WISER is an all-girls school in Muhuru Bay that empowers young women and their communities through transformative education and holistic health.
In 2010, 30 Kenyan girls were ready to take on a new journey in their lives. They all enrolled in WISER, a school for girls located in the small town of Muhuru Bay, with a staff of all Kenyan teachers. WISER aims to “provide essential resources, leadership training, psychosocial support, sexual and reproductive health education and hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) opportunities to build lasting capacity in Kenyan girls.” (wisergirls.org) Those 30 girls were the start of what would blossom into a successful educational facility, where now, 226 girls attend high school.
“Dr. Sherryl Broverman, a professor at Duke University got together with Kenyan professors and they wanted to really provide a holistic education in remote areas of Kenya,” Michael Carson, Executive Director of WISER said. “They had some education but the system didn’t penetrate remote areas. So, they started a school house in Muhuru Bay with one or two classes.”
The founders of WISER never could have imagined the impact their school would have on Kenyan girls today.
“Now we operate a secondary school but we also have other services for girls,” Carson said. “We have reproductive health services, disease prevention, a water project for the students and surrounding communities to provide clean water. Our main activity, however, is education.”
While WISER is mainly focused on educating young girls, it has evidently turned into so much more. It is a residential school with dorms for both students and teachers, which is uncommon in rural areas. Many residential/boarding schools are located in cities and large towns. The population of Muhuru Bay is only 30,000. In their time there, some students have the privilege of traveling to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, which is approximately 10 hours from their campus.
“We are sending some of our students to Nairobi to learn to work in computer science,” Carson said. “Kenya is the technological hub for East Africa.”
WISER works with a technology company in Nairobi (AkiraChix) to teach their students how to code, a very impressive feat for high school-aged girls. While going through a quite rigorous educational program, these young women are also learning to be leaders in their community.
“Our principal is a woman from Muhuru Bay, Dr.Dorcas Oyugi (ASK AB NAME), and she really believes in empowerment and leadership,” Carson said. “So, we are teaching our girls how to be leaders.”
WISER’S mission is truly to empower girls in the realm of health and education. Without this schooling system, a typical Kenyan girl would be working on farms and in agriculture. They would not have the same career opportunities.
“Our school is giving them a vehicle, a pathway to really get an education and provide income for their families. If some girls do go to Nairobi, they can send money back home. From a career perspective, the girls can work with AkiraChix, the company that provides IT training. There are so many opportunities they just would not have if the school wasn’t there. I’d say the school really is a catalyst,” Carson said.
When their high school education is complete, most of the girls stay in Kenya to pursue higher education in Nairobi. It is promoted that they should stay to help their community. WISER has inspired the careers of many young women.
“Some of them become educators and teach the next generation of girls in the village in Muhuru Bay. We are really promoting local education,” Carson said.
With the growth of technology and the internet, more opportunities have arisen for young Kenyan girls. Not only can they work in agricultural export or education but they can expand into working for technological companies. Carson, being the Executive Director of WISER, has a strong connection with Africa. Although he comes from Chicago, Illinois, Africa has always spoken to his soul.
“When I lived in Kenya as a peace corps volunteer in the 90’s, I worked primarily training women farmers on how to be entrepreneurial,” Carson said. “That’s where my love for Africa started. Kenya was the first place I lived in Africa. I learned Swahili and the culture in Kenya. I realized that I liked it more than I thought I would.”
The people in rural Africa are known for being very kind, welcoming and hospitable. They are always willing to teach newcomers everything about their land and culture. This is what drew Carson to work there for the past 30 years, partnering with various different companies and non-governmental organizations. Now, like all of the other staff at WISER, his heart is working with small communities, like that of Muhuru Bay.
“There is a need for advocacy in other parts of the world,” Carson said. “People need to know about rural Africa. They need to know about Muhuru Bay. They need to know about the needs of communities in Africa and how sure, we have a lot of resources, but they really have a lot of spirit. A lot of willpower. We need to ask ‘How do we bring our resources with the need to improve their communities?’”
With more and more advocacy, WISER is looking to expand. Within the next year or two it will be offering education to 7th and 8th grade girls in addition to their high schoolers. The school is eager to expand its reproductive health program to other parts of Kenya and bring its education model to Tanzania. Anything to help adolescent girls improve their lives, that’s the mission of WISER.
The school is funded by individual donors and partner schools in the United States, as well as foundations and organizations worldwide. A few foundations in Kenya support the work of WISER too. It also has its own nonprofit in Kenya which does some fundraising on behalf of the school. It works with corporate partners such as Johnson and Johnson, Girls Opportunity Alliance, Social Initiative and more, which facilitate employee giving and grants. There are an abundance of ways that people can help keep WISER up and running.
“People can help by donating to WISER, we have donation links on our website. Also, through social media where we’ve developed a Facebook, an Instagram and a YouTube channel to really learn more about our work,” Carson said.
It is the duty of those all around the world to advocate for those hardworking young girls in Kenya, to ensure they can continue to receive the education they need to hold bright futures. Sharing the story and mission of WISER can change the lives of so many young women.