A group of girls in Year 13 have returned from a summer trip to Kenya with a strong awareness of the issues faced by girls in developing counties, in particular the difficulties they often must overcome in order to access education.
Newcastle High has a long-standing relationship with The Purple Cow School in Kenya, a fantastic school which supports girls who would not otherwise be able to gain an education. NHSG pupils took part in fundraising last year, including the Family Dog Walk and Kenya Quiz, to raise funds for the school.
In July, the girls set off for Kenya. Their itinerary was packed with exciting activities (see pictures!) and cultural experiences, but it was their time at The Purple Cow School which had the greatest impact. Hannah Rees-Middleton explains below:
“Women’s role in the Maasai is vital: they are expected to do all the physical labour, collecting the water, building huts, cooking the food and child care. Indeed, perhaps the only thing we saw the women not do during our visit to Kenya in Summer was farming. This greatly limits the chance for the Maasai women to be educated, with figures showing that only 48% of Maasai girls enrol in primary school and only 10% make it to secondary school. This is what makes the schools we visited so important in the Maasai culture, Helen the director of the Purple Cow School takes on any girl that arrives at the gates, often either alone and escaped from home or potentially with the help from her mother.
The school motto, “don’t exchange girls for cows: give them education” is important: girls are customarily married off in exchange for cattle and cash and this creates a cycle of uneducated women dependent on their husbands. The cultural barriers preventing a girl from accessing education are many. For example, when a girl starts her period in most cases she is unable to afford sanitary wear. With fundraising and our help, Helen will be able to create more reusable sanitary products and raise awareness amongst the girls so that they do not miss any of their education.
However, times are evolving, as we saw on our visit to the Maasai Women’s Village, the Red Tribe, in Olorte which aims to create a sustainable future and lasting change. A beadwork shop has been developed with 20 women now employed and the profits paying the salary of a female teacher in the Maasai Academy and creating an income for the women and their families in the project.
The academy now has 125 children with eight teachers, six classrooms, a sports field and a daily meals program. A clinic has also been created with the aim of helping eliminate preventable illnesses and deaths by providing medical care and education. The clinic is run by Florence – a highly qualified nurse who has been trained to carry out treatments and an educational programme where she visits the local schools and teaches about relevant health issues and how to prevent disease, particularly HIV.
On one of our first days in the Maasai Mara we visited an all-girls senior school to talk to the older girls. One of the things which struck us all was how similar in some ways the girls were to all of us. Lots of them had phones and social media accounts, and one of the most common questions we were asked was whether or not we had a boyfriend. That was when we saw the difference: when we told them that in fact lots of us did not have a boyfriend they were shocked.
Another thing which stood out to us was a request from the Headmistress who greeted us at the entrance. She asked us to talk to the girls about the importance of staying in school and safety precautions around preventing teenage pregnancy, as this is a major problem for girls of that age.
There were also signs around the school which reminded us of the differences in our fortunes and those of these girls: ‘being lazy will make you a slave’ and ‘the warmer the blanket the colder the future.’ One of the major things I think all of us took away from the senior school and all the schools that we visited, was that all of the girls were just like us, except they were in very different circumstances. That difference in circumstances is what we are trying to change through our fundraising.
Although it was an eye-opening experience, our visit to Kenya was also such a rewarding opportunity. We were so grateful to be welcomed and immersed in the true Maasai culture by the blessings we received by a tribe and the purchase of our ‘shukas’ (a traditional Kenyan blanket). To see the effect our contribution had on the children – so similar to us in many ways – as we gave stationery and lessons to schools, is a moment that we will always remember.”