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Drop-out rates for girls in secondary schools in Kenya are very high. There are many factors involved; some girls drop out after becoming pregnant. They can feel shame and stigma over unplanned pregnancies which is then reinforced by their communities . Many girls will face economic and social pressure to leave school early. They can be pressured by their family to marry or join the workforce. Many adolescent girls leave school at the onset of puberty.
This is often caused by a lack of understanding of puberty, and of menstruation in particular. These girls are often not able to access appropriate or adequate services, in particular water, sanitation and menstrual hygiene products. This often leads adolescent girls to remain at home rather than attending school.
Trócaire is working to address this through the DREAMS project. A key part of this project, funded by PEPFAR, involves persuading, encouraging and supporting young women between the ages of fifteen to twenty four to return to school.
Pauline Muwe, Project Officer, at the Kangemi DREAMS Center says, ‘we call this project the second chances, because what we do in essence is giving girls a second chance at going back to school, and the underlying factor is not only supporting these girls to go back to school but we want to help in reduction of HIV incidence among the age cohorts of girls between the ages of 15-24.’
The Bridge centres operated by Trócaire partner, Girl Child Network in urban slum settlements and rural communities aim to reduce HIV infection rates among girls in this age group by getting them back to school and offering an integrated package of accelerated education and life skills training.
Low educational attainment contributes to a poor awareness of HIV. Kenya has achieved tremendous success in addressing HIV and AIDS. However there has been a rise in cases of teenage pregnancy and disproportionately high rates of new HIV infections, Sexually Transmitted Infections and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) among adolescent girls and young women. This indicates the need for a stronger response. In recent years, most of the new HIV infections in the country are borne by girls aged 15-24.
Grace, one of the students at the Bridge centre says, “we did an accelerated form of learning, that is in subjects we normally learn in Secondary School. We also had support in groups, whereby we studied matters on nutrition, childcare, HIV and AIDS and we had a counsellor , she talked to us. We also had a chance of talking to her personally.’
The centres are staffed by volunteer teachers and counsellors to provide group or one on one counselling sessions and mediation. The girls featured in Second Chances were given additional counselling during and after filming to support them through reliving some painful memories on camera.
Another Bridge center student, Jackline says, ‘I was at a low point in my life and now I have a vision. For example if I finish this Form Four, I would like to be a counsellor because of what counselling has contributed to my life.’