Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya

by WISER International
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Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Empower and Educate WISER girls in rural Kenya
Incoming Form 1 Girls!
Incoming Form 1 Girls!

The COVID-19 pandemic caused educational disruptions worldwide, and Kenya is no exception. After a complete shutdown of schools in 2020, the Ministry of Education designed a staggered schedule to recoup time lost and attempt to mitigate anticipated educational setbacks. These setbacks are predicted to be particularly challenging for girls, with the Malala Fund anticipating that the number of out-of-school girls could increase by 20 million before all is said and done.

The new school calendar is incredibly challenging for both teachers and students. It began with welcoming back the Form Four students in January of 2021 to complete their final two terms of Secondary School and take their national exams. We were elated that despite the challenges faced, this class once again had a 100% pass rate and was twice as likely as the average Kenyan student to qualify directly for University! Then, WISER welcomed an entirely new cohort of students for an additional two terms. This meant that instead of the three terms and 240 students WISER usually engages, we welcomed 276 unique students over four terms of academic instruction. That’s right: we taught more students more material in the shortest amount of time in WISER’s history!

Beginning in 2023, all Kenyan Secondary Schools will be required to add US grade equivalent of 7th and 8th grade as part of the rollout of a new Competency Based Curriculum in line with Kenya 2030 goals in health, technology, and economic growth. WISER will be adding 120 students in 2023 and 2024 - a 50% increase of our current enrollment capacity to 360 annually - reaching girls younger and, therefore, closer to or even before the onset of many challenges they face, including menstruation and sexual activity. We will also be able to impact them for longer in their lives directly - six years instead of four - thereby creating more opportunities to provide the support necessary for future success.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our incomparable educators, our stellar alumni interns, and of course, our dedicated and focused students for yet again excelling even in the most challenging circumstances, and to you, our incredible donors!

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Spring has sprung at WISER, and this season has brought tremendous hope and gratitude to our campus. First–some breaking, exciting news! 

The WISER Senior Girls got their KCSE results back, and they haven't just passed. They blew their exams out of the water! 100% of the senior girls not only  passed their exams, but all of them qualified for tertiary education in any form! Every single student can go on to a higher education program because of WISER. 

Our top-performing subject was Computer Science with an A average, continuing WISER’s history of excellence in STEM. And 61.40% of the senior girls INSTANTLY qualified for university and, therefore, university scholarships. The national average is 17.47% meaning a WISER girl is 3x more likely to go to university on scholarship.

We could not be more proud of the strength and resilience of this senior class.

Much more exciting news has been springing up on campus this season! While our partners around the world discussed the timing and efficacy of COVID-19 booster shots, uneven worldwide vaccine distribution meant that WISER students had a much longer wait for their first vaccine dose. 

In February, finally, WISER students were able to get vaccinated against COVID-19! After the Kenyan government rolled out vaccine distribution efforts for adolescents, WISER partnered with a local clinic to support students with accessing the vaccine. 98% of WISER’s student body chose to take this important step toward protecting the health of themselves and their communities. This change has opened up possibilities for WISER to safely return to some parts of our pre-covid “normal,” while maintaining the precautions that continue to keep our campus safe and our students healthy.

One of the most heartwarming changes came after students received their second dose. Since 2020, the multipurpose assembly and dining hall had been converted into socially-distanced dormitories. Following the guidance from local health officials, WISER safely transitioned students back into their existing dormitories, meaning that students could re-gather for assemblies together, at last. The sound of students joining together in the WISER song in that high-ceilinged landmark on campus is unparalleled–well, paralleled only by the wonderful sound of students laughing and chatting together after assembly has ended, on the way to their classes. 

Students also have celebrated the re-introduction of our Sexual and Reproductive Health outreach at neighboring primary and secondary schools. After a two-year hiatus, WISER students now host these education sessions outdoors on WISER’s campus, sharing much-needed information and offering informed guidance to peers throughout their community.

And fellow students are not the only on-campus visitors! WISER has been delighted to welcome back a team from our partners at the Segal Family Foundation this Spring, and we’re looking forward to hosting some of our U.S.-based staff in May! Many of our on-campus visitors have worked with WISER for two years or more, never having seen campus up close. WISER students are looking forward to welcoming visitors back to campus after such a long hiatus.

While COVID-19 still remains part of our daily lives around the world, this Spring, WISER is celebrating many welcome steps forward into a safe future, and many brilliant, hardworking, and determined students. All of our work to keep students well and safe relies on your support–and as spring turns into summer and students adjust to the new normal, we are more grateful than ever for your support!

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WISER students perform at year-end gathering
WISER students perform at year-end gathering

As 2021 draws to a close, we at WISER have much to celebrate, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the lives of WISER students and their communities. This year, WISER welcomed all of its students back to campus with rigorous health and safety protocols. We received our largest single donation in our history, with plans to welcome 7th and 8th grade students to our campus after the largest expansion in our history, in 2024. And our students, though their learning was accelerated after a disrupted pandemic year, have continued to excel–with our 2020 graduating class being one of the most successful and resilient groups of students yet.

This outcome was not inevitable. At the end of 2020, it was unclear when students would return to campus, what campus life would look like when they did. Many schools throughout Western Kenya did not have the financial or staffing resources to continue their students’ education during pandemic lockdowns–a reality that most negatively impacted women and girls. For the average female secondary school student in Kenya, the pandemic meant an almost immediate end to their education and opportunities for the future. But WISER’s story--and WISER girls' stories--were different.

From our food and smartphone distribution efforts to our regular wellness checks, WISER’s pandemic story in 2020 was about quick thinking, using our resources wisely, and prioritizing our students. And in 2021, when we finally welcomed our students back to campus, our story was about all this and much more.

WISER’s story has always been, at its heart, a story about our students fearlessly rising to meet the challenges they face. It’s a story that would not have ended in students completing a successful accelerated covid-safe school year right now were it not for students’ indomitable spirits and incredible determination.

We have something else to celebrate at the end of this year. After nearly two years' seperation, our cofounder, Dr. Sherryl Broverman, made a covid-safe visit to campus this holiday season. Dr. Sherryl (as WISER students call her) shared this message with the students ahead of the end of their school term:

“You can become an amazing person that someone is going to look up to someday and say, ‘Oh, I want to be like her. Look how much good she has done for the world. Look at all the love people have for her. You’re part of this chain of people who are making big steps in the world and making big change.”

At the end of a tumultuous and uncertain year, Dr. Sherryl looked out at the sea of students’ faces in front of her: students who come from down the road in Muhuru Bay and from towns far away; students whose lives changed the moment they came to WISER; students who will create a better world for each of us. These students have proven, time and time again, that when girls have access to what they need, they not only survive–they thrive. They not only make it back to campus even amid a pandemic–they make it back to campus ready to take on the most challenging year of learning they've ever experienced. They make it back to campus ready to beat the odds--again and again, every single day.

You can support these students in 2022 and beyond by making a tax-deductible, year-end gift today.

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If you were standing at the gates of WISER just a few weeks ago, you may have spotted several students leaving campus with brand-new suitcases. Dressed in graduation robes, surrounded by just a few family members, all sporting face masks, you may have guessed that they were carrying home a few last textbooks or uniforms.

You may not have realized that those suitcases are empty. And the fact that a WISER girl is carrying one is proof-positive that, provided the resources they need, girls can accomplish what might seem impossible. 

WISER’s 2020 Graduating Class had the beginning of their final school year in 2020 cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. They participated in distance-learning, completing assignments on their phones and communicating with teachers via WhatsApp, while also caring for family members and coping with the economic and psychosocial implications of COVID-19 lockdowns in rural Kenya. They came back to campus and took their final exams with brand-new physical distancing, masking, hand-washing, and student interaction policies in place, with the ever-present possibility of renewed COVID-19 lockdown.

And their scores were some of the best in WISER’s history.

In a year of almost unimaginable upheaval, 100% of WISER students not only passed their exams: every single student in the Class of 2020 has been accepted into a tertiary education program. WISER students were more than twice as likely to be accepted to university than any other student in Kenya. They continued to excel in STEM subjects, including the brand-new subject of Computer Science. They are going on to study engineering, agriculture, social work, mathematics, communications, hairdressing, and more. 

So why the suitcases? 

WISER has a graduation tradition of giving luggage to high-scoring students so that they can pack for college. Before WISER existed, the chance of a girl graduating secondary school and going on to college or university was slim to none. This year, student after student left campus with suitcases in toe.

The suitcases were empty, but they won't be for long. And you may not have been able to see through their face masks, but these WISER girls are smiling. These girls represent something WISER has known for a long time. Given the resources that they need, students can succeed. WISER girls have overcome gender-based violence, material poverty, and, now, a global pandemic, and have gone on to pursue their dreams. This is possible because of their immeasurable resilience and courage, and because they have partners like you.

When you give to WISER, you are providing the key to unlocking students’ potential. You are providing the resources that WISER students need: from textbooks to teachers, menstrual hygiene products to face masks, nutritious meals to comfortable (socially-distanced) dormitories.

Just two weeks ago, Migori County officials who inspected WISER and surrounding schools shared that WISER was the best example they had seen of effective COVID-19 prevention, and that it will serve as a model for schools going forward. It simply would not be possible to have implemented our COVID-19 strategy without the funds we raise on GlobalGiving because of supporters like you. The Class of 2020 could safely return to school thanks to your generosity. And when they did, they excelled. With their needs met, WISER students can do anything they set their minds to. Even the (almost) impossible.

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Spring has sprung at WISER!

We are deeply grateful to report that as of April 25th, WISER completed it’s first full term with our entire student population since COVID-19 forced the shutdown of our campus over a year ago. As mandated by the Kenyan Ministry of Education, our full population of students returned in January 2021 as part of an ambitious re-introduction schedule that staggers campus time for new and returning students to get back to a normal calendar year school year in 2023. 

While WISER did not have control over the government decision to return students to school, we did have agency over how our students returned, and are proud to report that we have done so without any staff or students needing to be isolated or treated for COVID-19 symptoms. We are incredibly fortunate to have renowned infectious disease researchers, public health and public administration officials, engineers, Kenyan Red Cross leaders, and more on our board and staff to help us safely navigate this new challenge. We have utilized every single resource available to us to ensure that our students, faculty, and staff are healthy and safe, including: 

1) Continuing our successful “learning pod” structure - Each grade level is split into two to three “learning pods,” meaning that students eat, sleep, learn, and spend leisure time with the same small group of students. This design allows students as normal a school experience as possible–providing continued interaction with peers–and also provides a structure for contact tracing among students and staff should needs arise.

2) Universal masking and hand washing and sanitizing stations - Everyone on WISER’s campus is required to wear a mask at all times, other than sleeping and eating, and all students and staff are provided with enough masks for a daily rotation. Additionally, there are hand washing and sanitizing stations at the entrance to every classroom and indoor space.

3) Physically-distanced dining, learning, and sleeping accommodations - Our campus has been redesigned to allow students and staff at least six feet of distance from one another at all times. Our multipurpose/dining hall has transitioned to a dormitory with spaced-out bunks, and many meals, assemblies, and meetings are taking place outside whenever possible. Our classrooms are already designed for maximum airflow to prevent other airborne diseases such as tuberculosis–and we’ve taken physical distancing one step further to keep our students and staff safe. And our dedicated teachers have transformed their own staff room into classroom space to support these efforts.

4) COVID-19 safety trainings and response teams - All students, faculty, and support staff received a comprehensive COVID-19 training before beginning to learn and live on campus again. WISER has also begun implementing COVID-19 response teams, one comprising 19 students and one comprising 7 teaching and support staff members, which are tasked with monitoring physical distancing, hand washing, masking, and other safety precautions among their peers. This peer-to-peer accountability structure ensures that each of WISER’s COVID-19 protocols are being followed.

5) Temperature monitoring and quarantine/hospitalization plans - In close partnership with the local medical clinic, WISER has implemented a symptom monitoring system that includes daily temperature screenings for students and staff and screenings at the gate for the few visitors to campus. WISER also has created spaces for quarantining on campus should needs arise, as well as comprehensive plans for supporting students and staff with safe travel to the clinic or hospital for COVID-19 treatment.

6) Setting an example for Vaccine uptake - like in many places, there is a great deal of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines, which has led to hesitancy to “get the jab.” We are fortunate to work closely with the local health clinic who received a stock of vaccines for educators and other frontline workers, and in true WISER fashion, our fearless leader Principal Dorcas was one of the first in line. She shared photos of her vaccine experience, and has worked tirelessly to urge all WISER teachers to follow her example. We are proud to report that our educators are following suit, and most importantly, all of our elder and vulnerable teachers have gotten at least their first dose. 

As a result of these measures, not only have our students and staff remained healthy, but they have been able to get back to what they do best: living, learning, and being WISER! We look forward to celebrating the indomitable class of 2020 who recently completed their incredibly challenging and competitive national exams after over a year of disruption. We expect the results of these exams - that determine eligibility and funding for tertiary education - in the coming week. As always, we are in awe of their tenacity and resilience. They truly embody the charge for which WISER was founded: to remove barriers and provide opportunities for the hardest to reach girls to overcome the challenges they face and reach their full potential. 

We look forward to what the next few months hold, and we are grateful that you are a part of the WISER family! 

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WISER International

Location: Durham, NC - USA
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Project Leader:
Emily Dake
Durham, NC United States
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