I work at Akili Dada, an international award winning NGO based in Kenya, and focused on developing the next generation of African women leaders. Now, that's a big big task. One that requires a multifaceted approach and global collaborations. But one of the many ways we are trying to carry it out, is through a scholarship program which invests in high achieving primary school girls from underpriviledged back rounds, giving them the financial means (i.e. scholarship) to continue their education at some of the top national girls schools in the country. Who do we pick, how do we pick? By the time we select our scholars, they have already demonstrated that they have the rudimentary qualities; the head and the heart if you will, to become great leaders. Beyond looking for smart young ladies who scored scoring highly in their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams, we look for young ladies who exhibit, in some measure, the moral qualities that are at the heart of good leadership. Qualities like diligence, empathy, compassion, honesty, resilience, integrity and a keen sense of responsibility for their families and communities.
The nature of our work puts us in direct contact with young girls for whom familial financial constraints pose a threat to continued education. When we recruit new scholars, we carry our site visits; visiting each scholars home to get to know their family, background and confirm that the girls family's financial situation merits the scholarship we are awarding. Each time, we are confronted with some harsh realities that remain part and parcel of our society. Realities of drastic social inequalities that make it too difficult for willing parents to educate their girl children. A few weeks ago, I and a number of staff returned from a set of site visits in Kisii and Bungoma. It was my first tiparticipating in these visits. Here's what I noticed: every single family we visited was willing to educate their children; including the girls. Every family had worked hard towards that end; sometimes taking loans and fundraising to meet that goal. And in fact, each one of them sent their girls to secondary school, albeit falling into arrears soon after, even before the intervention of our organization. For these families, the barriers to sending their kids to secondary school was not a lack of willigness on their part; it was a lack of means. So, one of the biggest barriers we as an organization see as inhibiting the furtherance of girls education, is the cost of secondary education. In African countries, where so many families still live in poverty, the issue of education costs, remains prominent. While there maybe need in many parts of Africa and the world to educate communities on the value of educating their girls, empowering families to do this, based on the assumption that if they can they will, has to be part of any sustainable solution to the challenge of girls access to secondary education.
But for us, getting girls to secondary school is only half the battle. There are many other battles that need to be simultaneously fought. For instande, in Kenya we need to increase the quality of the education generally available as well as make it relevant to market needs; a current challenge in our country. We need to invest in creating an education system that produces globally competitive young people skilled in a myriad of different ways. We need to focus on enabling learning, fostering curiousity and ingenuity in young people and ciltivating in them a love for life long learning - rather than simply emphasing to them the need to pass their examinations. And we need to see education holistically; as a means of developing people not just intelectually, but morally as well - as the next generation of citizens responsible for their communities, country and the world.
At Akili Dada, we see education in a holistic way. When our girls are mentored and get to talk about a myriad of life issues, from time management to coping with stress, to leadership to any number of other topics, big or small, that's education continued by other means. We insist that the girls in our scholarship program begin community service projects in their communities while they are scholars and in the process of running these projects, in the process of identifying community needs and meeting with stakeholders to better understand those needs and see how best they can be addressed, the girls recieve a kind of education albeit one that is not necessarily formally examinable.
For Akili Dada, our vision for girls education is simple. We want a world where more families are able to enable their girls to access high quality, holistic secondary education. For that vision to come to pass, it'll take the efforts of NGOs like ourselves, but also of other key stakeholders including the Government. For these stakeholders to play their part, there needs to be a wider understanding that investing in girls education is good for socieities, for economies, for countries, and for the world. It is practically benefitial, and central to development efforts. We hope that increasingly, when society is confronted with the gap that still needs to be bridged in terms of girls education, more people will cringe at the latent potential of our world that remains untapped keeping our country and indeed our continent and world from attaining the heights it could. The more people cringe, the more rapid change we might see.The Path to Participation Initiative from World Pulse and No Ceilings