A first day.

A new dawn.

On February 1, amidst hope, smiles and blue skies, WISER’s boarding school for girls in Muhuru Bay, Kenya welcomed its first 30 students. Their arrival culminated the work of distinguished educators on two continents eager to reverse generations of treating women in the Muhuru Bay area as second-class citizens, and to transform the impoverished fishing community on the shores of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake. WISER (Women’s Institute for Secondary Education and Research) is a four-year partnership between Duke University in the U.S. and Kenya’s Egerton University. The LAFC Foundation contributed funding for the WISER school, the first girls boarding school in Muhuru Bay. LAFC has made a three-year commitment to construct a sports field and create a soccer program that will promote an active lifestyle and serve as a magnet for community programming.

Muhuru Bay suffers from high rates of malaria and HIV. Girls have often been the victims, orphaned at young ages and sometimes forced into prostitution. Just 5 percent of Muhuru Bay girls finish their secondary education. WISER will offer fresh opportunities for these girls, teens and adults — all receiving full scholarships — to pursue their education. One of the first students accepted was 36 years old. The WISER school is aiming to have 120 students by the time the first class graduates in 2013. Students will follow a liberal arts curriculum, including English, science, mathematics and language.

A ceremony in early January to celebrate the completion of the school drew more than 1,500 people, including the immigration minister in Kenya’s government, and featured speeches and song. The first day of classes was more contemplative but equally moving. Students moved into their dorm rooms, picked up uniforms, books and school supplies and met the school’s five teachers and principal. The classrooms have the first white boards and highest ratio of microscopes to students in Nyanza Province, where Muhuru Bay is located. “As I watched each girl walk into her classroom and sit at her own desk on her own chair, I began to imagine the possibilities that await all of us,” said Andy Cunningham, WISER’s executive director and co-founder in an email to fellow co-founders, professors Sherryl Broverman and Rose Odhiambo. “I began to imagine the possibilities that await all of us. Could we be looking at the first female Kenyan president? Absolutely! Could there be the next African there be the next African Nobel Peace Prize winner in our midst? Absolutely!”

11 / February / 2010  Latest News, WISER 

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