The joy of returning to school
In Migori, Kenya, catch-up classes are helping girls who’ve dropped out of school learn and laugh again.
A place of refuge
“When I come here I feel safe, I’m taught well, so I can understand the lessons. I get to mix with other students and we learn together,” says Florence, who started attending one of VSO’s eight catch-up centres after leaving school in grade 7. Due to struggles at home she could not afford school fees or her school uniform and shoes.
In Migori, southwestern Kenya, catch-up classes are offering girls like Florence a safe and supportive space away from their often-turbulent home lives. The classes welcome girls back to education after dropping out, catching them up on the learning they missed out on. Here, girls learn maths, English, Swahili and life skills.
Some girls were forced to drop out of school and get married to ease the financial pressure on their family, some girls in attendance have children and some families don’t believe in the value of educating girls.
Nineteen-year-old Jane, who was forced to drop out at 14 to get married, says her family doesn’t approve of the catch-up classes.
“My mother-in-law says I am wasting my time at the centre,” says Jane, “and I should be out working in the fields.”
“She says I failed to finish my schooling while I was living at my parents’ home, so I shouldn’t fool myself that I will finish this time.”
“Despite her words, I try to be brave and I still come to the centre to learn.”
The importance of role models
The teachers at the catch-up classes are supported by VSO volunteers to make the learning fun and interactive, as well as providing quality teaching using structured lesson plans, with the three-hour classes running three times a week.
Alongside their teachers, each girl has a mentor who they can talk to about any problems they’re facing.
Elizabeth, who left school at 11, said, “I have a mentor at the centre – her name is Regina. I love her so much because she teaches me well and is cheerful. Sometimes she dances with us until we are all smiling on our faces.”
This relationship is so important because Elizabeth has faced so much adversity – when she was just 11 years old, she was forced into marriage. By the time she was 13, she’d given birth to her first child. The catch-up classes have given Elizabeth the opportunity for play and laughter and to be a child once more.
Jane also has a good relationship with her mentor, Hellen: “She always gives me good advice and whenever someone tries to tell me the centre is not a good place, Hellen always encourages me to stay in class and avoid distractions, like boys who may mess with my education.”
VSO in consortium with Action Aid International Kenya and Leonard Cheshire have supported over 5,000 adolescent girls aged between 10-19 years to go through accelerated learning where they have acquired functional literacy, numeracy and life skills to enable them transit to the world of work.
A turning point
Over the course of six months at the catch-up centres, the girls develop their skills, build their confidence and prepare to take the next step. Each girl chooses whether to return to mainstream schooling, join a vocational course or take an apprenticeship to learn a trade. VSO provides funding to support each girl in her next step.
“I’m happy because the things I do at the centre will help me in the future. One day I hope I will become a hairdresser,” says Jane, who is currently working in a salon as an apprentice.
Elizabeth said, “In the future I want to have my own small business – a grocery shop. I will sell tomatoes and green vegetables, and make enough money to buy soap to wash myself and my clothes. This will make me happy.”
Through the catch-up centres, girls are becoming financially independent, and inspiring other young girls to follow in their footsteps and not give up on their dreams.
Making dreams happen
The catch-up classes have changed the lives of girls like Florence, Elizabeth and Jane.
However, right now, so many more girls are stuck at home, forced into marriages before the age of 16, that can often put their health and safety at risk.
These girls have dreams too. If you can please consider giving a special gift today in support of helping girls catch up on learning - and life.