Creating Chances for a Better Life

three girls smilingIn Thika, the central province of Kenya, WEM Integrated Health Services (WEMIHS) provides a set of programs to improve the well-being of children and vulnerable families. In 1998, three founders used their own resources to start the organization. When they entered households, to provide home-based care services, they were quickly confronted with the situation facing adolescent girls. They found that young girls were the primary caregivers of the sick and the dying. Girls as young as 11 were caring for their sick mother – nursing and bathing her, cleaning, cooking, and caring for younger siblings. There was little time for school or play. Girls were scared, insecure, and needed emotional support.

WEMIHS responded by creating the Responding to AIDS among Youth (RAY) to increase girl’s chances for a better life. By providing support and services to young people who are out of school, they introduced new opportunities and connected girls not only to their own potential, but to their community and to each other. Their impact on the lives of girls who were part of that program is documented in our 10th Anniversary Report .

Valuing the importance of education in transforming the life choices of girls, WEMIHS also developed a program to help girls succeed in school. In order to create a more supportive environment, they trained teachers on child counselling. They created forums where WEMIHS staff and the teachers engaged in dialogue with parents and guardians. If families were struggling at home, they enrolled the adults in their sustainable livelihood program. Because friends are an important influence in life, they formed a peer-training program to encourage girls to be a positive influence on each other.

And for young girls like Susan, this has made a world of difference.

Susan, a 12-year-old girl, lives in an agricultural area in Thika District. The area, known for “thuggery,” is a “no go zone” at night. Living in such an environment, Susan learned to cut corners. She used to cheat in school by copying other people’s work. Susan would even bully and intimidate others into writing it out for her.

In 2009, the head teacher, looking for students who demonstrated leadership potential, selected was Susan to be a peer educator. She attended a three-day course and gained knowledge that would help her negotiate the dynamic years of adolescence. Learning about drug abuse, child rights, sex and relationships, she realized that a peer educator is one who understands and respects other people. The training widened her perspective and she started thinking of herself differently.

Susan stopped cheating. As soon as she began to do her own work she started doing better on her exams. Her test scores rose from 260 to over 350 points.girl doing school work with paper and pen With one year left at primary school, her new attitude positioned her to achieve the additional 50 points needed to qualify for a really good secondary school. And if she is able to achieve 400 marks out of a possible 500, she will qualify for a secondary school bursary from WEMIHS or the school.

This opens a new world of opportunities.

And that’s just the beginning. As Susan and other girls involved with WEMIHS make the transition to secondary school, they’ll continue to receive support and encouragement. In a region known for poverty, marginalization, and vulnerability, where more than half of the households are living in poverty, programs like WEMIHS make a big impact.

WEMIHS has been a Firelight Foundation grantee partner since 2001. Previously funded under the Nike Foundation’s Grassroots Girls Initiative, WEMIHS is a showcase of the power of grassroots organizations. Firelight will publish a case study about its work with the Nike Foundation’s Grassroots Girls Initiative later this year. Stay tuned.