Stories of Change
Female students at Chepkram quench their thirst at a water facility built with CWS support.
Thanks to the School Safe Zones program, there has been a marked increase in student enrollment in West Pokot and Turkana counties in the last year, by 27 percent and 74 percent respectively.
Source: CWS Annual Report 2017
Beyond Shelter: Dormitory Providing Safe Haven for School Girls in West Pokot, Kenya
The atmosphere at Chepkram School is welcoming. A group of excited parents are conversing in low tones, perhaps in anticipation of the opportunities brought by the newly built girls’ dormitory. It’s September 2016, and CWS staff are making a routine visit to Chepkram to mark the opening of a new dormitory for girls that has been built with CWS support.
Chepkram is a public school and is one of six schools that CWS supports in Kenya’s West Pokot County. In partnership with the Ministry of Education, our team operates the School Safe Zones program by working with parents and local communities to build their skills and confidence and thus enable them to mobilize local assets and resources for their educational needs.
A dormitory for girls is not just a shelter in this rural and vast dryland region. The access and retention of students in this school still remains a challenge, with girls having a higher dropout rate than boys. This is mainly attributed to cultural practices and the long distances that students have to cover to get to school. Further, heavy household chores after school – such as the search for scarce water and firewood – discourages girls in particular from attending school regularly. Widespread teenage pregnancy also remains a barrier to girl’s education.
“Marriage is a survival strategy for most families to make ends meet,” says Chepkram School’s head teacher, Mr. Benson. He says that most adolescent girls drop out of school following Female Genital Mutilation, a practice that remains rampant and is traditionally meant to prepare girls for early marriage.
The CWS program has been successful in helping the girls of West Pokot overcome the odds and stay in school. In the words of the school Chairperson, “The dormitory will help address specific needs of girls. This is because many students live five to eight kilometers [three to five miles] from school, and with an ordinary school day starting at 7:30 a.m., they must leave home well before sunrise, winding through vast and lonely spaces in the dark.” Most parents here feel that girls who commute daily to school perform poorly compared to those in boarding school because there is usually no electricity at home.
For Rhoda, a student in fifth grade, the availability of water on the school campus has completely changed her life and the lives of her fellow students. “Before the project, we would go for days without school lunch as there wasn’t enough water for cooking. Today, thanks to CWS, we have enough water and we can wash our hands after visiting the latrine.”
Mama Cynthia is 27 and has a daughter in the fourth grade. She says, “The new dormitory brings hope to our community. We are far behind in education. Once our daughters are able to board they will have more quality education and their health will improve as they shall have nutritious meals at school.”
Mama Cynthia shares similar sentiments with Selinah Chepkrop, also a mother at the school who says the dormitory has caused parents to think differently about their children.
Fast forward a year from that hopeful day in September 2016. The successes of the past year are significant. Parents and the adults of the community participated in CWS capacity building sessions, where they learned to advocate for their children and the school. They successfully approached the county government to donate 40 bunk beds so that 80 girls can stay in the dormitory. Plus, they approached the relevant government education officials and had the school registered as a low-cost boarding school. This status will guarantee the school a small, supplementary budget from the government that will help sustain the school for years to come.
And the girls of Chepkram? They’re thriving! For starters, there are more of them now. There were 19 girls boarding at Chepkram in the first term of 2017. Now there are 36, and more students are expected in the new year as the community continues to rally for the school. They girls have more pride and dignity now. It’s hard not to, now that they have clean uniforms, socks and shoes! Plus, they are a much more tight-knit group now. By staying together in the dormitory, they have formed new friendships and look out for one another.
Parents and teachers continue their support of the school. They contribute financially towards food and security each month. Next year, they will hire a matron to oversee the dormitory (right now, a female teacher volunteers as a matron). And CWS continues to be right there with them through more community sessions about education and protecting girls.