improve their food security and allow them to cook more balanced meals. With more consistent access to healthy food, girls will spend less time being sick or trying to support their families financially, and more time in school! Because of Girl Child Network’s initial push and their own hard work, Bahoni Bahatika Caregivers Support Group will be able to raise healthier and better educated children for a better community!

Annual General Meeting 2016

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Nairobi

Girl Child Network is a membership organization, and our members are working all around the country to promote girls’ education and children’s rights. Once a year, we have a big get-together to share about our years, to get new ideas from each other, and to celebrate the progress we’ve made in empowering Kenyan girls!

It was an awfully cold morning, but we started showing up at 6 to set up the posters, seats, and balloons. It didn’t take long for members to start arriving and registering!

Girl Child Network staff greeted members and gave everyone fresh-off-the-press copies of our 2015-16 annual report!

Over cups of tea, staff and members looked through the annual report and read stories about individuals and communities that have been impacted by our work over the past year. (Stay tuned—we’re looking forward to sharing the report with you soon!)

Our Executive Director, Mercy Musomi, welcomed everyone to the Annual General Meeting and shared her reflections on the year, including her excitement that because of our inclusive education project, many children with disabilities are now attending school with their siblings and neighbors.

The program included speakers from religious and academic communities, and everyone was excited to get some new ideas about incorporating faith and gender theory into our work.

By the time the meeting was over, it had warmed up outside, and everyone took a few more minutes to talk about what’d they’d learned and to offer each other encouragement for the upcoming year. Can’t wait to see everyone again next October!

Visiting our Sponsored Girls

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Kajiado, Sponsorship

At Girl Child Network, we do much of our work at the community level. We focus on empowering change agents to make their own communities places where girls and boys have opportunities to succeed. But some girls need even more support. That’s where our sponsorship program comes in.

Some communities in Kenya practice female genital mutilation (FGM), a traditional ceremony in which a girl’s clitoris (and sometimes other parts of her vagina) are removed. The procedure can cause severe bleeding and infection, and can complicate childbirth. After undergoing FGM, girls are considered ready to be married, although they are often as young as 11 or 12.

Even after we work with parents and community leaders to try to prevent FGM and child marriages, we find that some girls are still in danger of being circumcised or married. In those cases, we work with sympathetic family and community members to place the girls in schools where they will be safe and protected.

Since schools were getting ready to close for the term, we went to visit the girls to see how they were doing and to wish them well on their exams.

Our Executive Director, Mercy Musomi, stood with the Head Teacher and greeted all the girls in the school. Even though not all of them are sponsored through Girl Child Network, we wanted to make sure everyone heard some encouraging words before exams started!

Mercy took a few minutes to encourage the girls to study hard and to keep their priorities in order. They lit up when we reminded them that they are the future of Kenya, and that they have the power to make the country a place with more opportunities for everyone!

And then the ceremony began! We passed out “success cards”—and hugs and handshakes– to each class of students.

We also left them with something helpful…

Something salty…

And something sweet!

We’re thankful to be a part of so many girls having the opportunity to just be girls again. Instead of young wives, they’re able to be young scholars!

Jane’s Story

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Educate A Child, Kajiado

When their families aren’t able to take care of their basic needs, girls often turn to older male “sponsors” to fill the gaps. But gifts from sponsors usually come with strings attached. At 14 and in Standard 4, Jane found herself in a place where she didn’t know if she would even be able to continue going to school.

The second-born of 14 children in rural Kajiado County, Jane was often forgotten by her father, who preferred the children of his other wives. She and her mother’s other children were not always given the fees and uniforms they needed to attend school, so they missed days, weeks, and even years of class at a time.

When Jane began menstruating, she didn’t know what was happening. Thinking something was wrong with her, she felt ashamed and embarrassed. She used old clothes to absorb the blood and pretended to have painful stomach pains so that she’d have an excuse to stay at home.

When she went back to school, Jane asked her deskmate Mary about the bleeding. Mary told her that bleeding was normal, but that she should get sanitary towels and continue coming to school when she was on her period. Jane knew she didn’t have money to buy sanitary towels, but Mary told her not to worry. Mary got her sanitary towels for “free” from a shopkeeper, and he had a friend who might buy them for Jane.

The shopkeeper’s friend John began buying Jane sanitary towels, panties, and painkillers for her cramps. He made sure she had what she needed so that she could be in school every day of the month. Jane was happy to be in school full time, but after eight months, John decided he wanted to marry her, and right away. Jane said she wanted to wait, so that she could finish school and become a teacher.

Jane had been hiding John’s gifts from her parents, but he went and told them that he had already been providing for her for months, and wanted to continue taking care of her, but as her husband. Jane’s father agreed. Jane’s mother didn’t. Her oldest daughter was married at 17, and had been struggling to support a husband and children since then. Jane’s mother wanted a different kind of life for Jane.

The mother’s brother found out what was going on, and snuck them out to the Girl Child Network office one Saturday. He had seen Girl Child Network leading peaceful demonstrations supporting girls’ education, and he hoped that we would be able to help Jane stay in school.

At the office, our staff gave Jane two pairs of panties and a deworming tablet as she explained her situation. “I had a clean heart and thought James was one of the angels sent by God to support poor girls like me. I did not know he would try to become my husband.”

The staff introduced the family to the District Children’s Officer (DCO) for Kajiado, and helped them retell their story. The DCO called Jane’s father and John, and let them know that they would be arrested if they continued planning the wedding. Because Jane’s mother and uncle now knew the DCO, if they found out wedding plans were being made again, they would be able to report the men and protect Jane.

Jane’s plans to become a teacher are now possible again: “I want to continue with my studies and become a teacher because my teachers have encouraged me so much in my studies.”