Kenyan female students cycle their way to success
By Janet Gathuki
Diana’s day starts at 4:00am every week day. We arrive at her home a few minutes to 5:000am to find her breastfeeding her baby. At this time, she has already packed her school bag ready to leave. But she had to answer to her crying baby first. As she nurses her baby, Diana peruses through her Business Studies notes. By 6am, she is done with most of her house chores and is ready to leave for school. This is the daily routine of the 17-year-old mother of one.
She Diana has already learnt how to multitask between school work and her baby’s welfare. She is a mother of an eight-month baby. Dana’s morning routine involves nursing her baby and carrying out general house chores. She also has to ensure that she has done her best to relieve her 44-year-old mother of too much work during the day. Diana’s mother takes care of the grandchild while she continues her education.
As a Form Four student, Diana’s schedule gets busier by day. With an oncoming Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination at the end of the year, she has to work harder to stay at par with her peers at St. Peters Kajulu mixed secondary school. On an ordinary day, Diana leaves home at 6am and in 20 minutes the is already in school. But on rainy days, her day starts earlier as some parts of the road are impassable.
Diana is seemingly brave and her calmness hides the scars of a teenage pregnancy that saw her temporarily drop out of school to take care of her baby. This is the story of one in every five adolescent girls who, according to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey, has already had a live birth.
“My mother was angry at me but I had to find ways to cope. When some of my friends discovered that I was pregnant, they avoided me but I did not give up,” says Diana.
It was a call by one of her teachers that saw Diana’s hopes of continuing her education rekindled. “The teacher asked if I wanted to return to school. It was just a few months after I had delivered my baby. I did not hesitate. I agreed and started preparations to back to school. Diana had been given a bicycle by Plan International, a non-governmental organization, through the organization’s Bicycle Education Empowerment Program. The bicycle, she says, has played a key role in helping her cope with academic work while taking care of her new born.
Today, Diana uses the bicycle for transportation to and from school and in doing some house chores such as carrying water and other household shopping. “As a mother, the bicycle has helped me manage my time both at home and in school. I now take less time to go to school and back home. With this bicycle, I can now balance my life both as a young mother and as a student,” she says, adding that she feels safer as she can get home before dark.
In a neighbouring school, 17-year-old Hilda* is a mother of a three-year-old set of twins. In spite of her situation, Hilda still tops in her class. “I want to become a lawyer so that I defend the rights of helpless members of the society,” she says.
The now Form Three student at Mariwa Mixed Secondary school in Seme sub county knows too well that multitasking between motherhood and academics can be a challenge. “It is not easy. But my mother has been supportive.” Just like Diana, Hilda is a beneficiary of the Bicycle Education Empowerment Program, a project by Plan International that seeks to provide vulnerable school going children with bicycles as a means of transport to their respective institutions.
According to the school deputy principal Christine Anditi, the school has seen an increased student retention rate, especially among those who drop put of school due to teen pregnancies. “We often encourage the students to resume school after delivery. Currently, there are eight students who have resumed school after child birth. Two of them are in Form Two, three in Form Three and a similar number in Form Four,” said Anditi.
Douglas Ongoro Plan International Programme Manager in Kisumu says there has been a drop in teenage pregnancies in the area, a change he attributes to the use of bicycles by the girls. “Previously, there were there were high cases of early pregnancies among teenagers due to sexual exploitation among the young people and lack of knowledge among peers, “he says.
According to the organization’s area manager for Nyanza region Raphael Aoko, the BEEP project was necessitated by the numerous challenges that school going girls in the area faced such as long distance from home to school. “The project has seen an increased enrollment to the school where we have been providing the bicycles. We have also witnessed improved performance by girls who have received the bicycles. Aoko, however, calls on more partners to collaborate with the organization to ensure that no girl in the region misses school due to lack of means of transport to school.
Fredrick Aluenje, the teacher in charge of the BEEP project at St. Peters Kajulu Mixed Secondary School says that the bicycles facilitates the movement of the students and plays a big part in improving the performance of the students by managing their time. It also motivates other students to work hard and improving in their performance so as to get the bicycles.