Last year, Diane Rodriguez, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education (GSE), joined her former student, Sister Veronica Rop, a Kenyan nun, on a trip to meet families in a village surrounding Eldoret, Kenya.
The families were hoping to enroll their children in a new high school for disadvantaged Kenyan girls that Rodriguez has been raising money to build.
During the visit, a single mother told Rodriguez that she was recently faced with a tough decision: As she could only afford one tuition, which one of her four teenage girls would she send to school?
“She chose the eldest girl, but the second girl was also a brilliant kid,” said Rodriguez. “When the mom said that, the other girl started crying hysterically and ran away, because she wanted to go to school, too.”
Rodriguez said the experience made her realize how strained the education system is in rural parts of Kenya.
“There are many opportunities for girls to go to elementary school, but [not]many opportunities for girls to pursue a high school education, especially if they’re poor,” Rodriguez said.
In some cases, a girl as old as 16 will remain in elementary school because there are no other options for schooling.
The nuns from the Assumption Sisters of Eldoret, acquired land on which to build a school for high school girls. The project is already registered with the Kenyan government. Rodriguez started an Every Girl Is Important campaign to build the secondary boarding school.
Because many of the girls live far away from the site and can’t afford transportation to get there every day, Rodriguez, who will be serving as the project’s director, said arrangements are being made to house them on school grounds.
If all goes well, Rodriguez hopes to construct four classrooms and a dorm this fall. She said it would take about three months to build the boarding school, which is expected to be opened in January 2018.
“For many of these girls, this is their only hope to change their lives,” said Rodriguez, who explained that Kenyan girls face the obstacles of gender discrimination, abuse, high levels of HIV/AIDS, child labor, and child marriages. “Their parents cannot afford to send them to high school, so that’s often the end of schooling for the girls.”
Read the full story and see photos and the school’s architectural plans at Fordham News.