Brigit is President of Manyatta’s Kosawo Primary School, located in one of the two largest slums in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city. Her aspirations go well beyond her current school; she dreams of someday leading all of Kenya.
Jasmin is on a mission to show St. Vitalis Nanga Primary School that girls can excel just like boys by acing her math and science classes. Her home and school are located in Nyalenda, the other of Kisumu’s largest slums.
These lovely, dedicated students have faced constant privation, including the chronic lack of water, sanitation, security and health care in their daily lives. As a result of these struggles just to survive, both girls are a year older than average for their grade level.
Yet, despite these challenges, they continue to focus on education as a path that can take them to larger goals. Both Brigit and Jasmin participate in their schools’ Girls’ Clubs, literacy and empowerment programs supported by Kenyan/American NGO Alice Visionary Foundation Project (AVFP) and WSI.
During a recent, protracted nationwide schoolteachers’ strike, Brigit and Jasmin visited AVFP’s main offices in downtown Kisumu and chatted with me about their thoughts on education and their dreams for the future.
Brigit: A Leader with Presidential Dreams
callout “Going to school and achieving the education I want will make a difference in my life.” ]
Sitting silently and looking through books she came across in the AVFP office, 14-year-old Brigit is engrossed. She puts her story aside to discuss her education and her future plans.
Brigit loves going to school. As the gregarious and studious school president, she says she loves making friends outside of her neighborhood and gaining valuable knowledge from her classes, such as how to handle the day-to-day issues she faces in her life in moral and ethical ways.
For Brigit, acquiring knowledge to improve her moral values is what education is all about. Thanks in part to her teacher, who puts students at ease, Brigit is looking forward to improving the grades she earned at her previous school in her upcoming exams.
Brigit says that the biggest challenge she faces at school is lack of money for lunch. Whenever her mother doesn’t give her lunch money, which is often, Brigit sits alone in a corner of the classroom, has a drink of water and reads. Reading keeps her mind off her hunger.
Orphaned at age six, Brigit’s mother had no one to go to for advice until she was a teen. At Brigit’s age, her mother became pregnant and, compelled to stay home and look after the baby, dropped out of school. Brigit says she is grateful that her mother shares with her whatever information she needs whenever she needs it. She has high hopes for her future and is determined to have an easier life than her mother’s.
>“Going to school and achieving the education I want will make a difference in my life. I will be empowered to be independent and courageous. I am the school president, and that has given me a better mind to understand that living in the slum area does not necessarily mean that I cannot be a leader,” Brigit says.
She adds: “My mother is a leader among her friends. I want to be a leader among women and girls.”
By age 40, Brigit believes she will be an independent woman with a good job and a family. We can already see that she will be a woman who makes the right choices. Given the chance, she aspires to become President of Kenya. For now, she is comfortable being president of her school. Whatever she does next, Brigit will accept no bounds on her desire to achieve and to lead.
Jasmin: Proving Girls can Excel at Math and Science
callout “My life will be different from my mother, because I am growing up in a time when technology is at its peak.” ]
One of five girls in a family of seven children, Jasmin has participated in the Girls’ Club at St.Vitalis Nanga Primary School since age 12. She is an outstanding student, both in class and in her extra-curricular activities. One rarely finds girls topping their classes in the so-called “hard” subjects, especially in Jasmin’s school, but she has not let that discourage her. Her best subjects are math and science, which have long been left for the boys to dominate. In her ambition to break this trend, and to show the whole school that girls can excel, Jasmin is killing it in these two subjects this year.
Jasmin attends school in Nyalenda, Kisumu’s second largest slum, where a practice called ‘Sex for Fish’’ is rampant. Fishermen routinely accost and rape girls, who often get pregnant and infected with HIV/AIDS and frequently drop out of school.
When she started experiencing changes in her body, Jasmin didn’t know how to handle the accompanying stress. She needed someone to talk with about the changes and someplace to get information. She learned about puberty and adolescence in her Girls’ Club, but still she felt this was the most significant challenge she had ever come across.
However, now, given the breadth of social destruction and demoralization across her community, Jasmin feels that her biggest challenge is focusing on her studies and setting her mind to excel in her subjects, so that she can enjoy a better future. Jasmin has seen so many of her friends, girls who had aspired to be leaders or doctors, become pregnant and unable to pursue their dreams of a real future. She says this will not befall her and is determined to excel in her career just as she has in her coursework.
Jasmin says that the opportunity to learn new ideas from teachers and friends helps her a lot in her academic work. Her school provides forums for learning both in and out of the classroom, through the Debating and Wildlife Clubs, as well as her Girls’ Club, where they are taught, among other things, to keep safe from getting pregnant and from leading a careless life.
>“My life will be different from my mother, because I am growing up in a time when technology is at its peak, unlike the time when my mom was growing up,” Jasmin told AVFP. “I am more informed, and I try to do things from an informed perspective. If I don’t get the answers I need from one area, I will look for it in another area and always seek advice from my parents and teachers.”
Jasmin says that her life will be different because she has been able to get an education, which inevitably alters one’s perception. She knows that she can change the attitude of many who live in poverty by empowering them to get a good education and to live their lives in a far better way.
By age 40, Jasmin hopes to have a master’s degree in the medical field. Living in the informal settlement, she has witnessed so many people die, simply due to negligence. She hopes to work with the less fortunate as a medical doctor, to help reduce infant deaths and to help prevent diseases that are so familiar across the informal settlement areas where she lives.
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