Schools World Service - Girl Power

Kenyan girls explain the challenges they face trying to get an education. Includes discussion of the difficult topic of FGM (female genital mutilation)

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Bishop Okiring Secondary School is located high in the foothills of Mount Elgon in Kenya.

It's a harsh environment, with difficult roads, which means getting to school can be a nightmare. But the roads aren't the only obstacle to getting an education.

Girls here face all sorts of issues that hamper their chances at school. These include early marriages from the age of 12, parents preferring to educate boys rather than girls and the ongoing practise of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Bishop Okiring is twinned with Bedford Academy in the UK. Head girl Emma travelled to Kenya to find out more about what life is like for girls here.

Eglah's House

Eglah, who is 17, invites Emma to visit her home - a mud hut she shares with her mother.

Eglah is the youngest of nine brothers and sisters, and the first one of them to have attended secondary school.

A typical day at home for Eglah includes going to the river to collect water, washing utensils, sweeping the house and helping her mum with weeding and looking after the animals.

Back-breaking work

Collecting water is seen as women's and children's work.

Emma learns how to carry water on her head Emma learns how to carry water on her head

The nearest water source is one kilometre from Eglah's house and she has to make this journey four times a day.

Emma is given a lesson in carrying water containers Kenyan style (on your head), before making the journey with Eglah along the muddy track to the watering hole.

The girls fill their buckets and balance them on their heads to get them home. Each container weighs up to 15 kilograms.

All these jobs leave little time for Eglah to do her school work.

Eglah's Mum

But Eglah is challenging the norm. She is determined to get an education, and her mother supports her daughter's choices.

"My nine children are suffering. If I'd gone to school myself our situation would have been better.

"But now we are very poor. I want Eglah to go to school so that she can earn a living. I'd like her to become a doctor so she can treat my bad eyes."

Studying Hard

Start Quote

Eglah is facing so many challenges. Her mother is about 60 years old and she's a single parent. She's very poor and is unable to pay school fees ”

End Quote Naboth, head teacher

But with everything she has to do at home, Eglah's headmaster, was worried that Eglah would drop out of school.

So he now pays for her to board at school.

It means Eglah can focus on her final year of studies.

Eglah takes her studies seriously.

She tells Emma: "Education is so important to me. In my family we lack many basic things.

"But I see that as an educated person, you can get employed and then you won't lack anything."


But the value of education often conflicts with the traditional values of Kenyan society. Like the attitude to the practise of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Eglah explains to Emma: "You find that many girls drop out of education after FGM. Right now in Kenya, there are some families that are still following those cultural practises, but my family don't."

Emma is shocked to hear that FGM is still practised in Kenya.

"I couldn't take it in. I thought it was horrible. Some of these girls were brought up to think that if they have FGM happen to them that it will make them more appealing to the men. But shouldn't men love you for who you are, not because FGM has happened to you?"

For the families that do follow the practise of FGM, it's a costly business, which involves slaughtering expensive livestock to mark the rite of passage. Many can't afford school fees aswell.

Singing for Survival
Pauline in traditional dress Pauline wants the same opportunities as boys

Pauline, 17, heads up Bishop Okiring's school choir. She explains to Emma how traditionally in this part of Kenya, it's seen as more important to educate boys rather than girls.

"They only give the boys chances to read and get more education, but the girls they don't.

Emma is also surprised to learn that girls here can get married from the age of 12.

Pauline tells Emma that she doesn't want to get married, but she would like to have children one day after finishing her education.

It's a tough cycle. Once married, girls start their own families and with the added responsibilities they drop out of school.

But schools are fighting back. At a nearby school, the students sing a song to discourage early marriages.

Facing the Future

At 17 years old, both Eglah and Emma are thinking about their futures.

"Eglah tells Emma, "after school I'd like to be a bank manager. Maybe I'll study accounting in university, then business management, and then I'll be able to be employed as a bank manager.

Emma explains, "in England I'm going to do an apprenticeship. So I can do a job and get paid a salary, while also attending college at the same time.

Friends for Life

Emma reflects on her time in Kenya and what she has discovered.

"Kenyan girls and British girls are quite different in lifestyle, but not opinion. In lifestyle, we get it a lot easier than they do."

It's been a poignant trip for Emma and the girls she's met along the way.

Despite their differences, they've found their dreams are the same: getting access to the right education to help them lead fulfilled and happy lives.

Schools World Service is a BBC British Council co-production

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