Elizabeth Zero’s deepest desire is to give every underprivileged child in her community a chance to attain their full potential through education.
What inspired you to begin Smiles of Hope Kenya?
I grew up in Tezo Village in Kilifi North constituency where I experienced first hand, the negative impacts of illiteracy. I saw the urgent need for someone to champion the right to education for every child in Kilifi county and decided to step in personally and assist vulnerable and disadvantaged students to access and attain an education.
I became actively engaged in not only my community, but also travelled to other parts of Kenya and got the opportunity to meet and mingle with different kinds of people, thus building strong networks.
The networks enabled me to set up Smiles of Hope Kenya in the year 2015. We work against teenage pregnancy, early marriage, illiteracy and offer educational support to disadvantaged children.
Why did you opt to centre your activities in Kilifi?
Because of poverty and high cases of orphanhood in the county. Many of our children do not get the opportunity to complete their studies, while others start late.
So far, we have assisted about 70 children from disadvantaged families both in primary and secondary school across the county, some of the beneficiaries from our mentorship programme graduated last month from the CAPYEI institute, which is sponsored by Germany Corporation, the Master Card Foundation and many others.
This year, we also unveiled a project dubbed Book Drive 2018, which seeks to promote a reading culture among children in the county.
The initiative was born in 2017 with an aim of collecting books and sending them to primary school students who cannot afford them despite their passion for reading. This culminated in the establishment of book clubs and the very first reading competition in the county.
What other activities are you involved in?
One of the greatest satisfactions in my mentorship journey was when we rescued a 14-year-old girl who was about to be married off against her will from her father. The bright girl had scored 345 marks out of the possible 500 in KCPE in 2017.
We also recently rescued a 17-year-old girl with three children, who was married to a 65-year-old man in Adu, Magarini sub-county. We shed light on the negative effects of child marriages and provide girls with the social support necessary to achieve their educational goals and live a productive life.
How many children have you reached so far?
As of today, Smiles of Hope Kenya has enrolled children in schools and mentored more than 1,000 students in Kilifi county as well as provided school necessities, initiated libraries in schools and established book clubs in primary schools, leaving a positive impact on the lives of many vulnerable students.
What are some of the challenges that your organisation has faced?
We lack sufficient funds to support the children fully as we rely on well-wishers and the Constituency Development Fund. We also lack professionals to run the mentorship sessions effectively. We rely on volunteers. Short travels to help defiled children file cases and funds to pay the lawyers has also been a great challenge.
What are some of your successes as an organisation?
I have been selected as a Board Member of Equity Foundation in charge of Wings to Fly scholarship. I am also the chairperson of Kenya Scouting Association, Kilifi South Constituency.