Religion was never an obstacle in Ms Fatuma Mohammed’s pursuit to help girls pursue education in Nyatike District.
Here, education for boys has for a long time been given priority, with girls being married off to raise money to educate their brothers.
The area has been cited among those with high level of illiterate women in Nyanza Province. But the childhood memories of 36-years- old Mohammed have shaped her conviction for the role she plays today.
“As a girl, I witnessed the plight of the girl child in my Macalder village and that changed my life,” she says.
Fatuma, a staunch Muslim decided to work with Christians from Italy to bring change to her community by ensuring hundreds of girls get primary and secondary school education.
She was horrified that a girl who has just completed Standard Eight and passed well was married off in exchange for cattle to educate her brother who had failed.
‘’I thought of doing something to help improve girl-child education .I looked around to find a solution and God answered my prayer, ‘’she recalls.
This is when she decided to work with a local priest, the late Fr Joseph Borlini, an Italian who had started an organization, Paullo for Kenya, to improve poor living condition of villagers.
Now, 15 years later, even after the death of the priest, Fatuma has remained loyal to the programme and intends to improve girl –child education in Nyatike District.
Recently, the Prime Ministers’ wife Ida Odinga appealed to well-wishers and the Government to support girl- child education in the district. She launched an initiative to promote girl-child education.
‘’Parents must ensure they treat the girls with a lot of care and show them parental love just like any other child. We want to improve girl child education,’’ she said.
Paullo for Kenya is a team of abut 200 Italians helping orphans and vulnerable children (mostly girls) in Nyatike. The team has contributed founds to build a nursery, primary and secondary school.
‘’The region has only two secondary schools for girls so we have decided to add one. We shall see this done to benefit the girls,’’ says Fatuma.
Because of the drought that has affected the area for long, girls are forced to walk long distances to fetch water for domestic use and to look for water, something that has negatively affected their performance in class.
So far, about five water points have been drilled in some badly hit regions.
Mrs. Beryl Ouma, the principal of Alendo Secondary School, says the Italians have brought change to the institution, which they built and left for the Government.
‘’The school they built is now for girls, though it started as a mixed school. They have also drilled water nearby where we use solar energy to draw water to our institution and now we have no water problem,’’ she says.
One of the founders’ Boni Pasquale says there are plans to build dormitory and supply more boarding facilities to ensure the institution was providing enough accommodation for the girls.
‘’We shall continue to work with Fatuma and bring more help to poor children and more so girls since they have neglected. Girl- child education is very important and we must support it,’’ says Pasquale.
Fatuma says there are already 130 girls being sponsored by the organization to secondary schools, even though some have also been sponsored at village polytechnics.
‘’There are some girls who don’t score grades that can take them to secondary schools so we try by all means to ensure to send them to village polytechnics and do what they can best,’’ she says.
A sewing school has been built in Karungu that is already training over 30 girls who have not got the opportunities to join secondary schools and plans are underway to establish computer and engineering centres specifically for girls.
‘’We shall offer them courses on mechanical engineering and computer so that we produce girls who can compete in the job market,’’ she adds.
Ms Claris Akinyi, 16, is one of the beneficiaries at the sewing project after sitting her KCPE exam at Mbani Primary School and not making it to secondary school.
‘’Many girls have benefited from this sewing school. After finishing, we have self- employment and there are those who have been successful in life,’’ says Akinyi.
The Nyatike District Commissioner Allan Machariri says the organization has helped the region in promoting girl-child education and other projects.
‘’There are many girls who are now going to school because of them and so many other projects in the region that have helped the community around here, ‘’ Mr Machariri says.