June 3, 2023 Everest Hotel, Kisumu. Tuna Shukuru means we are grateful in Swahili. That phrase encapsulates the emotion of our 17th annual PATHWAYS conference. In attendance were not only our four PATHWAYS scholars, but also girls and moms from our Fanz Foundation-funded Girl Study, and alumni (Jackline Okello, Eunita Akinyi, Lucky Katma, and Noah Kanda). Special recognition goes to our volunteer moms Lister Anyango, Josephine Kbogi, Monicah Akinyi, Gladys Moi and Everlyn Ochieng (from Kakamega, Vihiga, TransNzoai (Kitale), Kisii and Kisumu communities respectively) who help mentor and organize the girls.
The day started with an opening and welcome from our Student and Volunteer coordinator, Dr. Catherine Kaimenyi. This was followed by alumnus Jackline Okella talking about the importance of volunteerism. Next, senior scholar, Robert Baaru, discussed on plans for helping girls transition to college and/or businesses once they graduate from secondary school. As part of Robert’s leadership activities, he has taken on researching and developing potential business opportunities for girls. In that same vein, Deb Gust talked about the business potential of growing moringa trees (aka The Miracle Tree) and aloe vera to sell as a superfoods as well as the importance of caring for oneself and the environment.
An important part of the program was discussions with the girls and volunteer moms (pictured right) about how the study and program was going from their perspectives. Some of the themes we heard were: 1) mentor and transformative thinking expert Dr. Patrick Nyagah helped the girls learn to take care of themselves in a way that protected them from pregnancy and HIV infection as well as imparting the desire to do well in school and finish their education, 2) the mentoring has made the girls self-confident and better equipped to express themselves. 3) the Kenyan health insurance that moms received for their families as part of the study reimbursement has been helpful, and 4) some of the moms are not repaying their loans which is holding up other moms from benefitting from loans. This was valuable feedback that will serve to guide program decisions.
Next, alumnus Eunita Akinyi gave an excellent talk on wellness and mental health. This topic was welcomed and appreciated by all in attendance. Gloria Mudeizi, a Girl Study participant from Vihiga (pictured left), gave a moving testimonial about how the mentoring intervention by Dr. Nyagah had helped the study girls avoid pregnancy. She contrasted the number of pregnancies among the Girl Study participants and among the girls not in the study.
It was inspirational to hear the girls sing their PATHWAYS song called “Believe” by Fearless Soul. You have to believe in yourself, you have to believe in your ability, you are capable of anything, you can achieve any dream…. We are hoping this is a song the girls can carry with them and take to heart as they move forward into young adulthood. Girls who had graduated from secondary school received a certificate and a PATHWAYS award- an orange scarf and a bracelet engraved with “I am a PATHWAYS leader” (pictured below).
The next part of the program involved the scholars presenting on innovative ideas that could be used as income generating activities for the girls. This included a biodigester, healthy juices and smoothies, a solar heater, and a tower garden. These were all good ideas and food for thought. Towards the end of the day, vice-President, Monicah Nyambura, discussed the way forward for PATHWAYS. As she described, the plan is to have the current scholars and others mentor the girls and help them transition from secondary school to either college/university, a business, or both. She also encouraged all to focus on thinking of what they can do to help PATHWAYS as it remains small and depends on the goodwill of volunteers.
Alumnus Noah Kanda was in attendance to discuss his role in training the girls on small businesses. The current ideas are regenerative organic agriculture (e.g. moringa trees, aloe vera, legumes), eco-products, biodigesters, and more. He remains an active alumnus and dedicated to helping the girls.
Robert Baaru was presented with the Biodigester Award which came with a cash prize (pictured right).
We ended with fun dancing that represented all of the cultures of those in attendance.
The next day, Dr. Catherine Kaimenyi organized a field trip to Lake Victoria in Kisumu. It was the first time many of those present had seen the lake. It was an exciting time posing with friends for beautiful photos.
We are grateful to all of those who traveled to be at the conference especially those who traveled the farthest – all the way from Kilifi- Lucky Katma, Brigrit Mpenzwa, Habiba Yahya. And as usual, we missed our PATHWAYS scholar, Ken Koome.