Amina walks to the well to fetch water to start off her day washing last nights’ dishes before she can embark on washing the family laundry. She has her day planned out as has been the routine ever since the government closed all learning institutions in the country due to covid-19. Her new routine means that anything to do with school and books are not in her priorities since there are more pressing needs to do including taking care of her younger brother.
This essentially locks out any thoughts about her books that are in a tattered bag that her mum threw under their makeshift bed. The books will lie there till the government announces through radio that schools have been reopened. This is just a representation of many students in Rural areas who can’t afford access to a quality education system and are further affected when schools closed due to COVID-19.
Already, there is so much uncertainty in the whole world with everybody affected in one way or the other. It is just a couple of weeks but it looks like a life time already. Remote vulnerable communities will face more problem in terms of social and economic wellbeing than others. Pastoralist communities face different uncertainties on daily basis, but this may be more difficult. There is still limited awareness. Most of them believe that Corona will never reach them, that no case will be reported from here, that we are all safe and it is/will be business as usual. A strong belief and it is our uttermost hope. But the world is prepared, the system is prepared and government has put up measures including closure of schools.
In communities where education is not a priority, specifically girls’ education somebody will wonder what is the impact of this on learning. Already millions of girls are out of school, most of them adolescent mothers, some divorced and even widowed. A lot needs to be done in these communities in terms of quality and equal opportunities for education, but covid-19 worsens a situation that is already bad. After this period of corona virus, statistics will surely show increased number of school dropout by adolescent girls due to early/forced marriage.
School has been a safe haven for vulnerable girls, some were in boarding schools with government protective all over to support them. But now that they are confined to their homes, what will happen? Your guess is as good as mine. Most girls have no food, basic resources like sanitary towels and no resources/ any comfort to study from home.
This period will unfortunately also be a time to expose them to harmful cultural practices like Female genital mutilation and early/forced marriage. In some areas Girls are engaged as early as four years and some get the opportunity to be in school just to learn the basics, some are lucky to be given the opportunity to learn up to grade eight but that opportunity will surely be taken away.
In my community, March, April and September are the months for traditional weddings. In Kenya, students have been at home in the months of March and April and we are not sure of September due to uncertainty of how long this situation will take. For now, the exchange is very simple. Due to government restrictions on social gatherings, few family members in the same remote village will come together and sell of their girl without anybody in authority recognizing and thus many will be forced into early/forced marriage.
I remember when we were young girls in primary, some of us were engaged at a very young age, we had no resources but luckily our parents gave us the opportunity to learn up to grade eight. We looked forward to being in school because that was the only place we could get food, and basics like sanitary towels. School was the only place to prove ourselves worthy and escape harmful practices. We looked forward to social gatherings specifically in church because that is where we could get opportunity to play with our mates and get support, it was the place we started our own small work as a group of teenagers and got stipends to support our vulnerable selves. Because my story is the same as that of so many other vulnerable girls today, I am scared for them. I am, like so many of us scared for my own future, but theirs come with more uncertainty. How many girls will get the opportunity to get back to school after this pandemic?
A focus on advocating/talking about keeping girls in school over this period is equally as important as sensitization on proper hygiene in prevention of corona. It is girls’ education that produces exceptional gains in areas of health, infant mortality and economic wellbeing of a family. I am speaking on the need to have every child back to school once this ends. I am speaking for universal education, the need for every girl and boy to report back to school and transition well.