Sarah’s Journey to Affordable Education March 6, 2014  by      

By: Suzanne Thomson, CFK Organizational Consultant

Sarah (3rd from left) poses with her peers who also received CFK scholarships.

Another school year in Kenya has started, and students moving from elementary to high school just began the first term at their new schools. Going to a new school is always difficult—meeting new friends, learning where to go, and how to get there.  In the U.S., a student may transition to a new school only once or twice, and it’s more or less a straightforward process. In Kenya, however, it’s a lot more common and less stable, especially for families living in poverty.

This lack of stability was a reality for Sarah, who had to change schools almost every year due to her family’s situation—not because she was switching to high school.  From 1st to 8th grade, Sarah attended five different schools, constantly moving after being forced out of school because her family couldn’t pay the expensive school fees. After her parents died when she was only three years old, Sarah began living with her uncle, a laborer whose income is based on what work he can find from day to day.  Though the government subsidizes elementary school tuition, parents, guardians, or students themselves have to come up with money for uniforms, books, afterschool activities, and other costs.  Because of her family’s financial situation, Sarah’s school fees were often too high.

Despite having to change schools so many times, Sarah studied hard and earned a very impressive score on her National Elementary School exam, an exam that determines what high schools Kenyan students are eligible to attend.  The average score for all Kenyans is around 290-300 out of a total of 500; this average is even lower for students living in poverty (around 200-250).  Yet, Sarah scored 365, much higher than the average!  Since school placements are typically merit-based, her score qualifies her for a place in a good high school.

Unfortunately, high school also isn’t free in Kenya.  While the government has taken steps to try and subsidize higher levels of education as well, subsidies still remain far from reach for many students.  Additionally, fees vary widely depending on the school, from 10,000 shillings a year (~$118) for a sub-standard, low quality day school, to 1 mil shillings a year (~$12,000) for a high-quality, internationally recognized boarding school.  As such, students like Sarah who live in poverty aren’t able to afford any of these options.

That’s where CFK comes in.  Through Carolina for Kibera’s Education Program, dedicated students who want to keep attending school but cannot pay for it can apply for scholarships that will give them the opportunity to keep learning at no cost to them.  CFK’s program originally provided partial scholarships to prospective students—now, it covers the full cost of attending school for a year.

When Sarah heard of this opportunity, she immediately applied. Because of her hard work and determination, CFK proudly awarded her a scholarship to cover her high school fees!  Sarah has begun attending St. Francis Rangala Girls School, a quality mid-level public boarding school in Western Kenya, costing 67,000 shillings a year (~$800).  Now this bright girl who struggled so much and fought hard to make it through elementary school will have the opportunity to focus solely on her studies and her life after high school—and she won’t have to worry about making enough to keep learning.

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