Nairobi student takes on primary challenge

Seventeen-year-old Rachel Nyokabi Wanjohi is one of the fortunate 41%* of young people in Kenya who are enrolled in secondary or tertiary schooling. While 83%* of children are enrolled in primary school, many public schools face real challenges in meeting the government’s commitment to provide good quality, universal and free primary education.

For example, though most children are enrolled in school, in lots of districts more than four in ten pupils miss school daily and on average there is a shortage of four teachers in each public primary school.

Rachel knows that she is one of the lucky ones, because she goes to a prestigious international school in Nairobi. So affected was she by the issues facing a government primary school not far from the Kenyan capital, that she made an extraordinary commitment, through her Gold Award programme, to support the school and its pupils.

Barriers to education

On visiting Wairuri Primary School (pictured below), in Maragua, Central Province, Rachel was confronted by a host of challenges including a lack of clean water, first aid facilities, sports equipment or a library. She also found that school books and stationery were in very short supply.

The girls in particular were facing many barriers to continuing their education, including a lack of access to sanitary pads and an emphasis on early marriage which meant that many were pregnant by the age of 13.

Rather than feeling completely overwhelmed by what she experienced, Rachel has determinedly picked off one issue after another. She hopes to improve living standards for the pupils, encourage them to stay at school and thereby improve their future prospects, and to motivate them to believe that they can bring about change in their own lives.

Fundraising efforts

Calling on fellow students from Braeside High School to help, Rachel collected KES30,000 (approximately USD362) through fundraising activities such as bake sales. This purchased a 6000 litre water tank. She also secured enough funding to purchase sanitary pads for the girls for a period of three months, so that they did not need to miss school.

Through sponsorship, she was able to raise sufficient funds to plant trees in the school, so that each pupil had a tree to look after.

After collecting and distributing stationery from students at Rachel’s own school, Wairuri pupils’ marks rose by an average of 20 points. More importantly, their self-esteem rose as they realised that they could do well at school if they invested time and energy in it.

Future funding

Rachel has many further ideas for supporting the school, and has secured KES150,000 (around USD1,812) from EAMUN (East African Model United Nations) to continue her work. She has also won a Council of International Schools International Student Award in 2011 to recognise her contribution to promoting ‘global citizenship and the development of international awareness’ in her community.

Her focus on making a difference in some very specific ways marks her out as a great change-maker, who won’t let the size of a challenge dampen her belief that it can be overcome.

Key facts

  • One in ten schools in Kenya have no usable toilet, four in ten schools have no drinking water, less than three in ten schools are issuing sanitary towels and only one in four schools have a stocked first aid kit.
  • On any single day, 13 out of 100 teachers are not school.
  • Source: Uwezo Kenya 2011 Assessment Report on the country’s education.

Further information

*Source: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (IUS), Global Education Digest: Comparing education statistics across the world, UIS, Montreal 2011

Photograph of Kenyan school children by Angela Sevin