Scholarships Brighten Future for Young Girls in Rural Kenya / by Natalia Mroz

Published in: Millennium Villages Project

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) say that by 2015, every child should have the opportunity to complete primary school. The Goals also call for gender parity in all levels of education. Recently, 50 girls from Sauri Millennium Village in Kenya were given the opportunity of a lifetime — the chance to attend secondary school, granted through the Connect to Learn scholarship program, in partnership with Ericsson and the MVP. 
Aged between 15 and 18, the girls are among the brightest students from the area, but despite passing the entrance exams, the cost of attending secondary school was prohibitively expensive. Although $50 a month is all it takes to send a child to secondary school, this figure is out range for most of Sauri's rural families.

During the small acceptance ceremony held in the shade of eucalyptus trees, the girls were surprisingly serious. They were keenly aware that the privilege to go to secondary school represents a responsibility to study and make their communities proud, and that they are part of an extremely fortunate group.

“Where we live, so many girls in the village drop out of school, their families can’t afford the fees and some get pregnant. Others get married early only to come back home because of poverty and violence,” explains Christine, 18, a scholarship recipient. 

Although many African countries have made strides in increasing primary school attendance, insurmountable obstacles still prevent millions of girls like Christine from matriculating and benefiting from this trend. Without further education, early marriage and a low standard of living eked out from subsistence farming is the only option for most young women, and the burden of poverty and poor health falls squarely on their shoulders. 
The scholarship program recognizes that in many cases, a bottleneck occurs when children transition to secondary school, and girls in particular fall by the wayside – school fees, early pregnancy and marriage, and domestic duties such as fetching water and looking after siblings fall disproportionately on the shoulders of adolescent girls. In Kenya, it is estimated that about 35 percent of girls between the ages of 16 and 20 are still in school, compared to about 50 percent of boys.
Early pregnancy is one of the most common reasons girls drop out, as Christine's experience illustrates. She is the mother of a one-year-old, Blessing Brighton Omondi, and despite good grades, was forced out of school for two years as a result of pregnancy. Social disapproval makes the lives of such young mothers particularly hard. 

“Many cases of early pregnancy go unreported, because the girls fear how they will be received by society,” says Richard Ogeda, Education Coordinator in Sauri Millennium Village. “Some run away from home or go to live with distant relatives to avoid shaming their families. If a girl does stay at home, her welfare is often neglected. Further education becomes impossible.”

As a result, the scholarship program helps to rehabilitate young mothers like Christine back into the education system, and nine of the 50 girls had faced similar hardship.

Research shows the returns of schooling are greater for girls than boys, positively impacting their families and communities. As Patricia, 16, explains, when a girl from a poor village gets a solid education, she is better able to make a good living, improving her own life and the lives of those around her: 

“Girls need to be educated so that they become important people in society,” says Patricia, who received one of the highest scores on the school entrance exam. “If there is a conflict in the family or in the community, you can solve it if you are educated. You can also help the community by bringing up others around you, and help to educate them.” 

Patricia dreams of being a pilot, and the scholarship helps her take a big step to making her dream a reality. 

In addition to providing the necessary funding, Connect to Learn ensures that the secondary school which the girls attend are equipped with the latest ICT technology, including computers and internet connectivity. Currently, Connect to Learn supports 3,000 pupils in Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana, with hundreds more funded by the MVP and their partners. 
“As the Millennium Villages Project nears the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs, we are increasing our support for girls' secondary schooling. Education is a powerful tool which young women can use to extract themselves and their families out of poverty, and sustain their income and well-being independently, way beyond the life of the Project,” explains Richard Ogeda.