A second chance for women in Mathare Slums, Kenya
Covid-19 pandemic has compounded difficulties faced by girls living in informal settlements in Kenya. In March 2020, at the height of the first wave, schools were closed leaving millions of children to stay at home and those from underprivileged backgrounds, especially girls were exposed to multiple vulnerabilities. For Susan Achieng, founder of Inua Kike (Swahili for women rising), this period has been busy in her community based organization in a bid to make sure girls and vulnerable families can get assisted.
Parents lost livelihoods, most moved to poorer living conditions and some children even lost their parents to the virus. “With students nationwide out of school and often idle, there was an increase in gender-based violence cases, which in turn gave rise to diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Studies have shown that the vast majority of girls fear defilement and only 25% feel “safe” outside of their homes or schools” Susan reveals. For most students from informal settlements, school is the place where they feel safest. Whilst these challenges have always been present in the slums, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the already difficult situations that many children especially girls experience on a daily basis.
Having lived the life herself and dropping out of secondary school in 2006, Susan walks right in the shoes of majority of the girls she serves in Mathare. “I was inspired by my story after dropping out of secondary school in 2006 and going back 8 years later to sit for national examinations (KCSE) in 2013 as a private candidate. Coming from a family of 6 siblings, it was not easy for my parents to take us through school. The certificate got me a better job which was not possible before”, she asserts. Education accomplishment is still a challenge for many in Kenya, but especially for girls and women.
Statistics indicate that, only 20% of the female population aged 15+ complete their secondary school education. “This is indicative of not only high barriers to accessing education but also an extremely high drop-out rate, often due to issues such as early childbirth, forced marriages, poverty, and an overall patriarchal culture where women are not as valued to receive education as men”, Susan indicates. The KCSE certificate serves as a primary means for entrance into Kenyan public and private universities. Without it, one’s ability to access higher education, and in turn gainful employment, is severely limited. Many jobs, even informal ones, also require KCSE certificates.
The everyday life conditions in the home environment never changed even with passing time making Susan resolve to assist young women (18-35) turn their lives around by gaining higher education credentials, build their social and financial independence and personal agency for a better future. “I realised there were girls dropping out of secondary school, just like I had, due to early pregnancy, lack of school fee and early marriages but would love to go back to school and get the KCSE Certificate so that they can achieve their dreams but do not have the means to do so. This is why Inua Kike was born,” says Susan. She adds that, “As holders of documents that indicate they passed through secondary school, our women have a chance to use their education as a foundation for social mobility.
Additionally, by addressing access to education from an adult re-entry perspective, we can help break generational cycles of not only poverty but also poor academic results for the children and family members of the women in our programs”. Somesha Kike (Educate a Woman) is the flagship pilot through which the women are assisted to successfully pass the exam for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) through test preparation, guidance, and a supportive community. After receiving their KCSE, Inua Kike supports women to look for work, further studies, or start entrepreneurial ventures.
Parallel to the education program, Inua Kike provides a monthly mentorship program ‘My Story, Her Story, Our Stories’ that gives women who are not beneficiaries guidance in adult reintegration to formal schooling, access to rights, and safe spaces to discuss challenges they face.
At the advent of the pandemic, the organization had to step up extra efforts to not only mitigate the impending challenges but continue with old programs albeit with adverse difficulties. Inua Kike social volunteers and teachers had to adapt quickly to ensure the continued safety and academic nurturing of these girls. “Our team rolled out support group discussions in order to inform the girls about Covid-19 as well as cultivate broader life skills. We had mentorship sessions, providing the girls with much needed sexual education and relationship building skills which helped them to safely navigate personal relationships,” Susan reveals.
Beyond these initiatives the volunteer workers had to find ways to monitor the living conditions of the girls and the young mothers at a social distance. “In most cases, our staff stayed in touch over text messages or cell phone. In the case of the most vulnerable, or those most difficult to reach, home visits were carried out to ensure the continued well-being of the girls and the young mothers,” she continued.
The girls and young mothers in the mentorship programme also received emergency food support and some parents were also recruited into the INUA KIKE’s Women Empowerment Program where they earned income to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as gowns for use in clinics, and masks that were distributed freely in Mathare and Baba Dogo communities targeting around 200 families.” We had baskets of food stuffs to donate to our young mothers and ladies in Mathare, Korogocho, Mugure, Jangwani and BabaDogo. We reached out to more 450 young mothers and girls”, adds Susan.
Aside from the continuing activities, Inua Kike also conducted and participated in workshops to fill the gaps left due to restricted movement during the lockdown. “18th August 2020 was the first day of a three days event on Gender Quality at home. The project was being done in Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana. We were glad to partner with Strathmore University and University of Glasgow. The second workshop which happened on 20th August 2020 was about Managing Household Finances.
With couples it is important to work as a team on Financial Issues. Budgeting together allows you to plan your spending in a more effective way. By doing this together you are more likely to achieve financial goals that will benefit the whole family”, Susan explains more about the aims of the workshop. The 3rd day of the workshop on 25th August 2020 focused on Goals For Our Children. Parents who took part were encouraged to resolve on shared responsibilities in bringing up their children, planning for their future and creating an environment as well as messages in their homes that affirm goodwill for the future of their children.
“On 26th September 2020 we also had successful mentorship training on Self Awareness and Stress Management to help young girls and boys cope with this unprecedented season of Covid 19. At the end of the session, we distributed sanitary towels to the 26 girls that were in attendance”, adds Susan. 14th March 2020 was also the anniversary celebration for the first (2017) and second (2018) Somesha Kike Program cohorts who successfully sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) as private candidates.
All these responsibilities and activities have come with a lot of challenges during such an uncertain period of time. “Covid- 19 has really affected not only us but everyone else, from the change of school calendar to limited resources to run our programs. Right now we are still struggling to keep our programs running and we need any support we can get right from learning materials and monetary support as well to pay the teachers and the space where learning is taking place”, remarks Susan.
Many parents in the area have lost livelihoods due to the economic effects of the pandemic meaning that more children will drop out of school due to lack of fees and other essentials. “Our wish is to extend our help to these children to proceed to high school and continue with their studies. We have limited resources that won’t allow us to give a helping hand to any extra children. Right now we have 15 young girls who are going through the program and will be seating for their exams next year. As much as we would wish to reach out to more it can’t be possible and we ask for donors and partners who can come through so that we can continue with this great program to help these young children achieve their dreams in life”, she emphasizes.
Going forward, Susan Achieng wants to ensure that the program can be self sustaining and cater for more needy cases which in turn will build prosperity in her Mathare community at large. “We are planning to have an ICT hub for Inua Kike which will help our girls to improve their skills by learning computer packages, designing, photography, videography and other employability skills. We will also offer other skills like car washing, tailoring and hairdressing. Once the participants attain the kills, they will take part in the sustainability income generating activities for Inua Kike”, Susan explains. All these plans will require external monetary support to be successful. “We are looking for supporters to help us actualize all these idea in all ways”, she continues.
“I would love to be remembered as a lady who stood by the young mothers and girls who dropped out of secondary school by inspiring them to continue with their studies and fulfil their dreams in life” Susan reveals cheerfully. She describes herself as a change maker who would want her work to be remembered in her community and leave a legacy to last for many generations to come, leaving the community better than she found it.