The Mentor Effect in Rural Kenya
The dusty streets and barren landscape of rural Turkana County - among the hottest, driest regions of Kenya - is known for perennial drought and famine crises. The nomadic Turkana communities are plagued by a 20% adult illiteracy rate, chronic poverty, and a lack of awareness of the value of education among parents. This results in the constant disruption of children's education, reflected in the low school enrollment and retention rates. Only 50% of primary school-aged children in Turkana are enrolled, far below the Kenyan national average of 92%. A major challenge for Turkana County is its teacher shortage, primarily due to the extreme hardship of the working environment in the region, as well as insecurity.
Despite these conditions, EAGL mentor Sharon Murumba, a tall 31-year-old woman with a bright smile, took an interest in teaching in this county with the hope of contributing to the transformation of the region through girls’ education and empowerment. She has been teaching in Turkana for the last 3 years and has committed to continue teaching in the region, even after offers of other opportunities to teach in less difficult areas. She draws this commitment from seeing the transformation and change among the girls she has mentored and guided through leadership development.
Sharon was joined by four Tier 2 mentors from three partner community organizations (Malkia Foundation, Fortress of Hope Africa, and KOMERA) who have been a part of EAGLS over the last two years. The returning mentors deepened their relationships with one another, sharing challenges, successes and new understanding gained from the application of CAI tools and methodology in the field; learning new tools and practices for self-care, emotional safety, healthy relationships and crisis intervention; and improving their advocacy skills, such as how to find root causes and solutions to gender-based social issues, develop concrete goals, identify target audiences and frame their messages in clear and compelling ways with case studies and role plays.
Sharon displayed a significant increase in self-awareness and confidence as a facilitator and remains resilient in her advocacy efforts to recruit more rural girls to attend school and improve retention rates. Her growing commitment and dedication to the work drives her forward, despite various threats she has received from some community members who still do not value girls’ education. Sharon has learned to strengthen her advocacy by motivating and organizing other like-minded individuals, teachers and allies to join her efforts.
Since the Summit in December 2016, Sharon initiated an Urumuri Dada (Sisters who Light up the World) club at the Loima School, comprised of 80 students who meet three times a week. Sharon has implemented the creative tools and facilitation skills she learned at the Summit and Mentor Foundation Training to strengthen the girls’ leadership skills and deepen knowledge about their rights, the importance of education, sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence. The girls are encouraged and guided to share their stories, providing a space for healing and building bonds of friendship. Julia and Celestine, two Urumuri Dada members and past EAGLS participants, act as her assistants in the club and have shown a significant increase in their leadership and academic success.
Sharon also has begun facilitating a weekly all-school assembly with 280 girls and 2 teachers to educate the students about their rights and increase their capacity to succeed in school. Since she has started these groups, the students of Loima School are more committed to their academics, the pregnancy rate has reduced from 18 girls in 2016 to only 3 in 2017, and reflected in an increased retention rate. Additionally, physical confrontations between students have been virtually eliminated - where previously, there was an average of 2-3 fights happening at the school every week.
One of the many activities of Urumuri Dada club is the Let the Girls Go to School campaign, a theater skit performed door-to door with the goal of engaging village elders and parents in the community to convince them to allow more girls to enroll in school. In Turkana, girls are most valued for their dowry - so early childhood marriage rates are extremely high, with school enrollment historically very low.
The skit, developed by Sharon, depicts the contrasting lives of a family in which the daughter is a goat herder, and a family whose daughter has the chance to attend school. After a famine and drought wipes out the goats, the educated girl is able to continue working and supporting her family. After a series of six performance and open dialogue events at rural homesteads in Turkana, Sharon was able to enroll 7 additional community girls in school this past year.
Sharon plans to continue these homestead meetings and discussions with elders, chiefs and parents to shift the cultural belief that girls do not need an education. Sharon practiced her presentation, discussion and message framing skills at the Tier 2 mentor training and received valuable feedback from her peers.
Recharged with support, self-care and a set of new skills, she will return to teach this year at the Milimtatu Girls’ Secondary School, and has registered a community based organization that will enable her to reach more girls.
We are so inspired by her leadership, resilience and dedication, and know that hundreds of more girls will benefit from her leadership programs and advocacy efforts to achieve gender equality in Turkana County!
The photos below are from the Let the Girls Go to School campaign.