In the rural parts of Kilifi, many girls are at risk of violation; most common is gender based violence (GBV). Over the years, the County has recorded incidences of child pregnancies and child marriages which has remained a major barrier to them accessing and transitioning to higher levels of education.
Cases of early pregnancies among school going children are widespread and a contributing factor to high incidences of school dropouts. According to a baseline survey on GBV conducted by CREAW in the County of Kilifi, cultural practice such as night vigil dances is largely to blame for the rising cases of teen pregnancies.
In 2018 alone, more than 14000 cases of pregnancies among school going children were reported by the Children’s Affairs Department. The girls affected are between the age groups of 13 and 19. The worrisome statistics tells the tale of many girls whose education has been cut short as they transition to motherhood roles.
In the wake of this, the office of the Women Representative through the Affirmative Action Fund has prioritised on educating girls to build a generation of informed, empowered and skilled girlhood.
The chairperson of the Affirmative Action Jonathan Mativo spoke to CREAW about the scholarship initiative and how it is building sustainable livelihood for women and offering girls an opportunity to access basic quality education from disadvantaged homes within Kilifi.
CREAW: What is Affirmative Action Fund (AAF)?
Jonathan: Affirmative Action Fund (AAF) is an initiative of the national government that targets the vulnerable in the community. Established in 2015, the fund seeks to address the plight of vulnerable groups through enhanced access to financial resources for socioeconomic empowerment among women, youths, PWDs, needy children and the elderly. Currently, the Office of the Women Representatives in their respective counties manages the fund.
Kilifi has been widely reported as among the counties that records high number of child pregnancies. How do you think your scholarship and mentorship initiative will address the plight of many girls across the county?
We are committed to ensuring that families who live below the poverty rate are empowered and able to meet their daily needs as well as create sustainable livelihoods. Our initiative primarily targets to create access to livelihood support for women and access to secondary and tertiary education for disadvantaged girls from extremely poor households in Kilifi.
I will give you an example of a girl named Kadzo. ‘She comes from a family of eight. She is in class five and none of the siblings has ascended to higher education for lack of school fees. In the family, they do not have access to health and are not able to access information on critical issues that include getting access to bursaries.’ This is a scenario mostly depicted among families in Kilifi. AAF is mostly for the inflicted: women, girls and the elderly.
Our initiative provides yearly scholarships for many girls like Kadzo. We believe that with the strong educational background, women and girls have the capacity to achieve their goals and create financial freedom for themselves and their families.
What are the challenges that girls face everyday in Kilifi?
Apart from poverty that ravages their livelihoods, girls are at risk of violations such as gender based violence. Many of them are married off to older men at a young age; transitioning them to parental roles and are not able to ascend to higher levels of education. This limits their chances of accessing quality basic education subsequently employment opportunities to support their families. Additionally, cultural practices give preference to boy child education at the expense of girls. Such creates inequality in the community.
Owing to the myriad challenges above and the glaring gender-gaps in the education of boys and girls, how does your initiative address the inequalities?
We give priority to girls due to the fact that transition rate is low amongst girls, however we also give scholarship to boys from disadvantaged families. But even with that, we know that there is need to address the deeply rooted cultural norms and barriers that disadvantage both boys and girls. The more reason why we are partnering with development organizations and partners like CREAW with community focused initiatives to bridge the gap.
Apart from the scholarships, we are also partnering with the national government to provide Information Communication and Technology skills training for unemployed youth. We traverse through the villages, set up computer packages classes for youths. The trainings are done in monthly intervals in all the sub-counties. Currently we are in 17 villages, reaching out to over 2000 students. For six years now we have done over 60, 000 youths.
Due to the nature of your work, how do you map out children who are in need of bursaries from the community?
We usually conduct community dialogues and visit households as well. In the dialogue we talk about the AAF and it goals. We also talk about the importance of ensuring all children enrol in schools at the right age and transition to secondary schools.
In the dialogues, parents, guardians or community members point out names of the children who are out of school for one reason or the other after which we do household visits to ascertain the situation.
We work with women groups; who bring along their children to forums. We sensitise them on what AAF aims at achieving and ways in which they can access the funds. They also are key in mapping out boys and girls who are challenged in accessing education in the community.
How many scholarships have you given so far?
In January this year we gave out 50 scholarships to 39 girls and 11 boys across the county. We capitalised more on girls who are disabled or those whose parents are people living with disabilities or they are affected by cases of GBV. Every year we commit to getting over 50 girls on full scholarships that takes them through to form four.
Is it only bursaries or the scholarship also covers other expenses?
When we commenced the issuance of bursaries we realized that it was just a percentage of the money to address education needs of students. We needed to factor in logistical costs and basic needs. Apart from the yearly school fees, we also provide cash for pocket money and transportation to and from school. We do this to ensure we retain students in school and they are of good health for an improved performance.
Do you follow-up on the performance of the students that your initiative is supporting?
Yes. Every term we make visits to the various schools that the students are placed. We are keen on how they are performing in school throughout their education journey. Additionally, we encourage them to take up new skills through sports and joining clubs.
Your term of office ends in 2022, are there measures that you have put in place to ensure sustainability of the scholarship initiative?
After the girls are done with high school one of our ideas is to set up an education fund to see the girls go through the full cycle of 8-4-4 system of education. We are also creating partnership with development partners to support girls through universities.
In the short term, we want them to go through high school, keep them safe in school and comfortable. When they go to school they are safe from frustrations in school, but when they come back, they are back to such frustrations. When our session ends in 2022 we will hand them over to the new AAF committees to continue supporting them through school.
During school holidays how do you engage the girls within your cohort?
When schools are closed we organise mentorship boot camps for girls and young women. These boot camps provides safe spaces for the girls to voice out the challenges they are facing in school and at home.
During the mentorship sessions we bring facilitators and speakers the girls identify with and are role models in their sectors to motivate girls to be achievers. Some are more or less their peers. In the mentorship we also look at their after high school life, we want them to take up courses that informs their talent and those that also are meaningful to them.
I am also advantaged to sit in a consortium in Africa that speaks about the future jobs, we can easily start predicting how jobs will look like in 2030, so we prepare the girls on the environment and the dynamics of such jobs in future. We want to also mould the girls to support their peers in the community. When they close school we want to deploy them in the community like in dispensaries or other institutions to start developing skills and get reports. That is part of the mentorship program. We would want them to grow not only as educated but responsible people as well.
You were born and bread in Kilifi and understand the challenges that bedevil the development of communities. What motivates you to support children more so from Kilifi?
I am so passionate about education because the community also educated me. When I finished high school my parents had no money to take me to school, the community did a fundraising for me and I got school fees for the entire four years. I know what it feels for a child who would not get the opportunity to transition to high school. As a community oriented person, I feel content when my community grows. Development is a collective effort and we must all participate to ensure we build a generation with the required knowledge and skills for sustainable livelihoods.