Menelik’s Big Dream for Girl’s Education Sprung from Under a Tree
Reteti Preschool began in 2012 under a tree. Madam Menelik, now a teacher-mentor for the Wezesha Vijana school-based club, floated the idea with local parents for a permanent school. Initially they resisted, but in time Madam Menelik turned them around. Eventually,, the parents embraced the idea to create a formal preschool for the community’s children.
At first, however, she met staunch objections. ‘Among the Samburu Community, most parents chose to send their boys to school and leave their girls behind to look after the sheep and cows.’ Madam Menelik explains. “Parents argued that it was against the norms of the community for a young girl to be taken away from their parents at that tender age. This motivated me to fight for the girls from my village to have access to education. I remember going to barazas, although it wasn’t common amongst the Samburu community for women to attend barazas, but I defied the odds and attended, not only attending but attending and convincing them (men) why we should have a school and educate our children.”
Even if some parents would have supported their daughters’ education the neighboring schools were 15km away, too far for the young Samburu children to trek. So despite the many challenges, including firm parental resistance, Madam Menelik campaigned door-to-door to mobilize parents’ support. She visited every household, ultimately convincing parents of the importance of educating girls. She even persuaded the parents to contribute to the school financially. Those contributions enabled the school to move out from under the tree into two semi-structured buildings. Once relocated into the buildings, and with new-found parental support, Retiti saw a massive increase in the enrollment of girls in PP1 and PP2. Unfortunately, Madam Menelik was the only teacher at the time, as there were no or few qualified instructors in the area who could step up and volunteer to teach. Hence, Madam Menelik labored alone for 2 years until the Ministry of Education chipped in and brought in a head teacher who registered the school as a legal and recognized institution.
In the years since, and assisted by the government’s initiative to have every child attend school, Retiti has witnessed a tremendous increase in enrollment. It is no longer a pre-school, but educates girls up through their adolescence. And not just in the ABCs. In 2018, Asante Africa Foundation worked with Madam Menelik to bring the Wezesha Vijana Program into the school, further educating girls and boys on matters of hygiene, health and reproduction. The Wezesha Vijana Program exposed the girls to peers from other schools, allowing them to learn peer-to-peer, leading them to boosted self-esteem as well as a greater understanding of their rights.