Mentoring Girls

September 20, 2016 | | Uncategorized

The main gate of Moi Girl’s High School- Eldoret was closed and padlocked at 7:40a.m. We hooted, but no one opened, so we made our way to the smaller gate. The security officer was there, clad in blue like a police officer. The burly man walked to us.

“How are you?” he asked.
“We’re fine, how about you?” Ben –my film Director- asked back.
“I am fine. You are here to see who?”
“Mrs. Ogutu,” Ben replied.
“Mrs. Ogutu? Did she tell you to come?”
“Yes, she did ”
“Oh. Did she say ‘I am coming?’”
“Yes she did.”

The girls were in the chapel singing ‘Dare to do right, dare to be true’ when we parked. Mrs. Ogutu came shortly afterwards. Apparently, she is one of the team of five that wrote the chemistry books studied in high school. Shortly afterwards, she took us to the Physics laboratory when a class walked in. In a very organized manner, they picked weights and scales and immediately set about carrying out experiments. Mr. Kioko –the Physics teacher- didn’t have to instruct much. He walked around, observing keenly, only helping out groups that were a little slow.

“Why do you love sciences so much?” Ben asked a group of girls.
“Because it is real. It is everyday life.”
“Because I want to prove that they are not just a male thing.”
“Because we have been socialized to believe that they are difficult subjects that only men can do.”

The bell goes and there is a class change. The girls move fast, and we have to hold the interview because of sound. Jemimah, a prefect among the group we were interviewing smiles and leaves the room.
“Excuse me, please use the other stairs,” her voice goes. Very surprisingly, the girls immediately obey. They were right at the top of the stairs but they immediately turned back Jemimah returns, calm, as if it was a regular thing for teenage girls to obey instructions from their peer without a fuss. The discipline was outstanding.

“What do you want to be in future?” Ben asked when the din died down.
“A software engineer.”
“A biochemist.”

So much confidence at 17. Great articulation and eloquence.
Later, as we were chatting with Mrs. Ogutu, she said, “We are very open with the girls. Whenever they have an issue, they inform us and we talk about it and make adjustments where possible. We try to make the learning environment very friendly here.” The same sentiments were echoed at Kereri Girls High School in Kisii, a four-hour drive away from Eldoret. The girls we talked to said that Miss Aska was their favourite teacher. She teaches Chemistry. “You know learning has a lot to do with attitude. If you want the girls to enjoy your lessons, you need to be close to them. You need to be their friend while drawing a clear boundary as a teacher,” Miss Aska said.
In the computer lab, we found a group of girls in the Girls in Science and Technology club.
“What’s your favourite subject and why?” Ben asked.
“Mathematics, because I enjoy it and I want to prove to my brothers that I am as tough as they are.”

“Physics, because it is easy.”
“Physics, because it is applied in everyday life. I wouldn’t want to be just a driver or a pilot; I want to know how that car or plane works.”
“And what do you want to be in future?” asked Ben.
“A financial engineer.”
“A contour surveyor.”
“The greatest statistician.”
A few days later in Nairobi, Mr. Rugutt, the Director General of the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation ushered us into his office.

“A few years ago, the rate of admission for girls into science courses at the universities was very low. We want to create that gender parity, which is why this Commission is really keen on pushing the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programme in girl schools. It is important that girls learn that science is not just for boys, that is why we are encouraging mentorship from women in science careers., he said.
Drawing from his own experiences, among which a mentorship talk in high school made he and his friends reassess their career choices, he said, “It is not about looking at a successful pilot and saying ‘I want to be a pilot’. The girls must excel in the science courses and then look at what it means to be a pilot.
I am a veterinarian by training, and in our first class, we were given a cadaver to dissect. Almost the entire class fled. In fact, I have a friend who fled the course and went to study engineering because he said that metal cannot bleed.”
With mentorship, there is nothing that these girls cannot achieve. It takes a conducive learning environment and talks with women who are already in science careers to give girls that hope that perhaps one day, they too can be statisticians and biochemists and pilots and engineers.

Written by Meshack Yobby


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