Wambui Virginia @kuivirgie
When Eve Obara was a member of the Nyanza Provincial Education Board in 2010, the poor performance of girls in national examinations in the region concerned her.
At the time she was the Managing Director for Kenya Literature Bureau and together with Dr Mark Matunga of Intel Corporation East Africa (he was formerly at Microsoft) they decided to do something to change the trend.
Obara, the current Member of Parliament for Kasipul Kabondo constituency, who at the time did not harbour any political ambition, brought together professionals from the region for a consultative forum to help girls claim their stake in national examinations. The conference led to the birth of Women’s Initiative in Education (Newi), a non-profit organisation of volunteer professionals.
With support from the government and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Newi, reached out to more than 162 girls and mixed secondary schools in one year. Ever since, the organisation has expanded its operations to cover all regions in the country and has partnered with other organisations to support girls’ education.
“Poverty, early pregnancies, high school dropout rates, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early marriages and in some cases parental neglectare challenges facing girls in Kenya,” says Obara.
Newi believes in the power of mentorship and volunteerism, and is working with girls, teachers and community leaders to reach out and support girls in school to complement government efforts.
These combined efforts have positively impacted the lives of many girls and their communities.
“ Newi in collaboration with school administration visit the institutions to mentor students and also inspire them to dream big and equips them with leadership skills. We have visited girls in the hard to reach rural villages, slums, and schools, encouraging even those who dropped out to enrol back in school,” she says. Obara says that many families in Kenya have not taken keen interest in the education of girls.
This has led to neglect and diminished opportunities for the girl-child. These families uphold retrogressive cultural practices that mostly devalue the place of girls.
A study by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) in 2012 indicates that up to 39 per cent of girls who dropped out of school after six years of education were either illiterate or semi-illiterate.
Newi also supports girls by providing full or partial scholarships to orphaned and vulnerable students. Currently, the organisation has sponsored close to 10 students in secondary school.
The organisation also has a working partnership with LitWorld Inc and GlobalGirls Rising that helps promote literacy among girls through E-mentorship. The programme aims at building the confidence of girls to read, write and tell their own stories, thereby creating positive transformation in their community.
The programme, which aims to reach 1,000 girls, has over 700 from four different schools benefitting from it. “Newi is still committed to increasing girls’ mentorship and empowerment through collective advocacy and coordinated action, knowledge exchange, sharing evidence-based solutions and by strengthening partnerships and collaborative approaches to create more opportunities for girls,” says Obara.