When I first met Catherine in 2013 she had a very tough job on her hands.
Students at Kagasek Girls waiting for their first lesson of the day to begin
Catherine is head teacher of Kagasik Girls Secondary in Western Kenya, which provides a low cost education to girls who could not otherwise afford to progress beyond primary school. To get an idea of what this means to the students, this is how one of the girls sums up her life before enrolling:
"I was born in the year of 1995. I am the 6th born in a family of eleven children- five boys, six girls. One of my sisters passed away at the age of four. My parents have always been poor and can hardly afford one meal a day. There has often been quarrels and fights between my parents.
In the year of 2007, my mother left us and went to an unknown destination. She left us with a very irresponsible father who hardly buys food or clothes for us. During the year of 2009, all my siblings left home, men were employed as herd boys while my sisters were employed as house girls. Since then none of them have returned home. I have lived in a small hut with my irresponsible father. We eke our living out of begging for food from our neighbours.
During the year of 2010, I sat for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and I became the only one in our family to have completed primary school education. I never envisaged that my education could go beyond that level but, thanks to our neighbours, Kagasik girls secondary and the principal, I now have this opportunity. They understood my plight and came to my rescue.
I was admitted into form one in the year of 2011. The school has provided me with a school uniform and food during lunch. If there is no supper for us at home, the lunch we take at school keeps our lives moving."
This story is obviously very personal, which is why I have left out the name and changed some of the private details – however, it is true and very similar to the lives of all the girls enrolled at the school.
Although Catherine is a fantastic head teacher, she faced some serious challenges in keeping the school going. The school had no dormitories and so the girls were either walking long distances to school or sleeping in classrooms. Lack of books meant that reading materials had to be shared in class. The teenage and adult students were having to use broken desks that were too small for them as they had been salvaged from a local primary school. But above all, the school suffered from an acute shortage of clean water.
The girl’s main source of water was a dirty pond some distance from the school. This was shared with livestock - when Catherine first took me to visit there was a cow having a bath in it. To make matters worse, the pond was on private land, and the landlord was threatening to prevent the school from accessing it. All this meant that the girls who were enrolled in the school had their education disrupted by the inevitable water borne diseases they contracted and the time lost in collecting water. Also, Catherine felt that a lot of girls who could afford to attend the school weren’t enrolling because of the state of the water supply and so were missing out entirely on their secondary education.
One of the new rainwater harvesting tanks at Kagasek
The old water used for drinking on the left and new water on the right.
The impact of this small intervention has been dramatic. The school enrolment has increased from 50 to 200 students and Catharine has reported a significant reduction in water borne diseases. The water project opening ceremony was also pretty memorable with over 1,000 community members turning up to celebrate – you can see the highlights here - http://digdeep.org.uk/kagasek-primary-and-secondary/4576459746
I was lucky enough to have a cup of tea with Catharine at the school a couple of weeks ago. She told me that while the school still has a lot of challenges the increased enrolment, and the extra funding and parental support this brings, have helped her solve many of the other problems she faced (while I was there a delivery of adult sized desks arrived to jubilant celebrations by the girls!). She also told me that if it wasn’t for the water project happening when it did, she would have given up and gone to teach elsewhere – her job had just been getting too tough. I personally think she was being overly generous and would have battled on regardless, but it’s always good to see how one of our projects can make such an incredible persons job a little easier.
Dig Deep is continuing to support Kagasik Girls School. We are currently training teachers and students at the school in the best ways to improve hygiene and menstrual health management (which is one of the biggest barriers to women’s empowerment) and are constructing toilets so that the school has enough for the increased number of students. You can support these and other projects here - http://digdeep.org.uk/donate/4574813866
Catherine in her office at Kagasik Girls