NAIROBI — Founded in 2009, the Kibera School for Girls offers free tuition, uniforms, books, and meals to qualifying girls in the Nairobi slum of Kibera, where a good education is difficult to find. The school is the first to offer free education for girls in the area and it garners support from the surrounding community by providing residents with much-needed services.
In Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, residents struggle to afford food, shelter, clean water, proper sanitation and decent schools. Girls face the additional challenges of gender-based discrimination and violence. When money for school fees is scarce, parents and guardians usually withdraw their daughters from school before their sons.
The Kibera School for Girls, which offers classes from pre-kindergarten through the fourth grade, aims to help the community understand the value of educating girls. At this school, parents do not pay fees, but a family member must work at the school five weeks a year, as a way of supporting the child’s education. Students are selected based on the two criteria of academic potential and greatest financial need.
Joyce Achieng, 10, is one of these students. She says that girls need more opportunities, especially in Kibera where she has seen much suffering.
“It is important because when they do not go to school they will not achieve their goals and their dreams will not come true. They will not be what they want to be in the future,” she said.
Headmistress Anne Atieno Olwande believes that girls like Joyce will have a better chance of overcoming the crippling effects of poverty by getting a quality education.
“It’s one of my passions, to make them realize that you didn’t choose, you didn’t sign to be born where you were born but you can choose to go where you want to be in the future,” she explained.
Helping women and girls carve out better lives for themselves is precisely why Kennedy Odede co-founded the school almost four years ago.
“Growing up in Kibera, we used to go to school [and] you’d find more boys than girls. And that’s something that I really hated, you know?” Odede confided.
In 2004, Odede started a grassroots movement that later became Shining Hope for Communities, a community-run organization in Kibera. With the 20 cents he’d earned from a factory job, he purchased a soccer ball. Through sport, he encouraged young people to discuss issues facing them in the slums.
But Odede felt he could do more, especially for girls, whom he felt were at an even greater disadvantage in Kibera.
“So I started seeing communities through the lens of my mom, and of my sister. And I wanted everyone in the community to have a better life,” Odede explained.
But he knew that a tuition-free school for girls could be a target of jealousy and even strife in the slums.
Value for everyone
So he and Jessica Posner Odede, Shining Hope for Communities co-founder and chief operating officer, decided the school would need to provide value for everyone, regardless of whether they had a daughter enrolled.
Today, Kibera residents can stop by Shining Hope to get subsidized clean water or to use a sanitary toilet. If they want to learn computer skills, they can sign up for training. When they’re sick, they can visit the medical clinic. Women suffering from domestic violence can come here for advice and assistance.
Posner Odede says that these services give buy-in to residents who might otherwise oppose the school and girls’ education in general.
“So our model is putting a girls’ school at the center of services that the entire community wants and needs," Odede explained. "And what we’ve seen is by doing this, we get everyone invested in and excited about the project of girls education.”
According to the World Bank, more educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labor market, earn higher incomes, have fewer children, and provide better health care and education for their own children.
A 2008 report from Plan International, a children's rights group, says not educating girls takes billions of potential dollars from the economies of low and middle income countries every year.