‘When you educate a girl, you educate the whole community’ - International Women’s Day 2022
‘Time to break the bias’ is the theme of International Women’s Day 2022. This year we are putting a spotlight on one of the many inspiring female leaders we have the privilege to work with. In this profile interview we discuss the many challenges faced in empowering girls to learn and push back against stereotypes by involving the whole community in the education of girls.
Helen Musyoka is the proud owner and school leader of Mountain View Academy in Machakos County, located 30km outside Nairobi along the Mombasa Road. She started the school seven years ago, and has since grown enrolment to 148 primary learners.
Mountain View Academy is located in what Education Specialist, Anne Njine, describes as a marginalized area in Kenya where girls’ education is not generally a priority. It is a dry and arid area where water is an issue and school pupils must travel long distances to access the school and other amenities.
Helen Musyoka has worked hard to not only build the school’s facilities but also the school’s positive culture, including a range of initiatives to empower women and girls.
Why did you want to open a school?
The training I had from my own schooling pushed me to start the school. After college, I was interested in making sure that children are getting the correct training. Being with children gives me energy.
Initially I looked for some rooms to rent in order to start the school, and then later I constructed the current school in 2018. I coordinate everything – parents, marketing, how the curriculum is delivered and supervising the teachers.
How have you and the school changed since you started in 2014?
I have gained a lot of experience and knowledge. The school has changed in how we run it and interact with teachers, parents and children. Generally we have improved and have a good name in the community.
Since we joined Opportunity EduFinance, I’ve learnt a lot in terms of leadership and I’ve acquired a lot of information and knowledge on how to run my school. I’m better [now] than when EduFinance came in.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced?
There have been so many challenges. I have gone back to school myself. When I started the school, I had just completed a diploma course in early childhood education, and then I did the same subject as a degree. It has been a challenge finding time for both the school and studying but I find it worthwhile since gaining knowledge and running the school is interesting.
The other challenge that I face is the way to handle teachers to get them to stay. One day they say they have to leave because of getting married, changing to another school, etc. so I need to find another teacher.
Another challenge is getting the children to travel. They have come from a diverse area and it’s difficult for them to access the school. Some use motorcycles and since 2015 we have had a van but there are mechanical issues due to the road which means the van gets stuck.
There are children who enrolled but are not able to raise the fees. Even when I sponsor some of them, I am not able to meet the needs of all the students and there are many who cannot pay school fees.
I have sponsored 4 girls’ fees and also help them in other ways. These girls are aged 9 and 10 (in grades 3 and 4). I'm sponsoring them because their parents approached me saying they wanted to transfer their children to public school because they couldn't sustain them in our school. I decided I was going to pay for school fees and they would cover minor issues such as uniforms and treats.
The Covid-19 related challenges were many too. Paying teachers was an issue and I lost teachers in this period to cover those who had left for other jobs. But now the intake is growing [again], and the classrooms are too small – I need to expand the facilities and make sure the students are in a good environment.
Why does it matter to you to educate girls?
Girls are the cornerstone of a family. When a girl is educated, she is able to take care of the whole family together with the children in the home. She is able to provide for her family by employment or self-employment.
When a woman is educated, she gives back to the whole community.
Are there stereotypes that might hold girls back from achieving?
As they get older the girls struggle to excel as much as the boys. We address this through counseling to help the girls understand that they are able and that they can do anything just like their counterparts.
Sometimes they don’t excel in sciences and parents educate the boys and expect the girls to get married so they drop out of school. We encourage them through talking to them and their parents in order to stop them from dropping out.
How can schools protect the education of girls and keep them in school?
You can try as much as I’m trying to keep these girls in school but at home there are things that hold them back due to lack of support. I wish that they would stay, and we could help them.
We can use girls’ academic progress throughout their education as evidence of what they have already learned and how much progress they can make in the future.
For International Women’s Day what would you like to share about the role that women play in education?
Women teachers around the world: it is very important for us as teachers to unite and support one another and try to make sure that the girl child is educated in our communities. Currently, I’m doing social welfare for Machakos County and I’m the chairperson. My aim was to empower these teachers in the challenges that they face.
Supporting women is a wide area. There are so many challenges for women. Sometimes we have widows who are left at home to take care of their families. I have started a program in my school to support widowed parents in my school with their national insurance and health insurance funds. By empowering women and widows, they also see the need to keep the girls in school. There is so much we can do to support women in our community and when you educate a girl you educate the whole community.