Lenana Girls School Students
As donors of the Girls Dormitory, I want to report on the great work that Common Ground Program is doing for girls at Lenana Girls School. Lenana is a school that enrolls disadvantaged girls who have no means of support but are very bright. The school teaches leadership, entrepreneurship, and business training.
Judith Mutinda, Head Master at Lenana gives a view into what Student Selection trips are like for Lenana Girls School:
On the last trip to Makueni County, we stayed one night in Wote (a small a small rural village). There are no hotels worth mentioning, but the small bandas with a few rooms so we were stayed there.
We’ve had incredible interviews that showcase Lenana Girl to perfection. And then…there are interviews that change your life. There is a familiar pattern we get into when we do an interview. You sit in a circle around a table; we each have our pen at the ready to record poignant comments. Judith Mutinda, our field partner begins by introducing the Lenana School staff members. She has the kindest and most smiley face. She tells the girls that we are writing down the things they say because we want to remember them, and not to worry. Then, she kindly asks the girl to introduce herself to us.
Many girls start with their names, age, names of parents and their primary school. Some stand to attention while doing it, others are prompted to speak louder so that we can hear them. The first part of the interview is to ascertain their financial need, often asking questions about older siblings who had gone to school, occupation of the parents, and learning about some of their challenges regarding education. The second part of the interview is to see if they are a Lenana girl. We ask 4 basic questions in the second part of the interview. The last part (third) we ask questions to check their willingness to participant in our community service projects.
We have a policy that we don’t tell girls if they have been accepted to Lenana until we have finished all interviews. But we broke this policy during our last trip to Makueni.
Her name is Vivian. She comes from Makueni. Her father disappeared leaving the family in the hands of her jobless mother with 7 children. Vivian is the fourth born child. She takes care of the family when her mother is away making and selling ropes. Her mother earns an income of Kshs. 1, 000 (US$ 12) per month from the sale of ropes. Vivian’s two siblings are in local school secondary school and the third one dropped out of school for lacking school fees. Being a girl, Vivian is the mom in the household. She is 14 years and taking care of her siblings.
I wasn’t sure about her upon first meeting her. She didn’t volunteer to go first in the interviews; she was actually the last. But she did look me in the eye when we shook hands. And when she went to introduce herself she spoke loudly and clearly, more so than any other girl we had interviewed. After her introduction, we were all speechless. I’ve never been so lost for words. This girl was the Mom, the caretaker of her whole family. AND she got a 385 on her KCPE. That is so high for the circumstances. When we went to do our 4 questions in the second part, she shut down. She wouldn’t answer at all. We stopped and asked Esther and Sandra to leave the room. We breathed in deeply together, twice. We reiterated our instructions. And then she started talking.
Women should be educated because they have mercy and help other people. If she could change her area, she would bring in HIV testing centers, bring ARVs to the hospitals making sure that zero percent die of HIV and plant a garden. She, at first, claimed she wasn’t a leader. When we prompted her about her home life she said, yes, she teaches her family about cleanliness, how to organize, how to live in a clean compound, and teaches the importance of education. We told her that was being a leader.
We asked her what she’d feed the children tonight if her mother wasn’t going to return home that day, and she looked incredibly forlorn. She said, she’d go to her neighbors and ask for 1kg of Maize. For those of you who have been here, Maize is about the size of hominy and I swear you burn more calories chewing it! We asked what she ate for Christmas, and she said her mother bought wheat flour so they could make chapati.
I wish I could pass to you the feeling from the interview. It is rare that at the end of one, we weep. And both Judith Mutinda and I wept, we could barely pull ourselves together. We all hugged each other at the end of the interview just for comfort because we know what a scholarship like ours will mean to this amazing girl. We asked if she could take us home. On the way, we stopped for some basics– salt, oil, sugar and tea leaves, maize flour, and wheat flour. She told us shyly that she cuts her neighbors’ bushes for firewood for cooking.
And we went to her home. At night her mother made her way home with a few coins barely enough to buy a small packet of maize flour. Words can’t describe the condition of the home they are “squatting” in.
But the best moment was when we were standing around, and Mr. Joshua said,”Vivian, because you have been so amazing to your family, we want to give you a present. We want to give you a chance to go to a Secondary school.” The village elder who was present and Esther burst into tears, and Vivian? She broke into a smile that split her face, just as her 2 youngest siblings ran up to the house from school. It was one of the most poignant moments of my life.
Her maternal uncle pledged to take on the family while we take Vivian to school. It felt like a happy ending. And in a way, it was. But really, it is only just the beginning of a long road for Vivian. I’m just so glad that Lenana gets to be her bridge to a better future. Vivian is the reason we started Lenana Girls High School. And she is the reason we did not inform the first 25 girls we met that they had been accepted to the school. But the last trip to Makueni, we broke that rule. That night as I snuggled into bed, I slept well because we’d helped change the life of a girl.
I am happy to share this lovely story about the work at Lenana.