How Boke is focusing on her future
Boke is supported by the Girls' Education Challenge Transition (GEC-T) project in Kenya. We look at the impact the Covid pandemic had on the project and how Boke is looking to inspire other young women.
At age 17, Boke was at risk of dropping out of school forever.
Not only did she face barriers and stigma in her community because of her visual impairment, but she also experienced abuse after becoming pregnant. And her community shunned her, calling the pregnancy a curse – a punishment to the family for allowing a disabled girl to attend school.
Being supported by the Girls' Education Challenge Transition project
Boke had been supported to attend school through the Girls' Education Challenge Transition (GEC-T) project. They provided her with the resources she needed to attend school, including school supplies, dignity kits and reading glasses.
And her teachers were also trained in inclusive education and able to support her in class. She also attended child-to-child clubs which helped her integrate with her peers. The clubs provide a safe space for people to learn about disability rights and form friendships with other students.
How the Covid pandemic change things
When the pandemic hit, people could not attend school and child-to-child clubs in person. The inclusive education team worked to make sure Boke could continue learning. Boke was given a radio by the project to help her during her home-based learning.
This meant Boke could take part in distanced learning through educational programmes on the radio. Her teacher also visited her at home to ensure she had the support she needed and help with tasks if required.
Attitudes towards young mothers
During this time, Boke became pregnant. And this meant she became very vulnerable to dropping out of the education system forever, especially as community attitudes discouraged young mothers from going back to school — particularly those with disabilities.
Boke's mother explained: "People verbally abused us, some would even tell me to abort my daughter's pregnancy. I refused. If a child gets pregnant she should be allowed to go to school to study, to get a job and get her own money."
After consulting with the GEC-T team, Boke's mother reported the matter to the area chief and the Department of Children's Services. The project team facilitated counselling and psycho-social support for Boke throughout her pregnancy and following the birth of her son, David. And, after they had helped Boke manage these massive changes, Boke was convinced that she had to return to school.
"There were times I felt that I wouldn't amount to anything, and to some point, I felt that my parents shared the same sentiment. The provision of the dignity kit came through at a much-needed time, and it helped boost my self-esteem.
"During that period, continuous visits by the C-to-C teacher really helped me stay updated with the syllabus and learn about life skills, " explained Boke.
The GEC-T team also worked with the community to challenge stigmas and misconceptions around disability. Their treatment of Boke soon improved. And she grew in confidence as she prepared to go back to school.
"It was very hard to face my fellow learners," Boke said. "But after getting support, I saw sense in going back to school and not putting my life on hold."
Now, Boke is back in school and keeping her dreams alive. She shares parenting duties with her mother, visiting her son each lunchtime. And she believes that neither being a child with a disability nor a young mother should prevent anyone from accessing her education.
"Boys go and study and finish school and they get given jobs. But if girls study and finish they are told that they can't go back to school. They should get married for [dowry] cows. But I would advise the village that girls should go to school, so that they can get the jobs that boys get. My fellow girls I would like to advise you to study and continue with your lives," she said.