Corona Virus

All schools have been shut down, offices shut down, places of worship shut down, markets shut down; there are a countable number of people on the streets, supermarkets are bare. We have never seen anything like this. When we learned of the epidemic, many people downplayed the seriousness of it and continued with their usual lifestyle. There were even rumors that Africans are immune to the disease, until one person tested positive, then 3 then 9; now we are at 16. The entire country is almost at a lockdown, actually most of the remaining places have shut down today, public transport. too. When children were sent home, there was such an uproar from the parents; they did not want their children home because they did not know what to do with them. The thought of having the children home for more than a month caused parents to panic. Those who are due to sit their final exams are especially affected, but safety comes first, so all must stay home. There are schools that are offering online classes, but those are very few. Most of the government schools cannot afford to do that as the kids would need laptops and Internet which is not available in most homes. Those in International schools are taking online classes from Monday to Friday; they have IGCSE exams coming up soon. Those in the local system will sit their final Standard 8 and form 4 exams starting in October, so any time wasted will have a significant impact on their ability to prepare. The earliest schools will resume is at the end of April, as first term holidays were to commence at the beginning of April for three weeks. We could possibly see the government extend the school terms when the crisis is over, so that the children can catch up on lost time. Getting the children to adhere to self-quarantine is becoming a problem. Many are sneaking out and going to meet their friends; they have no sense of danger. The children in the slums do not understand social distancing. They all live in such close proximity to each other that creating distance is not possible, so they continue to live their lives the best way they know how. The government is urging all its citizens to observe basic hygiene, washing of hands and using sanitizers all the time. That is easy for...

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Career Guidance

Studying is one of life’s most important tasks, but it can still seem impossible sometimes. This is especially true if you are trying to study something that you must learn but find little interest in the subject matter. Many students are eager to finish school, get a college education, and ultimately achieve the dream job they have been desiring. When the students are asked what they would like to be after school, we generally receive a wide range of responses, but the big question is, what subjects must one excel in, in order to qualify for a certain profession. We decided that creating a chart for the students demonstrating the different professions and subjects that need to be taken will help the students a great deal by teaching them what is involved with their many choices. We plan to have these charts distributed in every school where we offer the Choice Club mentorship program. We think this will help the students with information about varying career choices and the skills and qualifications needed for each. In order to achieve this, the girls will need to look at their skills, for example, are you a good communicator or team player? What are your personal qualities, for example, are you approachable, well-organized? What jobs, subjects, interest do you like and/or dislike, what are your career ideas and plans for the future? It is important to take into consideration any barriers involved such as personal circumstances, financial and family support. The girls need to take time to think about what they like to do, and dream and imagine ideal careers.  Thinking about the perfect career requires the students to have a positive mindset, and ultimately, not allow any barriers to hold them back from finding the perfect career. Students so often feel the pressure to do what their parents are asking them to do or follow a certain path because others seem to be excelling in it. It is important for each of them to remember that we are all gifted differently, and everyone truly needs to find and to follow their own path in life. We think it is important for the student to be sure that what is being offered is what the student is interested in, and that the students have skills that correlate with that interest.  It is, likewise, important, for the student to look at the projected...

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Women’s Day 2020

#EachForEqual was the theme for Women’s Day this year. This is a call for a gender-equal world. This was the 46th Women’s Day celebration. Women have fought for gender equality for centuries. Every woman has the right to the protection of her human rights, equality in marriage, access to justice and political participation. Women need to be accorded values like justice, equality, and dignity. They need to be recognized for the achievements they have achieved globally. In Kenya, we have women who have left their mark because of the zeal and commitment they have poured into supporting the rights of the women. They have experienced ridicule, humiliation, abuse, and the risk of losing their lives while fighting to support their cause.  We admire women who are resilient; women who are determined to effect change no matter what the personal cost. Despite achievements and progress made, African women face major challenges and obstacles. The majority of African women are denied education and employment; they also have limited opportunities in the job market. An Africa woman is disadvantaged in many areas. She has poor access to land, credit, education and health. Obtaining an education for an African woman is an uphill task. Though it is the surest ticket out of poverty, females still struggle to get an education. Enrollment of the boy-child to school is always a much higher than for the girl-child. The government through the Ministry of Education has tried to help the women get an education by enrolling them for ‘ngumbaro’ or what is known as adult education. Women who were not educated in the school system will be found in the marketplace selling their wares and need basic information (education) to be able to cost their wares and know how to manage the proceeds from their sales. Women who do basic work like small scale farming, household work, and/or domestic work, are not considered to be of value to the economy; their contribution is not fully recognized. The rights of widows and the special protection of elderly women and those with disabilities also need to be prioritized. Guidelines must be established on ending traditional practices such as female genital mutilation which is detrimental to the health of women and girls on every level. We hope by discussing gender equality at the Choice Club meetings this week, we will help the girls understand they have the right to...

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Transition from Primary to Secondary School

Research has shown that gender barriers conspire with other forms of disadvantage and discrimination to particularly affect girls and women negatively. Culture which has a very strong hold over most communities in Mombasa, for example, has created a trend of male dominance leading to marginalization of young girls and women. The women and young girls are left to take care of children, perform household chores and engage in casual labor to feed their families. Cases of FGM, early marriages and pregnancy are rampant. Once a girl becomes pregnant, she is quickly married off to save the family from ‘shame.’ Transition from Primary to Secondary school for girls in the Coast Province has been very low. The few girls in the past who were able to finish Primary school did not get the necessary support they needed to further their studies. Some of these girls performed exemplary well in school and would have benefited greatly with alternative options to education. On our recent visit to two Mombasa schools, we realized that most of the schools are day schools as opposed to the schools in Nairobi which have a high number of boarding schools. Mombasa is predominantly a Muslim town which keeps a very keen eye on women and young girls. Though the culture may not favor educating the girl child, the community likes to keep the females close to their families; boarding schools are therefore, not favored. The principles of the schools we visited were happy to have a girl’s club at the school. Like any other girl’s school, they have challenges that they cannot solve on their own. One of the principles lamented that parents have completely abandoned their responsibilities towards their children’s academics. They do not take the time to sit and look at the children’s schoolwork. They don’t attend school meetings to assess their children’s performance. The same issues we reported from the schools we mentor here in Nairobi were echoed at the schools in Mombasa. Teachers are having a hard time trying to teach students who do not get support from their parents. There are many issues affecting the girls that they are not able to share with either their teachers or parents. Most of the girls have stopped sharing personal information with their teachers because the same teachers will share the information in the staff room with the other teachers, and suddenly, it becomes public...

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Teen Social Problems

Schools have been on a short break this past week and as the students went home, it was important to remind them about the risks that are out there. Boarding school can be boring for a teenager and any break in-between is always very welcome. Most of these girls, especially those in Form 2-4 are in relationships. As we tackle relationships both at home and at school, dating cannot be ignored; risky behavior at this age can affect the girls, and so making the right choices is key. We had a question and answer session before the girls went on break, and in all the schools, the girls asked a lot of questions regarding relationships with the opposite sex. Every year we have new girls joining these schools and the message remains the same, responsible behavior and life choices. Dating at an early age has its risks. Younger adolescents are still developing their sense of self and learning about their likes, dislikes, and values. Younger adolescents also are more susceptible than older adolescents to peer pressure. Peers play an important role in influencing adolescent decisions about risky behaviors like having sex. Pre-teen dating, especially for girls and especially when sex is involved, is associated with depression. Inequality within a relationship and poor treatment by a partner could well lead to depression, but the source of emotional difficulty could also come from outside the relationship. Very young girls who date often come from families that are struggling and may begin relationships already vulnerable to depression. There is also some evidence that depression leads young girls to seek relationships. As parents and role models, we want to protect our teens and keep them healthy, that includes talking with them about relationships and about sex, so that they don’t feel pressured into it before they’re ready, and so they know how to prevent pregnancy and STDs when they are ready. Many parents do not talk to their children about sex and sexuality because they think that the topic is taught to their children in school. The majority of parents shy off from this topic but with all that is happening around us, especially due to social media, parents need to be more engaged with their children. The parents, therefore, need to: Talk to their teen about what constitutes a healthy relationship. Healthy communication, mutual respect, trust, and kindness are just a few of...

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Parents Connecting with Children

We have been invited to give a talk to parents of one of the schools that we mentor. The school principal feels that there is a disconnect between the students and their parents. The parents are not playing their role and are letting their children down. Some of these parents drop their children off at school and do not see them again until the student finishes school, or, is in some sort of trouble and the parent is called in to help intervene. The children find their own way home when schools close and find their way back when schools reopen. The parents of these children have no clue how their children survive in school. Our take is that parents with little empathy often neglect their children and don’t even realize it, while there are also parents who don’t care. Either way, the child grows up wondering about their own self-worth and value. Family is the single most important influence in a child’s life. From their first moments of life, children depend on parents and family to protect them and provide for their needs. Parents and family form a child’s first relationships. They are a child’s first teachers and act as role models in how to act and how to experience the world around them. By nurturing and teaching children during their early years, families play an important role in making sure children are ready to learn when they enter school. Children thrive when parents actively promote their positive growth and development. Every parent knows it’s sometimes difficult to do this important work without help, support, and additional resources.  This is where teachers and mentors step in. Students in the various schools where we offer the Choice Club mentorship program are always very eager to go home for the midterm breaks so that they can spend time with their parents and siblings. Being in a boarding school requires one to stay away from home for a period of up-to 2 months before one can go home. Having a home to go to and parents who are loving and concerned about a child’s welfare makes it all the more worthwhile. Maybe schools need to be more aggressive in communicating to parents the importance of parent engagement, including what the school expects of the parent. Parents who back their children make a difference in school success by helping develop an appropriate mindset, motivation, and self-discipline at...

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