Counties in North Eastern are home to nearly half of Kenya’s 852,000 children out of school.
According to ministry figures released last week, Mandera, Garissa, Turkana and Wajir host 41 per cent of out-of-school children between ages six and 17 years.
The bulk of the affected children are girls who face varied challenges because of their gender. Some come from poor backgrounds while others contend with disability, are truant or sick.
The grim figures, released by Primary Education director habit Abdi last week, have raised the apathy towards low school enrollment in these areas, with stakeholders questioning why efforts to soar the numbers in ASAL counties aren’t bearing fruit.
However, in the wake of fresh fears over challenges to girls’ education, a new initiative hopes to change the tide by ensuring pupils do not drop out of school due to preventable conditions in the family, community or at school.
Wasichana Wetu Wafaulu (WWW), a new community-based initiative has now introduced cash transfers, where vulnerable households are identified, and money sent directly to their mobile phones. The aim is to retain girls in school by enabling their parents to provide for their needs, including food, clothing and sanitary towels.
The households are encouraged, through community educators, to use the money to start income generating projects that will enable them take care of the needs of their children.
Funded by UK Aid under the Girls Education Challenge, the drive has enabled more than 6,000 households in the ASAL counties to received Sh16,000 each over the last four years. In the next phase next year, more than 2,000 girls will each benefit from Sh24,000 disbursed over 12 tranches for four years.
The initiative, at the same time, aims to strengthen the school environment to be more conducive to girls. Teachers get coaching on gender friendly pedagogy. Girls also receive mentoring from educators which result in improved confidence.
Currently being rolled out in eight ASAL counties and two urban slums, the initiative targets 72,000 girls in eight counties in more than 500 schools in Kenya. The counties are Turkana, Samburu, Marsabit, Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River in ASAL and Nairobi and Mombasa counties for urban slums.
“Girls from vulnerable households are more likely to drop out of school because they lack basic needs including food and other amenities. We believe that if such households are supported through cash transfers, they would be in a better position to help the girls stay in school and transition to higher levels,” says Mark Rotich, WWW Project Director.
During a visit to Lorubae Primary School, which has embraced the WWW initiative, Education CS Amina Mohamed acknowledged that perceptions towards girls’ education is changing.
“Girls are coming to school and rejecting influences that would make them run away. We even have examples of girls who left, had children and still came back to school” she said.
The CS was accompanied UK Special Envoy for Gender Equality, Joanna Roper and Samburu West MP Naisula Lesuuda. The CS and the Special Envoy sat in one of the classroom to observe a numeracy lesson and held discussions with girls who have benefited from the project.
Dibau Kotu, a village elder in Marsabit says the initiative is breaking down cultural barriers.
“Initially, when a girl got pregnant before getting married, she had to be taken away to the Rendile, a neighboring community. She is given away for free. But now, things are changing.” he said.
Turkana Women Rep Joyce Emanukor says the model is effective in supporting the girls.
“The project is brave in standing out to support the future of this county; provision of such basic utilities such as sanitary towels says a lot of how mindful the project is regarding the growth and development of girl child,” she said.