Asha Aden, 23, remembers vividly her maiden trip from Modogashe in North Eastern Kenya to Nairobi seven years ago. It was her first time to see a tarmac road, street lights and skyscrapers in the city.
“I had never ventured out of the remote northern Kenyan frontier and I was amazed at how my birth place is 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 in Jogoo House was godsend as it opened Asha’s doors to access secondary education. She had just completed her primary school education, scoring 312 out of a possible 500 marks in her final examinations and her future had been engulfed in darkness due to lack of school fees to continue with her studies. Asha lost her father while she was still in class five and her mother’s vegetables 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 area 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 St. Georges Girls Secondary School in Nairobi was 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 when she sat for her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 2010 she scored a B – (minus), qualifying for University admission.
The celebrations that greeted her examinations results, however, turned into a rude shock when she learnt Northern Kenya Education Trust Fund through which UNICEF paid her school fees could not support her for University Education.
“It was one of the lowest moments in my life. I remained at home as my former classmates joined universities and colleges. All that I could do was to look for menial jobs to help my mother all the while praying to God to intervene so that I join a University,” Asha recalls.
It was not long before Asha’s prayers were answered through a contact from UNICEF who introduced her to KCDF. Asha applied and after several interviews, she was awarded a scholarship to study at Mount Kenya University.
“I was so happy when I got a letter of acceptance into the KCDF girl child program dubbed Global Give Back Circle initiative. I realised lack of money cannot limit one from achieving their ambitions. I thank God that through GGBC, I was able to complete my undergraduate studies,” says Asha who will be graduating from Mt. Kenya University with a degree in Health Science (Nutrition and Dietetics).
The GGBC process brought more than just education to Asha. Like the other 600 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 having 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 de Winter from 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 mails per month and I have built my personality and career around her advice,” she notes.
One thing that stands out most with Asha is her give back commitment project, which won an award for the Best Commitment under Women and Children category in an event hosted by The American ambassador to Kenya in 2014. Asha together with seven other volunteers initiated a programme to collect sanitary towels 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 in Thika. 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.
The transformational process called the Global Give Back Circle (GGBC) process provides Kenyan girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of them orphans, the opportunity to acquire quality education, life skills, work readiness exposure and financial support to escape the cycle of poverty and empower the next generation by recipient girls giving back to their societies. GGBC integrates partners from the Public and Private sectors from all over the world. There are over 20 corporate partners and International Organizations supporting the programme.