On Friday, 28 Kenyan girls will make history as secondary school graduates during WISER's first graduation ceremony. In the rural community of Muhuru Bay, these adolescents have beaten the odds by not dropping out of school due to pregnancy, marriage, HIV or orphan hood. To date, only one girl in this community of 25,000 has gone on to college.
WISER (Women's Institute for Secondary Education and Research), which was co-founded by DGHI faculty member Sherryl Broverman and Duke alumnus Andy Cunningham seven years ago, has given these young women a haven where they can learn, thrive, be healthy and feel empowered. Friday's graduation ceremony is expected to attract 1,000 people, including Kenyan dignitaries. The event celebrates WISER's mission -- the idea that every girl deserves a chance to grow up to become a leader.
"We have had no attrition, showing that girls can stay in school, avoid teen pregnancy and HIV risk, and grow in self-esteem and self-empowerment," said Broverman, associate professor of the practice of biology and global health. "Our girls have excelled academically on all regional exams, often outperforming long established boys' schools. And we predict that a significant portion of our girls will qualify for university and scholarships, unheard of in this community."
Seventeen graduates will continue their education by attending college, thanks to donations from Johnson & Johnson and other donors. Thirteen young women will receive a full scholarship from the government for their high scores, and many are interested in careers in medicine and nursing. Following in their footsteps are 120 more young women who are currently enrolled at the WISER school.
"All eyes are on these girls as they shatter expectations and set new benchmarks for what a girl can do," said Broverman.
One of the WISER students, Mercy Stephen, and two teachers will visit Duke in April to talk about the health challenges facing girls in Kenya. The Duke Global Women's Health Technology Center is also working with WISER to develop a curriculum that encourages girls to become engineering and health entrepreneurs.
Learn more about WISER's efforts to expand their educational offerings and develop a robust post-graduation support network: http://www.wisergirls.org/
March 8 is International Women's Day.