In Kenya, as in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, girls have lower primary and secondary school completion rates than boys. Yet learning can empower girls, providing them with critical skills that enable them to become higher wage earners and community leaders.
Ms. Lois Owiti, a teacher at Kisumu Day Senior High School in Kisumu, Kenya, knows this all too well and wants to have an impact on local girls’ lives. Lois teaches at an all-boys’ high school, where she has led a highly successful MCI School2School partnership with Los Gatos High School in California. But as MCI’s Education Coordinator, Lois has also been instrumental in organizing and leading four Girls’ Clubs, a LitWorld initiative that MCI has brought to Kisumu and hopes to expand to other Millennium Cities. These clubs provide safe places for girls, both real and virtual, in which they can share and communicate with other girls – in their communities and half a world away – using literacy as a core strategy for increasing girls’ confidence and empowering them through interactions with their peers.
LitWorld recently honored Ms. Owiti at its New York City gala as one of several “LitCorps” members who serve as literacy leaders in their community. Ms. Owiti works closely with eight local teachers who have been trained by LitWorld and are working in pairs with groups of 15 11/12-year-old girls who come together each week, to engage in reading and writing activities designed to improve their skills and self-esteem. These girls are from four area schools, including Kodiaga Prison Primary School, Magadi Primary School, Migosi Primary School and Nanga Primary School.
Lois answered a series of questions about her experience with the Girls’ Clubs in Kisumu that were featured together with MCI at the highly spirited LitWorld Gala, which drew many talented artists, poets, musicians and publishers among the more than 400 attendees:
What moves you about LitWorld?
This is a club that encourages young girls to develop positive characteristics and attitude, and to value the people around them. The girls learn how to communicate these through writing and sharing stories and experiences with their peers. The girls have learned values – confidence, love, self-esteem, sharing and the value of others.
What literacy projects are you leading?
This term, we will embark on creative writing, poetry, songs and stories. This will further help the girls improve on their handwriting and encourage them to draw.
How have these projects made a difference in your community?
The girls have been a constant help in their community, helping out in church, at school and right at home. Through the learned values, the teachers have noticed change in the students – they are willing to share their stories of life back at home and hence make their teachers understand what they go through. There is a sense of sisterhood amongst the girls in the club as they exchange stories and encourage each other when times are rough. They have also donated clothes to the other girls in church or at school.
I am optimistic that the LitWorld projects will enable the girls to read better and write legibly. This will also boost their self-confidence. The reading culture will also let the girls see the world beyond where they live. I know that the schools will have more story-books in the school libraries to build a reading culture. They will be able to write letters to friends and relatives and to put their feelings on paper which is so wonderful. I know this will happen someday very soon.
MCI congratulates Ms. Owiti on this prestigious honor. We are immensely grateful for everything Ms. Owiti and our friends at LitWorld have done to bring this life-changing program to Kisumu. In mid-July the LitWorld team will be coming themselves to Kisumu, to work in person with Lois and her Girls’ Clubs teachers, to broaden their repertoire of teaching tools, and to explore the possibility of creating Mothers’ Clubs in Kisumu. We know that this remarkable project will only continue to boost girls’, teachers’ and mothers’ self-confidence, increase their appetite for learning and their involvement in their respective communities, and hopefully lay the groundwork for their realizing their full potential.