Garissa girl takes on illiteracy with zeal

Ulmulkheir Harun is building leaders of tomorrow through Kesho Alliance, a group of young people encouraging children to go to school

Harriet James

Garissa, a county whose landscape is mostly arid, faces many challenges one of them being illiteracy. With inhabitants being mainly nomads, the culture has consequently resulted in many pupils discontinuing their studies and opting to assist their parents search for water and pasture for their livestock. This is despite the fact that education is a constitutional right for every child.  Other factors like insecurity have made students fear going to school because of terrorist attacks. 

Umulkheir Harun, 21, grew up in Garissa and witnessed such conditions firsthand. In spite of all these challenges, she is amongst the few pupils in Garissa who have been privileged to attend school. She went to Alliance Girls’ High School in Nairobi, one of the best national schools in Kenya and was admitted to the United States International University  Africa where she is currently studying Applied Computer Technology. Umulkheir attributes her going to school to her father, a well-respected teacher who had a passion for education.

“I was introduced to reading way before I even attended class. We lived in the teacher’s quarters and my father closely supervised my assignments,” she recalls.

Occasionally as Umulkheir says, she would read her father’s assessment reports, personal journal and performance records. In her search for a book to read, she remembers finding more detailed reports and researches on education. Given her father’s commitment to education and his strong desire to improve the lives of people in Garissa she found herself immersed in the desire to change her community. “Even though, I performed well and secured a position in the prestigious Alliance Girls High School, it hurts me to realise most of my classmates who performed relatively well in the national examinations did not get the same opportunities and facilities as a child from other parts of the country,” she says.

This made her feel remorseful, every time she returned home on holidays. She found herself engaging her peers often through stories and mentorship and she was sad to find out that most of the girls were married off to older men in the village. Those who went to school were faced with lack of proper education facilities and qualified teaching personnel, which are a luxury in this region. The 2015 terrorist attacks made things worse as many teachers fled for their lives leaving the Garissa students stranded. This is when she felt that something should be done to change the situation. That was when the Kesho Alliance, a community-based organisation, was birthed, in the year 2015 to assist the Garissa people address the issues they face, especially education. In addition, they focus on health and proper sanitation.

“What helped me a lot was the experience I got while I served as the county speaker for the children assembly from 2011-2013. I underwent through a lot of training and workshops in leadership and through constant sharing of personal experiences and ideas with friends and family, we laid the foundation for Kesho Alliance,” she says.

The Kesho Alliance is run by the youth and they first started with mentorship programmes and environmental conservation. Moreover, they offer trainings for the youth and persuade them to attend the county polytechnics, especially those who fail to meet the cut-off point to be admitted to university. This, in turn, assists in fighting radicalisation, which is rampant in the area. Their main challenge, however, is lack of sufficient funding. Most of their projects are either self-funded or in partnership with other organisations.

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