Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kenya School Gives Girls Hope Street Youths Sheltered, Taught Practical Skills

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kenya School Gives Girls Hope Street Youths Sheltered, Taught Practical Skills

Article excerpt

A ROBUST woman with a furrowed brow and a pale-blue habit strides down the aisles of the dilapidated schoolroom. She watches her students study from a hodgepodge of books, the only texts available. One girl reads aloud from a storybook. Another thumbs through a geography primer.

Mary Killeen, an Irish Sister of Mercy, is worried. She's having a tough time keeping Kenyan girls off the streets and enrolled in this unique program designed to secure a better future for them. Young women are easy prey in the cardboard-and-tin-shack Nairobi community called Mukuru. "There's a huge trade in girls from very poor areas like this," she says.

Sister Killeen oversees this slum school, called Mukuru, founded in 1985 in one of the crowded shantytowns that ring Nairobi. About half of her students, aged 7 to 17, used to live on the capital's streets. Some have been prosecuted for prostitution. Killeen says that even after girls enroll here, the men who earned a living from her students won't leave them alone. "Pimps follow the girls from the court to here. So when we get girls from the courts, they're here only a few days, and those men will come looking for them," she says. Young women in these slums may start out with the same chances as boys. But their teachers say if tragedy strikes the family, parents remove girls from school first because they can be easily hired out. The Mukuru school offers another chance. "This place has lifted me up and changed my life. I learned also to respect people, to share a word of encouragement," says Jacqueline Kanini, a teenage mother of two. Kenyan government funding provides the salaries of only about a quarter of teachers at Mukuru. School administrators must scrounge for private funding to make up the difference. The United Nation's World Food Program furnishes hot lunches that instructors say dramatically boosts enrollment. …

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