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When Vane Aminga closed school for the December holidays in 2007, she was glad for the break, but was also looking forward to returning to school the following year. 2008 was a crucial year for her because this was when she would join Form Four. She knew that her performance in her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations would determine her future and she was determined to perform exceptionally well so that she could join university.
It was a dream that all her classmates at Starehe Girls Centre in Nairobi shared and she had a feeling that it would come to pass for many of them. When schools reopened in January, however, she noticed that not all her friends were back. One of them, a Samburu girl called Diana Leparachau, had not reported.
Concerned, because she was a close friend, Vane enquired about her whereabouts, only to learn that her dear friend would not be reporting back to school because she had been married off to an elderly man in her village, a man old enough to be her father. “I was sad and could not believe it. My friend was academically gifted and had a bright future ahead of her. I found it difficult to understand why her parents would marry her of,” Vane says, a hint of sorrow in her voice.
Like Vane, her friend was a sponsored student and would even be chartered to and from Nairobi by private plane. Everything she needed, including books and toiletries, was provided. “We all envied her and wished that we too had a sponsor so generous,” the now 22-year-old recalls. Throughout that year, Vane remained deeply troubled and her friend preoccupied her thoughts. “I imagined she was a sad wife because I knew how much she enjoyed learning, as well as her desire for a successful career. It distressed me that her dreams had been cut short by an early marriage.”
After completing high school that year, Vane raised some money and travelled to Samburu, (where she knew no one) on a mission to find her friend. She hoped that somehow, she would be able to convince her guardians to allow her to return to school. Unfortunately, she did not know the exact location her friend came from, and even though she spent a week here, she was unable to trace her. But her stay was not in vain.
While her intention had been to save one girl’s future, she ended up positively influencing the lives of tens of girls. “I discovered that girls in this area did not put much effort in school because they knew it would all be in vain, for they would soon be married off. My heart was saddened to learn that this was the norm, that it was no big deal. The community had no regard for educating girls,” she says. Vane vowed to do something about it.
In April 2011, while in her second year as a mechanical engineering student at the University of Nairobi, Vane set up Fly Sister Fly, an initiative aimed at encouraging Samburu girls to invest in their education. To achieve greater impact, Vane approached several of her fellow students with her vision and was glad when 15 of them bought into the idea and agreed to join her cause.
That was then. Now, they regularly travel to Samburu during the holidays to motivate and inspire Samburu girls, encouraging them to pursue their studies to the highest level possible. They pay their travel expenses by contributing Sh200 every month. One of them comes from Samburu, so when there, they stay at her home, thereby saving on accommodation costs. Says Vane, “Our mentorship activities have been made possible due to the support we get from the local administration through the chief, who introduces us to parents, teachers, and other people whom we need to involve.
Religious leaders too have been helpful.” Fly Sister Fly currently has enrolled 34 girls in its programme. The girls qualified after winning a composition competition set up by Vane and her friends. The pupils, who were then between classes Three and Six, are from various primary schools in the area.
Besides benefiting from direct mentoring, the girls also receive sanitary pads from time to time, exercise and text books, and anything else that Vane and her friends are able to mobilise. They also talk to them about growing up and discuss topics such as puberty, menstruation and peer pressure, as well as positive decision-making. They include the girls’ parents in their talks. “If we don’t make the parents understand the value of keeping their daughters in school, we’re fighting a losing battle,” observes Vane.
In an effort to ensure that the girls achieve academic success, the group has collected 500 textbooks and novels, which now make up a library that not only benefits the girls in the programme, but any other girl interested in reading. The library, which they intend to expand, is located at Girgir Primary School at Archers Post in Samburu. Girls are free to visit over the weekend to either study or read novels. Says Vane, “It is so heart-warming to see girls in high school excitedly read Class One story books because they have never read a story book before.”
At the moment, the group runs its activities through the help of friends and family. For example, a friend recently donated Sh6,000, which was used to buy sanitary towels for the girls. Other friends regularly donate exercise books and old shoes and clothes, which are distributed to needy girls.
So far, the group has raised Sh40,000, a large part of which has come from well-wishers. They plan to start an income-generating activity which they hope will enable them to sustain and scale up their activities. “Initially, we had thought of starting a popcorn business in campus which we knew would do well, but temporarily shelved the idea since we’re yet to get authorisation from the administration.
We’re now considering other ideas,” says Vane. This year is a special one for this selfless young woman and her friends because it is the year the first group of girls they mentor will be sitting for their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations. What is even more exciting is the fact that they have secured full secondary school sponsorships for five of the girls in their programme. “One of our parents is a principal at a high school in Limuru and every year, the school allocates slots for needy students.
She has committed to taking in the top five girls from our Fly Sister Fly initiative,” says a beaming Vane. Reading about Vane, one might think she has had it all rosy growing up. But this is far from the truth. She grew up in Keroka, Kisii, and her parents were casual labourers who struggled to feed their children. Therefore, they could hardly afford school fees. “Thankfully, I was never sent home due to lack of school fees even when others were sent away because I was bright and was a top pupil right from Standard One to Eight,” says Vane. For this, she will always be grateful to her teachers.
After doing her KCPE and passing well, Vane was admitted to Starehe Girls Centre in Nairobi on a full scholarship. She performed well in her KCSE and got admission to study mechanical engineering at the University of Nairobi, where she currently is. She is able to pursue her studies through the assistance of the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB), a programme which helps needy undergraduate students to pay their fees. Vane hopes to become a pilot. “Kenya Airways offers scholarships to study aviation.
Once I complete my degree, I plan to apply for this course under their scholarship programme. I hope I will be selected.” No doubt, she is a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. She adds that her desire to help others is because she herself has always been helped. For instance, her secondary school education was sponsored by a German organisation called Rettet Das Kind. “I would not be where I am today had it not been for the generosity of others. My parents and my teachers have also always believed in me and that is why I am passionate about helping people. My desire is to give back to society in any way possible that I can,” says this young woman, who is a committee member of the Old Starehian Society, which is involved in activities that help communities.
Fly Sister Fly is composed of 15 members, all university students. Twelve of them are from the University of Nairobi, two from Kenyatta University, and one from Moi University. They all study different courses, which include engineering, medicine, law, and business. The group is made up of 10 women and five men. Sylvia Makario is a 22-year-old geospatial engineering student who says she agreed to join Vane in her cause because she too is passionate about helping others.
“My parents have always supported less fortunate children and right now they are paying school fees for five such children. I grew up in a home where compassion was evident and I thank God for the values my parents instilled in me. I want to emulate them and help the needy. That’s why I am a part of this initiative.” Christopher Githaka says he did not think twice when Vane invited him to join. “Helping others has always been at the core of my heart and once I learnt about Vane’s initiative, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it,” says the Fourth Year mechanical engineering student. He adds, “I know the value of a good education, therefore there is nothing that is as fulfilling to me as helping children with a bright future stay in school,” he says. Githaka, an alumni of Jamhuri High School in Nairobi, also received a full scholarship for his secondary education due to his academic brilliance. “Once I complete my degree and get a job, I will commit part of my salary to support projects that will benefit the community at a greater level. My desire is to impact society positively in any way that I can,” he says.
Would you want to find out more about Vane’s initiative?
Telephone: 0729 955 194
Facebook Page: Fly Sister Fly https://www.facebook.com/FlySisterFlyFoundation
Originally published in the daily nation of October 15, 2013.