Every time Penninah came to the river to get water, she remembered it with shame … on this rock, her mother had laid her new born brother with the twisted legs and left him to the crocodiles. Dying is easy in Penninah’s community; it’s living on less than $2 a day that’s hard, with no resources and no welfare.
Penninah is completing her second year at Sekenani Girls High School and is excited to receive full sponsorship for this year’s fees from a man in England. For £300 per annum, Penninah receives full tuition and boarding with 3 meals a day. Here, she can focus on her academic studies, develop her personal and vocational skills and build friendships that will lead to social and maybe even professional networks in the future. Penninah is cautiously ambitious as the first in her family to access secondary education – her father completed primary education only and her mother has always given her written consent with a thumb print.
Already at school Penninah has learned to share in decision making, learned the power of teamwork, the processes of democracy and how to speak for herself and others – things she would never have experienced if she had followed custom and become a child bride with the likelihood of pregnancy at 13 or 14 years of age. Perhaps the greatest relief is avoidance of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The girls are simply not in their villages when the cutters come. Safe in school, the acquisition of rational thinking, business acumen, social integration and academic qualifications will provide Penninah and her friends with valuable alternatives to a life of physical drudgery, isolated dependence and poverty.
Eliza is the second daughter of her father’s third wife. Aged 11 she was orphaned, reducing her low status further. She was very vulnerable with no mother close to her – at risk of sexual abuse,
HIV and FGM when the cutters next came to the village. She had been moving from place to place and had no stability in her life. She was likely to be married off by her relatives while still a child.
Luckily, she was able to complete her primary education thanks to the generosity of her church and she applied to our school. Our current admission requirement is a score of 250+ out of 500 for the certificate of primary education. Eliza’s score was just 208 – she had less than half marks for each of the 5 subjects . However, ETC uses a number of criteria to identify potential – things like non-verbal reasoning, creative thinking, problem solving. Eliza was curious, bright and energetic and performed well in these, so we admitted her, aware of good reasons why her primary school score might not be reliable.
Eliza worked diligently to make the best of this surprise opportunity, excited to be studying with her peers, making new friends and dreaming with them of the possibilities ahead. She was even more encouraged when she learned that a lady in the UK is paying her school fees (£300 per year) for her 4 years at school. Safe and free from anxiety, Eliza is thriving. Not only is she a disciplined student but she enjoys takes part in cleaning, watering and assisting the cook.
At the end of her first year at school, Eliza moved from 27th to 15th in the class and was awarded the certificate for the most improved student. Last month, Eliza completed her second year at school in 5th position and we know she will compete for first place in the academic year to come.
Eliza dreams of becoming a pilot so she can fly around the world and make a difference.