Asmahan: My mentor helped me focus beyond the ceiling

“The Circle is a place where dreams are nurtured and realised!” exclaims 23-year-old Asmahan Mohamed Pogal in her parting shot at the end of the interview. True to her assertion, Asmahan’s star has been getting brighter ever since she joined the Global Give Back Circle (GGBC) as a student at Starehe Girls High School. In December 2014, she graduated from the University of Nairobi with a Bachelor Degrees in Anthropology and five months after her graduation, she is waiting to join CFC Bank after submitting what she describes as “a killer CV”, which attracted the attention of the bank’s human resources manager.

“This is a natural home where people with similar backgrounds meet and feel safe in the company of each other. You get to interact and share experiences with people who help you go through life with confidence,” Asmahan says of GGBC.

Asmahan’s story, however, was one of destitution and hopelessness. It is a story of a girl whose prospects in life would have been dimmed by retrogressive cultural practices like early marriages that ruins chances of girls in her community from achieving their dreams. She grew up in a single parent family in the remote Garissa County in the North Eastern part of Kenya where drought and the lack of basic physical and social infrastructure and traditions consign women to poverty and exclusion.

In a family of seven children, only Asmahan and her two younger brothers were able to go to school as their single mother had no means to educate all her siblings. The responsibility of catering for their basic needs like food and paying school fees was left to their maternal uncle who also had his own family to care for. The light complexioned, jovial girl was, however, lucky enough to perform well in her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in which she emerged as the second top girl in the then Garissa District.

“I didn’t know about Starehe Girls, though we had been told that the first girl in the district would be admitted to a prestigious secondary school and have her fees paid. When the application forms came, I was overwhelmed with joy to realise that I would be the one to get admission at the school on a scholarship since the top girl was a local Member of Parliament’s daughter who could pay for her own school fees,” says Asmahan.

At Starehe, she was fortunate to be selected among the second batch of girls from the school to join the GGBC process in 2008. GGBC was first introduced to the school as a mentoring programme in 2006 before it transformed into a circle to address a wide range of needs for disadvantaged girls. Asmahan says through the Circle, she was not only able to join a University and graduate, but has also developed life skills and enjoyed a lot of exposure that other girls can only imagine of.

She has attended several workshops organised by GGBC on a variety of issues ranging from sexual reproductive health, communication and leadership skills, financial literacy and job readiness. All these, she says, has helped her grow into a self-confident, morally upright and healthy woman.

She credits the Circle’s mentorship programme for opening her eyes to focus beyond the ceiling. Asmahan has had three mentors since the joined the Circle and describes the present one, Lori Godec, the wife to the USA envoy to Kenya as a great and tough lady who has helped her to do more than she believed she could achieve.

“We just clicked. We are compatible to each other and two months never passes before we meet,” she says of her.

For all the support she has received from GGBC, she has come to appreciate the importance of giving back to the society and is involved in the Circle through a mentoring initiative at her old school where she links the students with the alumni of the school.

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