Rachel, not her real name, was just 9 when her mother, a popular charcoal trader in Maziani Village, Ngerenyi, Kilifi South district in Kenya, died leaving her behind with other six siblings.
Being the last born, Rachel was not able to understand why her mother had to die at that crucial time when her family needed her most.
She was not even able to comprehensively contend with the loneliness that awaited her following the death of her mother who was also the family’s major breadwinner.
“I remember seeing my mother working hard to single handedly take care of us all,” says Rachel, now 16 and a standard eight pupil in Ngerenyi Primary school in Kilifi South District.
The only person she could turn to following the death of her Mother was her 18 year old sister who then had to drop out of school to provide for the four of them after their father began to drink more heavily.
“My father would leave early in the morning without caring what we would eat or drink and later he could come back late at night, fully drunk, but still wanting us to give him food,” lamented the young girl.
The father, she said, could not provide food nor good housing for his family. Worse still their tiny Makati thatched house was dangerously dilapidated even at the time of their mother’s burial.
Sometimes the family would go to bed hungry especially after their elderly sisters failed to get food rations from a local chief office. “Even our neighbours had ignored us, except one of my elder brothers who had luckily enough been taken in by a good samaritan living in a town nearby.”
Nine years after the death of her mother, Rachel is now confident of successfully completing her primary school education later this year and knows she will later continue with secondary level of education.
“I want to be the first female pilot from this village and role model to other girls in future,” Rachel said with a lot of excitements.
Mohamed Omar Madunde, the Ngerenyi school head teacher admits that the young girl is determined to succeed in life despite numerous challenges she and many other female pupils in the entire district of Kilifi county face on a daily basis.
“This bright and courageous girl is going places. I have observed Rachel since I joined the school three years ago as head teacher and her progress in both education and personality has been impressive. She is among our top pupils in class eight this year,” says Madunde.
Rachel is among thousands of girls in the rural Kenya struggling to beat numerous challenges such as early pregnancies, marriages and poor parental care.
The Kilifi district is where scores of school-going children are staying at home with their parents or working as manual labourers. But the young Rachel seems determined enough to prove that being a girl does not mean failure in life. She wants to prove to the world that even women have equal rights to access better education like any man.
UNICEF estimate that 66 million girls across the world are out of school, and 1 in 7 of these girls marries before they reach age 15, especially in developing countries such as Kenya.
Girls are often removed from school to prepare for weddings or to work in order to save for their dowry. Once married they are not permitted to continue with their education.
Thanks to Plan International’s new initiative that is promote sustainable education among girls, both in primary and secondary school levels, where several girls have benefitted and boldly come out to demand for their rights for better education.
With mutual support from Kilifi County Government, Plan International’s new project, dubbed “Because Iam A Girl” is fast penetrating into many villages in the rural Kilifi County with advocacy against marriages of underage girls as well as promoting girl child education in the region.
“The county government is puzzled by the high number of cases of school drop-outs among primary school girls especially in Vitengeni and Ganze divisions of Kilifi. Something has to urgently be done to deal with the situation,” says Salma Muhiddin, Kilifi County Education Executive Officer.
The global project advocates for gender equality and equity among boys and girls in their quest for easy access to better and quality education and healthcare.
Margaret Kahiga, the Plan International Unit Manager in Kilifi County added that girls, like their male counterparts, have equal rights to access better education and that her organisation was working with other stakeholders in the education sector across the county to ensure an increase in the number of girls accessing education.
The “Because Iam A Girl” (BIAAG) project launched in October last year targets over 400 million girls globally.
This year Plan International has partnered with social enterprise Be Girl to promote access to sanitary materials among girls in developing countries where many girls still don’t have access to these materials thus hindering them from performing well in their education.
This project will provide innovative solutions for girls’ menstrual hygiene needs.