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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

WISER is and always has been more than a school . . . we are a family, and like a family, we take care of each other! 

All over the world, communities are grappling with the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Strict measures to contain the virus, such as closing schools, markets, and nonessential businesses, imposing stay-at-home orders and curfews, and shutting down international borders are deeply necessary. But as we have seen in many communities, these measures reveal existing disparities and create new challenges for families like unemployment, inadequate healthcare, and increasingly, food insecurity.

Job opportunities, which were scarce already, have all but disappeared. Muhuru Bay is based on a fishing economy due to its location near Lake Victoria, but most fishing takes place at night, when insects and the fish that feed on them can be lured to boats with small lights. However, due to the pandemic, 7pm curfews have been put in place, preventing any night fishing, and putting dozens, if not hundreds, of fishing boats at risk of losing nearly all of their income.

Even if residents have money for food, there is not enough food to go around. Muhuru Bay is located in the westernmost part of the country, in a remote area that is hard to reach by car and air travel. Muhuru Bay residents usually cross the border to Tanzania where supplies are more affordable or shop at local open-air markets. These avenues have been closed or dramatically limited by social distancing measures.

This leaves WISER students and their families in a dire position.

We heard from students that their families are struggling to put food on the table every day. We believe that no one in this community should go hungry. So while we will adhere to and respect national and international policies for containing the virus, we are quickly, safely, and intentionally redistributing our existing resources and procuring new ones to ensure that our students and their families have what they need to survive, right now.

Under the leadership of WISER’s principal, Madame Dorcas, campus security staff (the only staff still on campus) have pivoted to begin distributing relief packages containing over 20 pounds of non-perishable food staples, including maize, flour, sugar, and beans, as well as hand soap. Girls receive free transportation to campus and come in small groups to maintain social distancing. Each relief package, which contains a month’s worth of food staples to support a family, costs just $25. 

Over 150 girls have already received enough food products to sustain them and their families for the next month, and we committed to provide all WISER girls with these resources for at least the next three months. Overall, this is a $12,000 commitment we have made to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. We are so grateful for our GlobalGiving family, and appreciate your continued support in such an uncertain time. 

We wish health, safety, and stability to all of you as we weather this storm as a global community! 

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For many of us, stressing over a test is something we remember all too well. I know that I have friends in their 40s who still wake up in the middle of the night, having just jumped out of a nightmare in which they forgot to study for a quiz. It's something nearly all former (and current) students are familiar with - the desire to do well, mixed with the fear of what might happen if we don't.

Now imagine sitting for a single test that had seemingly everything riding on it.

The WISER girls, just over a month ago, finished their KCSE national exams. The KCSE is daunting; a three-week long test with as many as 11 different subjects administered for as many as 6 hours per day. To make matters more intense, the results determine not just your final grades in Kenya, but whether or not you graduate from high school, whether or not you are eligible for college, whether or not you can receive scholarships, and even what you are allowed to study

The levels of mental fortitude, practice, dedication, and preparation needed to thrive in those conditions are nothing short of jaw-droppingly impressive. And every single WISER girl is up to the task. 

For the seventh year in a row, 100% of WISER girls have passed the KCSE in an area where fewer than 10% of girls do so. 

You read it right–all members of the Class of 2019 passed their exams with flying colors. The scores of every student qualified them not just to graduate from high school, but to attend higher education programs, which means that all students graduating WISER this year have the opportunity to enter a certificate program, a professional course, or a four-year university degree.

Of those students, 55% of them scored highly enough on the KCSE to earn full university scholarships from the Kenyan government. That's over three times the rate of success across the rest of the country. Plus, for the fourth consecutive year, physics was one of WISER's top 5 highest-scoring subjects - which is not the case for the average girls' school results nationwide.

And where is all of this success coming from? From girls who live in one of Kenya's most remote fishing villages. From girls who are the first in their family to even enter secondary education. 

From girls who have been tirelessly putting in the work needed to succeed. 

Our mission at WISER has always been to establish an environment where girls can thrive - free from limitations based on their gender, poverty, disease, and more. But establishing the environment, offering support, providing resources, etc. only goes as far as the students are willing to go. And wow, the WISER Girls sure are willing to go as far as they can. Our team in Kenya and in the US often returns to the metaphor of a door - our job is to open a door for these gifted, brilliant young women. But we don't have to lead them through the door. We only have to get out of the way. 

These young women have been tirelessly preparing to seize opportunity their entire lives. And for the past four years, the girls in WISER's class of 2019 have been doing just that. Last month was the ultimate example to date - but more is on the horizon. Soon, these same young women will enroll in college, they'll begin their professional lives, and they'll serve as mentors, beacons of success for girls that come after them. 

It's safe to say that the hard work has paid off.

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There is an infectious joy in the air when WISER gathers together to celebrate. Whether it’s graduation day, a national holiday, or even when WISER girls dance and sing their hearts out simplify for the joy of it on a weekend, the community takes notice. So when the entire school population took to streets for International Day of the Girl this month, the community took notice! 

Equipped with banners loudly and proudly announcing the power of the girl child (GIRLS ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD!), WISER marched through Muhuru Bay on October 11th to remind everyone that girls are a force to be reckoned with. And while we've made tremendous progress in recent years, there is still work to be done. 

International Day of the Girl began as part of the United Nations’ renewed commitment to women and girls under the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. This means not only keeping girls in school, increasing access to reproductive healthcare and menstrual hygiene products, ending child marriages and all forms of sexual violence, and making sure women are in leadership roles at every level of society. This commitment also recognizes how investing in women and girls around the world is the key to solving other complex global issues, from ending poverty and hunger to making political and social institutions more just and equitable.

WISER girls have learned that when women and girls succeed, our world succeeds. When they were entering primary school, girls in their community faced insurmountable odds. Sexual violence, lack of access to sanitary products, early pregnancy and marriage, and economic hardship meant that girls rarely finished secondary school, and almost never made it to college.

Almost a decade later, WISER’s investment in the education, healthcare, and wellbeing of girls has meant hundreds of girls with secondary school diplomas, clean water for a whole community, sexual and reproductive health education for thousands of primary schoolers, sustainable energy and farming on campus and beyond, and greater economic potential for women and their families.

But while these are the most visible ways that WISER girls have changed their community for the better, even more importantly, WISER girls have changed how women and girls are valued in their community.

Women and girls used to be expected to stay in the home, with little control over the economic and healthcare choices of themselves and their families. Now, girls are marching through the streets, making their voices heard.

The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl was “Unscripted and Unstoppable" - an effort to highlight how girls rewrite the scripts of gender-based bias and violence that are present throughout the world and use their power to make unstoppable, vital, and extraordinary changes in their communities.

WISER girls are doing just that, not just by sitting in classrooms, but by showing the girls younger than them growing up in Muhuru Bay that they have potential to be unscripted and unstoppable, too.

In these girls’ lifetimes, they have seen a cosmic shift in the roles of girls in their community. WISER girls are here to celebrate all that girls are and all that they can be, as all of us, our staff, our supporters, our volunteers, and our students, work together to build a future where every girl is educated, well, and able to follow her dreams.Together, we're going to flip the script of gender roles and gender violence and see girls become unstoppable forces for change in the world.

What a reason to celebrate.

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New WISER alum Linah fights for representation
New WISER alum Linah fights for representation

The year is 2013. The sun is high over the brightly-colored tents at the center of WISER’s campus and WISER’s very first graduating class is sitting up straight in their chairs - proud, confident, and ready to be among the first women in their community to pursue a university education.

In one of the back rows, still just a little too short to see over the heads of parents, grandparents, and community members, sat a girl at the top of her primary school class. Linah was one of three students from her local school chosen to attend WISER’s first graduation ceremony. Despite excelling at her schoolwork, poverty made her feel uncertain about her odds for continuing on to high school.

But Linah was certain of one thing: she wanted to be in those chairs - to be like those WISER girls who were graduating and on their way to university.

The year is 2019. That same bright sun shines over those same bright tents. A crowd of WISER students, families, guests, and primary schoolers gather around another group of WISER graduates, and Linah is there again. Only, now, she sits in a different place.

“Now, I’m done with secondary school and yes, I'm going to university.”

Linah is a member of the class of 2018, which recently celebrated their graduation from WISER. She and every other girl in her graduating class beat the odds for their community and qualified for admission to university. WISER’s class of 2018 is brilliant and powerful, and Linah is no exception.

The determination and grit that Linah has put into her studies has inspired her to not only pursue a degree in medicine, but to transform the face of that field for future generations.

“I want to specialize mainly in surgery, because it’s not something a normal doctor does. It’s something you have to study. And only a few surgeons are women, so I want to be one of them.”

There are hundreds of girls that will look up to Linah as an example now. And at her graduation ceremony this year, Linah kept an eye out for some of the girls who are just like the little girl she used to be - craning their necks to get a glimpse of WISER’s class of 2018, to see themselves reflected in an image of success.

They were there. And thanks to Linah's trailblazing and the dedication of supporters just like yourself, those little girls are going to have a chance to become WISER girls themselves. And who knows? They might even join Linah in the operating room one day.

Thank you for creating these moments that demonstrate not just the power of lifting up young women, but the power of generational change. This work is not possible without you!

Linah at her WISER graduation ceremony this year
Linah at her WISER graduation ceremony this year
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WISER gives nutritious meals to hundreds of girls
WISER gives nutritious meals to hundreds of girls

WISER's multipurpose hall is bustling with activity.

It's a Friday evening and over 200 girls are gathered in teams, huddled over tables, discussing the critical issues in their community of Muhuru Bay, Kenya. One group mentions a sexual and reproductive health training session coming up soon, another talks about the recent international visitors to campus and when they might come again. And in the background - as far back in the room as you can go - a separate team is also bustling: WISER's kitchen staff. 

The title of "unsung hero" suits the WISER kitchen staff well. On a supremely active campus, they often take a backseat to the constant academic grind and the busy day-in day-out programs that the WISER girls love so much. But in this region of Kenya, thousands of girls are forced to leave school because of food insecurity. Lack of nutritious meals at home and at school leads to students who are distracted by hunger, youth who are ill or malnourished, and, ultimately, girls who are not set up for success. 

It is in that environment that, over the last 9 years, the WISER kitchen staff has served nearly 700,000 meals to girls on campus. They are the driving force behind keeping girls healthy and fed. They are the stewards of girls' wellness. They turn WISER's on-campus sustainable garden into a source of energy and stability for hundreds of young women. And despite spending most of their time tucked away in the kitchens, they are as critical of an intervention for the girls of Muhuru Bay as the teachers that stand at the front of our WISER classrooms.

To the WISER team, this is what it means to offer a truly holistic intervention for girls: that while you, as a generous WISER supporter, provide essential medicines and textbooks and safe housing, you also provide the leafy green vegetables that were chopped that Friday evening. Together, our supporters and our kitchen staff are the reason that a girl sitting in a university-quality lab under solar-powered lights is focused on her chemistry homework and not her growling stomach. 

Unsung heroes, indeed.

It is an honor to celebrate that bustling team in the back of the WISER hall. And it's an honor to celebrate you, as a supporter of WISER's work. Thank you for being one of the heroes that keeps girls thriving!

Head cateress, Rose, leads WISER's food efforts
Head cateress, Rose, leads WISER's food efforts
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Organization Information

WISER International

Location: Durham, NC - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @WISER_Intl
Project Leader:
Sherryl Broverman
Durham, NC United States
$412,944 raised of $500,000 goal
 
5,372 donations
$87,056 to go
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Pay Bill: 891300
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