Carol Gor, 36, thought her chances of obtaining a secondary education ended 11 years ago when her parents, who rely on fishing along Lake Victoria, failed to raise the fees. She stayed at home for a few years, got pregnant and was soon married.
"When I completed primary school at the age of 15, I hoped my parents would somehow find the money to take me to secondary school; but they did not," Gor told IRIN. "With peer pressure, I soon found myself pregnant; I then got married and before too long I had had five children, but I didn't give up, I persuaded my husband to allow me to return to primary school and try again."
In 2009, Gor sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) alongside her second-eldest son. Her oldest son was completing secondary school then. She has since joined an NGO-sponsored, girls-only secondary school in Muhuru Bay, where students are on full scholarship.
"I know that my life will change for the better when I complete school; I hope to become a teacher so that I can serve as a role model for the many girls who give up on education as soon as they give birth or get married," Gor said.
Like Gor, many girls in Muhuru Bay, with a population of about 25,000, have a slim chance of a secondary education as only four public schools in the area admit both genders. The few private schools are out of reach for many poor parents.
Local agricultural officials say poverty is high in Muhuru Bay, where the main economic activity, fishing, has been in decline following a decrease in fish due to climatic changes.
The school dropout rate for girls was high, Enos Kebeya, the education officer for Muhuru Bay, told IRIN, mostly due to early marriage, teenage pregnancy, children being orphaned by HIV/Aids and others being lured into fishing activities.
However, he said: "In the past three years, we have seen great improvements in education, especially for girls in this division, as more and more have joined secondary school."
The division had moved from a mean score of 218 (in examinations marked out of 500) in 2008 to 252 in 2010; "this has been due to a reduction in the number of girls dropping out of school as a result of sensitization and encouragement from the community.
"In the lower primary stages, the dropout rate is low but by the time they reach Class Eight, you will find just 230 boys and 200 girls sitting the national examination [out of 460 boys and 502 girls].
Photo: Kenneth Odiwuor/IRIN
|Although a mother of five, Carol Gor is in Form II at the Women's Institute for Secondary Education and Research in Muhuru Bay|
"We are trying to reverse this trend by conducting frequent assessments of schools as well as holding education days where we inform parents and pupils on the importance of education. We welcome efforts by individuals and charitable organizations to sensitize the communities on keeping children in school."
For Gor and 60 other girls, the establishment of the Women's Institute for Secondary Education and Research (WISER) two years ago has helped them obtain an education that was otherwise only a dream.
Dorcas Oyugi, the school's principal, said the institution would help bridge the gap between boys’ and girls’ education in the division.
WISER also offers several subjects that are not mandated in the Kenyan secondary school curriculum, including sign language, French, business and computer studies.
"We try to help the girls by teaching them how to think and reason for themselves, not what to think; the focus is to produce holistic Kenyans," Oyugi said. “To the girls, I say: ‘whatever women do, they must do it twice as [hard as] a man to be thought they are half as good, they must work hard’.”
Marta Krajnik, the country director of the NGO running the girls’ facility, said: "Bright orphaned girls and those in difficult financial situations are given a priority" in selecting the girls joining Form One.
Of the 30 girls who joined the institution in January 2011, one left an eight-day-old child at home; another is 16 and fled a forced marriage with her three-year-old child.
Lack of motivation
According to a 2010 report by the Nyanza Education Women's Initiative, girls in the province have in recent years fared badly compared with boys in national examinations.
The report says poverty, sexual abuse, lack of motivation and the absence of role models were some of the factors affecting girls' performance in school.
Eve Obara, the initiative's head, said parents should provide basic needs for their daughters to avoid them being lured out of school by men who promised to provide for them.
"Find sanitary pads for your daughters, don't let them be enticed by soda and other basic stuff into early marriage," she said.