Residents of Kenya’s North Eastern province are an ethnic Somali community who rely on livestock for their livelihood. Chronic poverty has left many hungry and the region’s vulnerability to climate change means food insecurity continues unabated. The region has the lowest school enrollment rate in the country, the highest poverty levels and the highest infant mortality rate, according to government figures.
Rampant poverty and the community’s adoption of traditional gender roles mean girls face numerous barriers to learning. Education is seen as delaying marriage. Even families who support girls’ education face several obstacles, including raising enough money for school fees, uniforms and books. Infrastructure is also among the most underdeveloped in Kenya making physical access to schools an additional challenge.
Without an education, girls are stripped of the power to make their own life choices.
Pastoralist Girls Initiative (PGI) works to remove the obstacles encountered by pastoralist girls seeking a dignified life. PGI has built classrooms, health centres, science labs, and water and sanitation facilities. It has also set up a training and mentorship programme on leadership to help girls become more independent within their communities and raise their level of political participation.
PGI has initiated girls’ forums and holiday camps in schools to build the confidence and self-esteem of the girls to enable them advocate for their rights and fight against cultural beliefs such as early marriage, female genital mutilation and boy child preference over the girl child.
The Livelihood development programme has helped the community learn about livestock diversification in order to meet the challenges faced as a result of climate change and recurrent drought. PGI also teaches community members about resource management, helping them access water through the creation of water pans, connecting piped water to the villages, and developing water catchment for schools in order to harvest rain water.
To date, PGI has directly benefitted 4,100 people, 85 per cent of which are female.
Photos: Thandiwe Muriu