Riziki’s Story: Demonstrating the Power of the Adolescent Girl

October 26, 2015

When Riziki was just 13, a door was opened to her. Born and raised in the Viwandani slum in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Riziki was doomed to become another statistic: poor, without educational opportunities, and exposed to a greater risk of unwanted pregnancy. But then the doors to the Improving Learning Outcomes project opened just steps from her family home, and with that, a world of opportunity.

In her final year of primary school, Riziki was paired with mentors who provided critical help on homework and support with various life skills. That support proved invaluable for the young woman, who sat for and achieved her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam. The project then provided her with another lifeline: enrollment at the prestigious State House Girls High School. “The mentorship was so valuable, it helped me talk through and understand my life, the challenges I faced, but also where my strengths were,” said Riziki. “The project helped me build my confidence and my courage. Now I am also a mentor to other girls, and am able to give back to something that is setting me on my path to success.”

Through the Education Research Program of the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), the Improving Learning Outcomes project continues to mentor and support young girls living in Korogocho and Viwandani. Each girl enrolled in the project who passes her KCPE receives a one-time stipend to purchase school uniforms and school supplies upon admission to secondary school, helping to mitigate some of the stigma of poverty that can prevent girls from staying in school.

Riziki’s spirit and hard work embody this year’s theme for the International Day of the Girl Child: the Power of the Adolescent Girl. With support, mentoring and a bit of a financial leg up, she is well on her way to achieving her goal of becoming a neurosurgeon. “The sky is my limit,” she says. Achieving the goals established under Kenya’s Vision 2030 is possible only if key stakeholders across the education sector focus on securing the future for girls by enhancing their access to education. As US President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Kenya “One of the most successful development policies you can pursue is giving girls an education, and removing the obstacles that stand between them and their dreams.”

At APHRC, we are providing a robust base of evidence to support President Obama’s words, and Riziki’s dreams. Studies indicate that relevant primary and secondary education for girls can benefit entire communities. For instance, this report shows that the better educated a woman is, the more likely she is to have a smaller and healthier family, which she can support with higher earning power. One economic analysis estimated that a 1% increase in the proportion of women enrolled in secondary school can generate 0.3% growth in annual per-capita income. According to a 2005 report by the World Bank, secondary education boosts a girl’s future earning by a margin of between 10-20 percent. Kenya has done quite well to secure education as a basic human right guaranteed by its 2010 Constitution, offering a solid foundation for the government’s commitment to education and for extensive reforms in policy, legislation, and curriculum development.

However, gains in girls’ education can only be realized when completion of primary school is accompanied by transition to secondary school. Kenya, like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, must commit to increasing the number of girls who continue with their educations once they reach adolescence. At APHRC we are committed to improving girls’ participation in schooling along the entire education continuum, from primary school to tertiary education including post-doctoral studies. We are currently leading an intervention in two Nairobi slums to improve learning outcomes and support the transition to secondary school for girls, in partnership with Miss Koch and U-Tena: two local community organizations.

As we mark the International Day of the Girl Child we encourage the government of Kenya to demonstrate its commitment to girls and support investment in urban communities to keep girls in school and improve access to secondary education. The role of education in a country’s social, economic and political development cannot be overemphasized. It is a right that should not be denied our girls, to support their contribution to the improved health and welfare of their nation.