Asha remembers vividly her maiden trip from Modogashe in North Eastern Kenya to Nairobi eight years ago. It was her first time seeing a tarmac road, streetlights, and skyscrapers in the city.
“I had never ventured out of the remote northern Kenyan frontier and I was amazed at how my birthplace was different from other parts of the country, which are endowed with rain and a wealth of resources. I didn’t imagine that there could be such wonderful houses along the road, I just knew about the aqal hori (traditional Somali hut),” says Asha who is the second born in a family of six.
That trip to the Ministry of Education headquarters was a godsend as it opened Asha’s doors to a secondary education. She had just completed her primary school education and her future had been engulfed in darkness due to lack of school fees to continue her studies. Asha lost her father while she was still in class five and her mother’s vegetable business was barely enough to cater for the upkeep of her family, let alone pay for school fees for her secondary schooling.
Ahead of the final examinations, UNICEF was promoting girl child education in the region and had pledged to sponsor top girls from all the Districts in Garissa County. Asha performed very well and, as fate would have it, she was awarded a scholarship by UNICEF for her secondary education.
“I had no idea where my school fees would come from until I was informed that UNICEF had decided to sponsor my secondary education. My first trip outside my home was when I was asked to accompany an official from UNICEF to Nairobi to collect my school fees as well as other school requirements,” reminisces Asha.
Asha discloses that her studies at secondary school in Nairobi were an eye opener, as she was able to meet and interact with students from diverse cultural, religious and economic background while the “super cold” weather was a real challenge as it sharply contrasted the sweltering heat of Garissa. Despite the initial challenges of adapting to the school, her performance improved steadily and she qualified for university admission.
The celebrations that greeted her exam results, however, turned into a rude shock when she learnt her university education could not be funded.
“It was one of the lowest moments in my life. I remained at home as my former classmates joined university. All that I could do was look for menial jobs to help my mother all the while praying to God to intervene so I could join a University,” Asha recalls.
It was not long before Asha’s prayers were answered through a contact from UNICEF who introduced her to the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF).
“I was so happy when I got a letter of acceptance into the Global Give Back Circle program through KCDF. I realised lack of money cannot limit one from achieving their ambitions. I thank God that through the ‘Circle’, I was able to complete my undergraduate studies,” says Asha who graduated from Mt. Kenya University with a degree in Health Science (Nutrition and Dietetics).
The ‘Circle’s’ process brought more than just education to Asha. Like the other 1,000+ beneficiaries, she has gone through a number of life-changing and transformative workshops on financial literacy, life skills, work readiness, ICT and sexual reproductive health.
“From the different workshops that I have attended, I have developed self-confidence, built a personal brand, as well as a deep-seated intention to also give back while holding onto my goals,” Asha says.
Asha has a lot of nice words for her mentor, Daniella, from the Netherlands, who she says has really shaped her life.
“At first, we didn’t have a lot to talk about given our different religious and cultural backgrounds, but later on we were able to open up to each other and became very close friends. We exchange as many as five emails per month and I have built my personality and career because of her advice,” she notes.
One thing that stands out most with Asha is her Give Back Commitment, which won an award for the Best Commitment in the ‘Women and Children’ category in an event hosted by the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya. Asha, together with seven other volunteers, initiated a programme to collect sanitary pads from fellow students at Mount Kenya University, which they distributed to less fortunate girls at the nearby Thika School for the Blind and Gen. Kago Primary School. The initiative attracted the attention of the university administration, which also contributed additional cash for more supplies.
“The schools had poor admission and retention rates for the girl child, but after we intervened and began supplying sanitary towels, more and more girls were able to attend class and their performance improved. We also introduced the re-usable sanitary cups, which the students have adopted with a lot of enthusiasm while reducing their monthly cost in procuring conventional sanitary pads,” Asha concludes.