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More than half of children missing out on school live in sub-Saharan Africa (UNESCO 2013). Most of those children are girls. A good example of this lack of gender balance is the case of pastoralist communities in Kenya, where girls are negatively affected by patriarchical traditions and practices. While pastoralists generally appreciate education, the girl child is not a priority. Stigmatized by their place on the social scale, the few who are able to go to school lack self confidence, do not demonstrate outstanding ability (whether or not they can), and are more likely to drop out of school by the age of 12 than boys. According to the IIRR 2015 baseline survey, more girls drop out than boys in upper grades in Marsabit and Samburu. The situation is worsened by the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), euphemistically referred to as ‘female circumcision’, which is performed on pubescent girls to prepare them for early marriage. Sometime girls simply drop out to take care of family chores. Many families also believe it’s a waste of resources to educate a girl because this will benefit her husband’s family, not theirs. Therefore investment in the boy child is preferred. Less than 10% of enrolled girls complete primary education in pastoralist communities.

IIRR decided to use holiday girls camps as a platform to empowering girls with life skills to help them navigate the challenges they face in their adolescence. The idea was to enable them to make informed choices, remain in school, and become productive. The camps are held during the school holidays, a time when pastoralist girls are most exposed to the risk of pregnancy, early marriage, FGM, and child labor – any of which can put paid to any hope of returning to school. The camps target girls age 11 to 16 years (grades 4 to 8, the grade level most girls are most vulnerable to drop out). All the camps are held in public boarding facilities in secondary school. This also enhances self organization, planning, self discipline, and nurturing talent among other activities. It also provides security and safety for the girls.

The camps are very interactive, and activities embody fun, interactive sessions, role modelling, and motivational talks – all designed to impact life skills, self conceptualization, decision making, problem solving, dialogue skills, and other skills that are critical as they enter their vulnerable teenage years. Local females who grew up in similar communities but who able to overcome the odds to become university students, policewomen, women chiefs, nurses, and teachers were invited to mentor the girls. Male ‘father and brother’ role models were also invited to help the girls appreciate the realities of relationships. The girls share and learn about topical issues such as careers, sexual reproductive health, relationships, and culture. They also receive assorted personal items to make their stay comfortable such as washing basin, a bar soap, tissue paper, and sanitary pads. For many of the girls, this is the first time they have owned such items and an aspect of increased self-esteem and confidence is clearly visible.

Here’s what the girls themselves have to say:
’Going through this camp is an awakening to me. I feel different about myself. I am more confident and focused. I have seen girls and women who are successful. I want to be like them. I want to work hard and join university.’
Amina Abdi, Logologo Primary

‘We have made new friends and learned so much about ourselves. We will work hard and complete school and hopefully only get married after we start working,’ interjects Amina’s new friend. ‘We will also not be cheated by young boys and men. We are wiser now!’ she chuckles.

‘Many of the things we have learnt here, we could never have learnt them in school or anywhere else, not from our parents or family. We also could not ask as we are too shy and everybody else at home is shy to talk about them…and out of ignorance, many girls fall prey to men,’ says Priscilla.

The teachers confirm the difference in the girls. ‘They are more bold and confident. They even now approach teachers after school for support in subjects as they are now keen to join secondary school. In class they are more active and they are also more positive now…I think they now know there are more opportunities for them out there if they are focused and work hard,’ says Mr Warsame, Head teacher, Logologo Primary.

The camps started in August 2014 and to date have hosted 976 girls. IIRR is planning to invite about 400 more girls in December 2015 to complete the targeted girls in 70 schools in Marsabit and Samburu counties. IIRR targets at creating a critical number of girl mentors in these communities who will regularly hold similar sessions with other girls and be role models to younger ones.

IIRR has initiated other activities to further strengthen the girl’s enrolment, attendance, completion and transition of the girls, as it appreciates that camps must be complemented with other activities. These initiatives are aimed at removing barriers that impede on these girls accessing quality education.

In school, with funding from donors, teachers have been trained in strategies that ensure girls’ active participation in class, including providing remedial classes and subject text, revision and workbooks. Girls-for-girls clubs have been formed under the girls’ council, an umbrella team of girls that provides mentorship and role modelling to other girls. Mothers for girls clubs have also been initiated in schools aimed at expanding the role and support of parents to guide and counsel them, especially during their teenage years. Income generation activities and conditional incentives like provision of books and uniforms have been incorporated in this project to motivate parents and girls to enroll.

The success of the girls’ camp also inspired IIRR to pilot a boy’s camp in Kina for 138 boys. This was also very successful and one of the values taught to them is respect for the girls and themselves. Challenges of drugs, peer pressure, early sexual activities were among the issue discussed. Successful young men and leaders as role models were also invited.