Returning to School in East Africa

By Doris Kamathi

Schools are gradually reopening now in Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania, and we are thrilled to announce that all of the girls in those countries who participated in Sauti ya Dada – 45 girls in Kenya, 30 girls in Rwanda and 30 in Tanzania – have returned to school. Many have committed to starting their own safety circles to support even more girls in their communities! Additionally, we distributed over 8,000 menstrual supply kits to girls in Sauti ya Dada, and were able to reach over 300,000 people through our radio program!

As the world races to distribute vaccines across the globe and reboot the economy, the effects of the pandemic – particularly on girls in developing countries – continue to be a concern for gender experts.

Although the measures enforced by different countries are necessary to fight the pandemic, some pose a great danger to the advancement of girls’ rights; namely, the closure of schools.

In developing countries, schools can serve a far bigger role beyond being institutions of learning. Schools often provide girls with a safe space where they can escape a myriad of challenges in their communities and homes. For example, a 12 year old girl attending school in Kenya is less likely to experience early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation, teen pregnancy and gender-based violence than if she is out of school.

Girls in Sauti ya Dada receive their monthly menstrual supplies

When schools closed last year due to COVID-19, girls returned to their communities. Once they were home and without their support system at school, girls were more at risk of gender-based violence or teen pregnancies. Girls are more likely to drop out of school, be forced to get married, and suffer from mental illness due to social and economic pressure from their families.

Mindful of these challenges, Creative Action Institute has been rolling out creative and innovative initiatives in the past 10 months to reduce and prevent the effects of the pandemic to the girls. Our very own Sauti ya Dada worked with 10 Mentor Fellows to support 150 girls in East Africa by providing them with Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights education, leadership training, mentorship and menstrual supplies. Through the combined use of SMS-based learning, radio programs, and support groups called safety circles led by Mentor Fellows, the girls were able to stay safe and healthy, remain resilient, and continue learning during the pandemic.

The pandemic is far from over, and girls need us more than ever before. In 2021, we are expanding Sauti ya Dada by working more closely with teachers and using available and accessible forms of technology to ensure that girls are safe, remain in school and are inspired to achieve their dreams.