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“I was determined to try once more”: Despite the odds, girls are thriving in school

Girls are failed by their communities when it is assumed that their education is not as important as their role as a wife and mother. Our Kwale Girls Project sought to change these attitudes. It opened up a positive dialogue with parents and community members.

The project has given girls like Joyce the opportunity to thrive in school.

When Joyce’s father passed away, her mother was left to raise eight children. When she failed her exams, she thought that her future, like that of her three older sisters, was marriage.

“All my older sisters are married and have children. I sat for KCPE for the first time in 2014 and failed. I pleaded with my mother to take me back to school. I went back to school in the second semester of 2015. I was the subject of mockery among boys in the school but somehow, I was determined to try once more.”

Girls do not only face opposition from their parents when attending school. Negative attitudes towards girls’ education, and stigma surrounding their periods, infiltrates schools. In 2016, things started to change for Joyce.

“I got a breakthrough when Miriam (from Build Africa) came to our school with a role model from KWEA. Together they counselled us many things, but most important was how to believe in one-self through self-acceptance.”

Miriam took Joyce and her classmates on a visit to Kwale Girls High School.

“That was the beginning of all changes that took place in me. The experience was exhilarating. The girls in wonderful uniforms, so welcoming, the teachers, so understanding, the dining hall, the beds, the playing fields! “No, I couldn’t wait to go back to school and start working for my KCPE examinations for I knew where I belong. I prayed and thanked God for mum who gave me a second chance instead of marrying me out for dowry like my older sisters.”

Joyce knew that she needed to pass her KCPE, which was only one term away, in order to attend this exciting new school.

“Back at school they continued to guide us on skills to remain focused, how to concentrate, skills to read, to set daily targets to raise hands whenever a teacher asks question, whether we got the answer correct or wrong, and this worked for me. Teachers were so understanding and helped us learn better, seeing our determination.

“At times I would suffer severe hunger pangs, but this could not distract me; remembering the promise of the Kwale Girls Headmistress to give us a chance in this beautiful school. We worked tirelessly in our group of girls and engaging boys that were willing to help us in team teaching/learning. Some boys even thought we had become mad, but we assured them defeat at KCPE.”

The day of the KCPE arrived, and Joyce was ready.

“At last the top six in our school were girls and we are all in very good schools. I passed with 320 marks.”

Joyce’s hard work paid off, and she started attending the school of her dreams.

“Here we are in this wonderful school sharing with our friends in form one who were also beneficiaries of Kwale Girls Project. We are all determined to remain faithful to our new-sworn boyfriends, “Our Books” until we all go to the university.

“I want to do medicine and I will. If I managed to get 60% in mathematics at KCPE, being a subject I most feared and had never scored anything beyond 40%, and just within one term, I managed to pass well. “I will do medicine, after all I am now leading in Chemistry and Biology in all forms one streams and 3rd overall in Mathematics.”

Joyce is now looking forward to studying at the University of Nairobi. Her story proves that when we believe in girls, they can achieve anything.

The Kwale Girls Project set out to reach 55,000 men, women and children, as well as teachers, in two and a half years.