From the word go you are born disadvantaged. You are born a girl, which in itself isn’t a disadvantage in the true sense of the word but you are born facing hurdles in your path. You are not even aware of them, not consciously, at least. You see them growing up, how boys are cut slack at home and in school. In fact, you grow up aware that education isn’t exactly something that is expected of you to triumph in, or even give too much dedication. Everybody will be happy at whatever stage you fall off.
You are named after love; Mapenzi Brenda. It’s like a sweet song sung during harvest, a tune from a bird’s beak. It’s the smell of rain on dry thirsty earth. It’s a feather falling gracefully to the ground.
You go to Ziwani Primary School, in Kipini, a stone’s throw from the brown Tana River. It’s like any modest school in the area; patchy at the very most. A few blocks facing each other reluctantly, a small school farm where some students are punished by hoeing, and a borehole donated by some sympathisers where a clutch of children squeal as they drink from during breaks in lessons. The lower primary classes are made from mud and sticks. There are gaping holes in the wall, natural AC, if you will. The upper primary is semi-permanent but incomplete. A massive tree that never sways stands near the edge of this square, casting a large shadow from where visiting parents sit for an audience with teachers.
School isn’t easy. In fact, school is an uphill task. But life has to go on; the bell rings when the bell rings. Lunch time you stare at each other because there is no food, at least not before another well-wisher starts a feeding program. Kids often faint from hunger. You grow lean and strong and your body adapts to the challenges of feeding it once a day.
You perform dismally in class but you aspire. There is a small fire inside you that you don’t know who or what lit. It’s a flicker that can easily be blown by a sneeze, by a snag, by a word of discouragement, or by an environment that works to eat your ambition, not nurture it. You look around and find no role models. There are no sophisticated women who come driving to school to give talks in high heels evoking hope and ambition. The women you know toil in the dry earth, digging and planting and praying for rain. The women you know stay at home to raise children. The women you know don’t know other women they would have fashioned their lives around. They are your aunts and sisters and cousins. Mostly their realistic aspirations are marriage and motherhood.
So you turn to your radio to escape; an old transistor radio that crackles. A gift from your father.
At dawn, before the grey light slips into the small hut you sleep in with your siblings, you turn on the radio at a very low volume. You listen to a particular journalist, Boniface Musambi. He comes on every 5am with his confidence that punctures the still of the morning dawn. You wonder about him; what he looks like, where he sits at 5am, why he sounds so fluent, so engaging, so worldly. You let him escape with you each morning. You dream of being a journalist. You dream of being on radio but to be on radio you have to be in school.
You trudge on.
In class seven you get into boarding school. Your dormitory was once a class. The toilet is outside, and the toilet is the bathroom. There are no windows, just a grill. You and a bunch of other girls pursuing their own dreams sleep on mattresses on the floor with thin covers or no covers. You can’t say you are used to the cold at night or on very hot nights, the marauding mosquitoes. It’s desperate but you want to be a journalist. You want to be on the radio at 5am, for the world to listen to you. Your grades suffer but again everybody’s grades are so bad. Some girls just give up and stop coming to school altogether. Sometimes it’s easy to just get married and have children.
The headteacher – Marion Bosire – holds meetings with teachers. “Are these children prepared for exams next year?” she asks them rhetorically. “Some can barely read or do simple Math!” One day a bunch of important-looking people drive into the compound. Important because nobody hardly ever drove into the school compound. Students in classrooms crane their necks to have a better look. The visitors have meetings in the headteacher’s office and much later you will learn that they are from People’s Action for Learning [PAL] network and Regional Education Learning Initiative [RELI]. They had come to introduce a program called Accelerated Learning Approach which is about Foundation Literacy and Numeracy that advocates for reading and writing as a core value for every student like you from impoverished regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. That program, as it turns out, may have changed the course of your life.
You and other students join the program. You especially dig into it with your teeth. You wake up at 4:30am to study and sleep later and later. During the day you study with the teachers of Accelerated Learning. You are suddenly reading better, and writing better, and your confidence is growing with the pen. Unbeknownst to you, other girls in Tana River, girls and boys with dreams from radios and televisions and books are on this program. There is Marahumprey Neema from Idsowe Primary School in Garsen. She’s twelve, the second born of a family of three girls and two boys. Her mother always tells her that she is her ticket out of poverty, something no mother should ever tell a child but these are no ordinary circumstances. She lives with her grandmother and her mother in a permanent house by the main road. Her dad took off. They have a dog called Bruno who is one year old, a mongrel. Apart from her family, she loves Bruno more than anything else. She wants to be a veterinary doctor. She wants to take care of dogs because she feels she understands the language of dogs.
The Accelerated Program is preparing hundreds of girls like you and Marahumprey to face the national exams and gain access to decent secondary education. When exams come you are emboldened with confidence. In fact, you are looking forward to it. You sit for exams and it’s not as bad as you imagined it to be.
One day as you sweep the compound with a short old broom, a neighbour says you are needed in school. The results are out. You finish your chores and for some reason, call it a habit, you wear your school uniform and head out to school. It’s a hot and stuffy day, the kind of days that have promises of elusive rain. You wait leaning against a beam in the verandah outside the headteacher’s office.
She’s smiling broadly when you walk in, a not-so-common occurrence because smiles don’t belong on headteachers. Her office is full of books and old files. The open window lets in the smell of the heat of the sun. You stand stiff because you are still a student in your heart. I have great news for you, she says, you scored 364 out of the 500 marks. You are one of the highest in the area. Your name is on a board in her office. You hardly hear what she says after that. It feels like a dream, a mistake, something to wake up from. She’s saying something about pride and hardwork but you don’t catch her words because you’re crying. You are crying from shock and relief. You step out of the office and run all the way home with the good news in your heart.
One day you might remember this day as the tipping point of your life. Maybe you will experience many of those but this one might take the biscuit. Maybe you will become a journalist or maybe you will find different passions along the way. Whatever the case, you are here and you feel like your life has been accelerated by the learning program.
Yeah…. education is the game changer for alot of people..
I hope the children in these conditions find the strength and help they need to get to where they want to be in life
There’s hope, hope for all that choose to look within and break the barriers.
I’ll bet; not Biko.
I love how you shown us everything. I can see her hardwork.
Hahaa, to the contrary, in the modern world that we are in, being born a boy is the disadvantage. You are born a boy, you are one goal down against life. Born in a financially unstable family, you are 0-2. Ikuwe hushiki masomo, the goals are 3 now. Aalafu biashara ikukatae, man, you are 4 goals down and you have only one lifetime to equalize before you start scoring against life.
You can say that again. And, again.
Truer words… and again!
0-5 if you re a first born……..the pressure is getting weeser (tiktok lingo)
Many children become disillusioned adults and the cycle continues because no hand is stretched to pull them out of the situations they are born in. I pray they get this lift.
A kid in an interview for a scholarship in a program I worked in said he wished his parents were dead, shocked I asked why and he said his orphaned friend gets help but he cant since he has parents, that changed the program we were working on at the time.
This is sad. Children teach us things. They hold the mirror to things we might not want to see. Glad to changed the programme.
They say men get promoted for just being men yet women don’t get jobs just for being women, I’m enthralled by the wokeness of gen z though
Thanks for keeping us in track
Ah yes. It’s beginning to smell like Christmas.
Epic piece Biko!
Wow! Access to quality education is key. It makes dreams valid.
I’m routing for all these girls. I no longer take my privilege for granted. Very nice read.
As a person whose life was changed solely by education I can relate. I married very late, early 40s…by design not choice, I missed out on the campus party life and so many other experiences but the fact that I turned around the fortunes of my family and siblings. I am at peace.
Education is an equalizer in all aspects of life. When you’re privileged to help others kindly do so.
You will never regret it as you are reducing the dependency ratio. Adulthood has taught me to be very grateful for opportunities we take for granted. Lots of love .
You are a confirmation that everything happens in its own time. Life is not a race. I’ve just hit 30, and still hoping to get my degree someday and turn mine and my family’s fortune around.
Biko, Its stories like these that make me cry. Reading inspiring stories like these of what people have gone through to make it on life makes me shock with tears of joy. Having grown in the rural areas, i can relate to the story, i have been in those mud classes, (jigger infested), i know those mosquitoes all too well. Its heart breaking to know what many kids in Africa have gone through to make it in life.
This story makes me feel like partnering and supporting such noble initiatives to touch peoples lives and make an impact in society.
which part of Meru are you from Kithinji? I come from Kithaku area
This piece hits me real hard, somehow it reflects my life, the primary school, kids drinking water from a tap, the mud classrooms with natural AC and yes all the piece, except am i a journalist? No! My dreams kept changing depending on the storybooks i read, but one thing is that i am currently on a master’s program abroad on a scholarship because of the small fire, the desire to read. So dream on girl, keep on dreaming. It’s all worth it in the end.
This has made me shed tears.I am grateful to God for the people who held my hand and allowed me to dream.May God bless them.
This really sounds familiar to me. I’ve not yet achieved my goal but I hope to get there.
Education is the key to success but the padlock changed.
“From the word go___”
Education is the game changer.
All my life I have lived in town and believed that anyone who scored anything below 350 marks in primary school was a failure till recently when I got an opportunity to stay in a village and let me tell you, there are kids who can’t even garner anything above 200 marks. It’s even a miracle for a school to have more than 5 students who have scored 300 marks and above. There is hope for her, keep winning girl.
This is a beautiful write up, enchanting…
Reading this and something deep inside me got ignited. Keep dreaming girl
Such stories keep me pushing hard since it’s my desire to pay school fees for such girls in the near future. A day at a time, IPO SIKU!
A pick me up story.
We all need a positive once in a while.
Happy for you Semikaro.
….the faceless person on radio can take a young mind very far….
That part of role models scares a lot…
so beautiful, looking through the eyes of that beautiful gal in Wanale PRIMARY school
Sometimes life is so interesting. It might not be tonight, tomorrow or the next day but everything will always fall into the right place. Hanging on hope is what we live for.
Such an inspiring story
Dreams and dream enablers