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Never too late to learn

@Paul Wambugu/ VSO

VSO's Education for Life project in Kenya is proving it's never too late to learn. 

For girls living in extreme poverty in Kenya, the “bride price” on their heads is a ticking time bomb. With millions of girls forced out of school to marry, a VSO project is proving it’s never too late for them to catch up and reclaim a better future.

When educating girls becomes too expensive for poor families, marriage can be the only viable option. Often this can be before girls reach secondary school. Once out of school for marriage, girls rarely get to finish their education and many are pregnant soon afterwards. This limits their freedom and independence. Despite the practice being banned in 2011, many girls endure painful and traumatic female genital mutilation (FGM) to prepare for marriage.

Huge progress in supporting girls’ education has been made over the last decade by projects, programmes and government funded education. But there is a lot more to do. The coronavirus pandemic threatens to undo these victories, pushing girls’ education to education back ten years and perhaps more.

Consolata’s story

VSO’s Education for Life project supports girls like Consolata who have been denied an education. Unfortunately, like her Mother and Grandmother, extreme poverty meant Consolata was forced to leaves school at 14. Left on the sidelines from her peers, and with the passing of her father, there was no money for her education.

“I left school and got married early because my family didn’t have much money. I was asking myself why I had to leave school while others continued, especially because I know that schooling helps you get a good life.”

Consolata had a happy life with her husband, but unfortunately he also died when she was pregnant. She has since returned home to live with her baby, her mother and her siblings.

@Paul Wambugu/ VSO

Consolata with her daughter outside her family home. VSO's Education for Life project has set up 'catch-up' centres for girls like Consolata to get the education and support they need and deserve.

An education for life

Since returning home, Consolata has been attending a VSO catch up centre. At these education centres designed for girls just like Consolata, girls can learn the skills they need to be independent and successful in their own right. They learn math, English and Swahili with qualified teachers. They have the support of a mentor who provides crucial life skills and advice.

Now 18, a young widow and Mam, Consolata has her sights set on becoming a hairdresser. With VSOs, and her Mother and Grandmother’s support, she is hopeful that this is finally her chance to finish her education which will set her on a path to success. “I know education will help me have a brighter future.’

The coronavirus pandemic meant the centres had to close along with the schools. During lockdown, they made sure the girls had supplies to keep up their studies at home, as well as hygiene kits and regular wellbeing check-ins.

Thankfully, the centres were able to open safely before the schools did, but during lockdown, many more girls have been forced into early marriages and will never go back to school. For them, catch-up centres like these could be their only chance to have the future they hoped for.

Girls thriving benefits all society

VSO mentor Janefar explains how “I have seen things change in this community since VSO started working here. Now so many girls want to come because they have seen the impact of the project.’’

As the word spreads, the benefits ripple outwards, even touching the lives of other girls who may have otherwise faced the same fate of early marriage and unfulfilled potential. We need to reach many more young girls who are hidden. Empowering girls to thrive benefits society as a whole. Education is the key to unlocking this potential.

The Education for Life project is active in five of the most marginalised counties in Kenya, and aims to reach 5,000 girls aged between 10 – 19 years old who are not in education.

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