Charlotte Bourdillon

Charlotte Bourdillon (Kakenya Center for Excellence – KCE): In the summer of 2009, Charlotte worked with an indigenous women's weaving group in Temuco, Chile. She received her B.A. in Community Health and International Relations from Tufts University in 2010. Prior to her AP fellowship, Charlotte also worked with a health and community-led development initiative in Haiti, called RESPE:Ayiti. Charlotte also interned at Physicians for Human Rights in Cambridge, MA. After her fellowship Charlotte wrote: “I can look at so many deliverables that I am proud of; things I am especially happy to have been able to achieve in the low-resource area I was working in."

Going the distance and the importance of boarding school: “If you see an elephant…”

05 May

A girls’ boarding school might sound very old-school British, but it is a game changer for girls’ education in a rural area like Enoosaen and the surrounding isolated areas. As you might guess, females bear the brunt of domestic work; cooking, cleaning, working in the shamba (vegetable garden) and caring for the children. This begins as young as 6 or 7, and you’ll regularly see girls carrying babies on their back or carrying cartons of milk they milked in the morning to sell in town…or both at once. At Kakenya’s school in particular, the conditions may also be cleaner, and the food certainly more balanced than at many of the girls’ homes.

In addition, several of these girls come from remote and isolated areas. They may live as far as or further than 10 km from a school, and before the EnKakenya Centre for Excellence had the capacity for boarders, many of the current standard 6 students walked two hours or more to school each way. Right now the girls are bunking in classrooms in admittedly less than ideal conditions while we wait for the (stunning) dormitory to be finished. Yet now that I have seen the distances and the demands of girls when they go home, I have no doubt that the cramped sleeping conditions are more than made up for by the benefits of the girls getting to live at school.

The story of Perenai and Seenoi (Ryle) offers a short vignette that is an extreme example of what it is like to go to school in a remote area. Over the recent 3 day break, between the end of Term 1 and the beginning of the remedial “tuition” time that is compulsory for all students during the 1 month April “holiday,” Mama Kakenya housed two of the girls from the school. It wasn’t worth the expensive 3 hour transport for them to go home. Perenai and Seenoi are girls in standard 4 this year, and they both come from right next to the Maasai Mara. They told me their story of what it used to be like trying to go to their old school from their bomas and manyattas in the Mara.

The crowd pleasing part of their story are the animals they used to encounter on their way to school, that kept them from going to school for different reasons than the average Kenyan girl. Elephants are the most dangerous; “If you see an elephant, you go back home, but if you see a lion, you can climb a tree,” they told me. Several people actually do die because of run-ins with elephants, they tell me, and if the elephants are around you might stay home from school for up to two weeks straight. Around the annual wildebeest migration, they might even not be allowed to make the journey for a full month.

It puts a whole new spin on the tourist phenomenon of the wildebeest migration, eh?

It should also be noted that these girls’ families don’t really care about education, except for Ryle’s mother. Since being widowed, she has started to be connected to various trainings and workshops held around the district for women’s and widows’ groups. There, she came to value education and also met Mama Kakenya, who told her about the EnKakenya Centre. From there, she got her daughter and their neighbor, Perenai, to apply for the Enkakenya Centre for Excellence.

For the school to make the biggest impact on the most vulnerable girls in the area, it is critical that enough funds remain to recruit and subsidize the fees of girls whose families may otherwise refuse to invest in their daughter’s education, and of girls from these more isolated areas. This is why I love Kakenya’s vision. Instead of just building a school, or even a good school, she is creating an educational environment of unheard of quality for girls here and thereby going to distance to change minds and change lives.

**I took a video of an interview with Perenai and Seenoi, but sadly I can’t upload it – maybe sometime soon you can see the images for yourself. But let’s be honest; from this point on, apologies for my lack of multimedia are probably futile. I’m having difficulty accepting that, so maybe you can bear with my repeated apologies.**

Posted By Charlotte Bourdillon

Posted May 5th, 2011

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