Growing up in Mombasa, Kenya, was amazing because I learned so much, but lack of resources and poverty were sometimes frustrating. I knew I didn’t have much, but I was happy. I never thought having a lot of things would make me happy.
One thing I wasn’t happy with: education. I wanted more. I wanted to go to high school and university. I had the drive. I had the will. I had the grades, but I didn’t have resources. Even basic resources of food, water, shelter and electricity weren’t readily available, though they are better now.
When I completed grade school, I was in the same predicament as many other financially disadvantaged youth. Luckily, during the same year I completed grade school, a charitable high school for girls, Starehe Girls Centre, was founded and I received a scholarship. In fact, I was the first girl to show up at the school gate with my mother. Today, I am on record as being the first student to be enrolled in this school.
In 2006, my school joined The Global Give Back Circle, a not-for-profit organization for girls that integrates mentoring, private sector investment and community support. I was assigned to a mentor, Charlotte Gower.
After graduating from high school, I was given access to a nine-month IT course that gave me access to resources and leveled the playing field for me and 535 other girls in the Circle. In addition, the organization’s give-back ethos had been embedded in us to not only care about ourselves but other people. All of the girls read President Clinton’s book, Giving and through its teachings we learned how to give back time and skills to our communities.
With this in mind, 10 of us girls created a website called “Hey Sister, Get Clued-Up.” Through this peer-to-peer educational website aimed at networking 10,000 African girls worldwide, all Sisters commit to use the “Power of Their Voice” to transmit information to their villages to promote financial empowerment, advance information related to health issues (especially reproductive health) and provide knowledge around social networking etiquette. “Hey Sister, Get Clued-Up” is only accessible to those girls who have access to the Internet, which highlights one of the greatest challenges in narrowing the digital divide between the haves and have-nots. But our plan is that these girls will commit to disseminate what they learn to other girls through the “Power of Their Voice: — using their voice to be the “Voice of the Village.”
In addition to the challenge of obtaining an education, access to skills that render a young person ready for the workforce is also challenging. Such needs include computer and information technology skills, and additional training such as accounting, critical thinking and practical skills such as public speaking, presentation, entrepreneurial and personal and interpersonal skills in the business world.
Mary Mwende Alex is from Mombasa, Kenya. She is an ambassador in the Global Give Back Circle.