In her own voice: A youth leader explains why mentoring and girls’ education are vital in Kenya

Juliah, 18, is a peer educator who participates in FHI 360’s Four Pillars PLUS project in Kenya. Funded by the GE Foundation, the project uses a model of student scholarships, professional development for teachers, mentoring of girls and community participation to improve the quality and relevance of education for orphans and other children, especially girls, in secondary school. Another component of the project is addressing the challenges of youth employment by helping young women successfully transition from school to the workforce.

Juliah was invited to New York City by Johnson & Johnson. She is participating in a youth storytelling session related to Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 on improving the health of children and women.

In her own voice: A youth leader explains why mentoring and girls’ education are vital in Kenya

Photo Credit: Zack Langway/Johnson & Johnson

What challenges do girls in Kenya face in receiving a quality education?

First, there is the barrier of poverty. The high cost of school fees often does not allow girls to enroll in school, because they cannot afford the books, supplies and uniforms. Even if they can pay their fees, they often cannot afford menstrual hygiene products, and without them, their learning is interrupted due to school absence. Next, discrimination in society and school makes it difficult for girls. Girls are only seen as future mothers, wives and caretakers. They are not seen as capable of tackling difficult subjects such as math and science. Because of this, girls often have low self-esteem and lose interest in school. They also fear sexual harassment and violence, which can make traveling to and from school dangerous. Finally, girls are expected to take on many more household duties than boys and often cannot devote adequate time to their studies, causing them to fall behind.

How has the Four Pillars PLUS project made a difference to you?

Four Pillars PLUS paid for my school fees at a boarding school, where I was able to get a quality of education that many girls could not. At boarding school, I had more time to study because I no longer had to do chores until late in the evening. I did not have to fear for my safety as I did when I walked long distances between school and my home each day. As a result, I studied hard and finished secondary school with a B+ average.

Receiving mentoring helped me to deal with discrimination. It allowed me to see myself as a person with the same opportunities as boys.

Why did you decide to become a peer educator?

As a peer educator, I give support to other girls. Teen pregnancy, early marriage, sexual violence and HIV are some of the serious issues affecting girls. I teach my peers how to say “no” to unprotected sex and unwanted advances from men and also to avoid early marriage. I used to be shy, but mentoring built my self-esteem. I want other girls to have the same experience.

I chose to be a peer educator, because I believe that a problem shared is a problem solved. I cannot help my classmates financially, but sharing challenges and giving support help to solve many problems.

Why is the Four Pillars PLUS project important?

Through this project, girls’ enrollment in school has increased. Girls are gaining an interest in education. When girls see that others care about their education, they are more motivated to enroll in school and continue in it. This project makes girls aware of the real issues that affect them. They learn about the importance of education and health and how to take good care of themselves.

What is your message for other girls who are confronting similar challenges?

I would advise girls to be confident in saying “no” to anything that could hurt their future. They especially need to say “no” to unprotected sex and early marriage. For a better future, they need to set goals and work hard to achieve them. Girls also need to be mentors to each other. They should feel free to discuss their challenges and help their peers solve problems.

Juliah is applying to university, where she hopes to study tourism management. Read another perspective on the Four Pillars PLUS project.

Watch the video below from Girls’ Globe to hear what Juliah would like to see global leaders focus on in the post-2015 development agenda.

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