The scenic road to Homabay town meanders among hills opening up to Lake Victoria which is a beauty to behold. The roadsides are lined with traders displaying different agricultural produce in a bid to make sale. On the outskirts of the town is Gwasi sub-county from whence the beauty of the lake abounds. At mid-morning the azure sky reflects on it giving it a perfect blue. Beneath the calmness and beauty of Gwasi though, lies a sad reality; that of the plight of the girl child. A high rate of school drop-outs among the girls, early pregnancies and marriages, has bedeviled the area. Merab Okwara, a Program Officer at Undugu Society and a Mobilising Support alumnus, paints a grim picture of the situation with tales of a certain primary school in the area which had only two girls sitting the national examinations. The reality is grim. The chances that a girl will complete her education in Gwasi are low. It is at Gwasi that Undugu Society of Kenya (USK) has set up office. USK’s presence in the village has to do with these challenges and more. Among the solutions that USK proffered in Gwasi was lobbying for a once a week mobile court in Magunga centre to address the child abuse cases that were so rampant in the area. They also developed small advocacy groups in 54 villages they work in and initiated a program for mentorship and child champions. Mentorship forums are held during school holidays where different partners including the church, parents, teachers and local mentors are invited to talk to the girls. The forums are organized by cluster level associations which were set up by USK and meet once a month.
Following these initiatives, the community has responded well. Members of the community can now report cases of abuse and last year alone Gwasi saw 26 cases reported. “We strengthen communities to participate in various processes e.g. the budgeting process in the county,” says Cliff Ochieng, Director at the USK, Gwasi office. “The child well-being protection policy is now in the final stage and we have been part of it since its inception.” These solutions have given birth to significant change as girls who are in schools in Gwasi now have hope. Take Diana Auma Oluoch, for instance. She is a girl of conviction. A student at St. Charles Wiga Secondary School in Gwasi, Diana is in school on a scholarship and has beaten all odds to get to form four. 90% the girls in her class are young mothers whose parents chose for them to go back to school rather than get married off. “I want to be a role model to my siblings and other children. I reflect back to my parents’ struggles and I know I want to make it out of here and make something out of myself,” she says. She is a second born in a family of six and her parents are farmers. Advocacy plays a huge role in a society such as this. The cluster level associations formed by USK meet once every month and the self-help groups once every week. Samuel Chwowe, a farmer, is the secretary of a cluster level association in his village of Wiga. He is also an alumnus of Change the Game Academy having taken the Mobilising Support (MS) course courtesy of USK. After the MS training, his association decided on mentorship forums to address the village’s challenges. “All the members in the Wiga CLA are parents who understand where the shoe hurts. The main issue we saw was that there was a majority of girls dropping out of school,” he said. They also sought to find the solutions to the problems that their children were facing by utilizing mobilising support skills and advocacy. “We want a safe environment for our children and we envisage that we can continue this role of advocacy and ensure that the voice of the community is heard,” he said. The group also reaches out to the county government through advocacy.
Every Saturday, the mentorship forum takes place under a mango tree in Wiga village at one of the CLA member’s home. There, children practice song, dance, and poetry to keep them busy while nurturing their talents. Before USK’s intervention, the girl child’s education in the area was really low, and even though there have been improvements, a lot remains to be done. They hope that their efforts on protecting and educating the girl child will bear fruit eventually.