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Mercy Corps and partners are transforming the lives of young girls

In the arid and semi-arid landscapes of Northern Kenya, where challenges like drought, poverty, and limited access to education disproportionately affect young girls, Mercy Corps and partners has taken a bold step towards transforming lives through its Girls Improving Resilience through Livelihoods (GIRL) program.

I recently visited Northern Kenya, a region with a vast and unforgiving terrain where traditional gender roles, limited access to education, and economic disparities pose significant challenges for girls.

Factors such as early marriage, female genital mutilation, and high school dropout rates further compound this strife, making it crucial for organizations like Mercy Corps to intervene.

Supported by the USAID-funded Feed the Future Kenya Livestock Market Systems (LMS), the initiative is making waves by empowering young girls, building their resilience, and offering them the hope of a brighter future.

Mercy Corps’ Girls Improving Resilience through Livelihoods (GIRL) program employs a holistic approach to addressing issues affecting 5 counties in Northern Kenya – Wajir, Turkana, Garissa, Isiolo, and Marsabit.

Credit: Derrick Wachaya

The nine-month program aims to improve quality of life and future prospects for adolescent girls aged 10 to 14 and 15 to 19 by providing them with essential life skills, education, and opportunities for income generation.

Sitting down to talk with several members, I quickly realized just how instrumental the group has been in already transforming the lives of girls in Northern Kenya.

During my visit, I had discussions with four girl groups on the empowerment program – Wanajmi, Dayah, Farida, and Bilan are among the many such networks in Wajir County.

Speaking to 22-year-old Farhiya Olat of the Farida Girls Group, she said:

‘In our village here at Bula, drug use and dropouts from school have really affected not only girls but also boys.

The LMS program offered us 150,000 shillings in the second installment and we managed to have our own shop, and others make dresses through tailoring and even beauty during weddings or important events…it’s been a blessing for young adolescents to be empowered over the years.’

As part of the GIRL program, girls receive education and life skills training that empowers them to make informed choices about their future. There’s mentoring for personal and professional areas including business development and financial literacy training models.

With such support, knowledgeable and increasingly confident girls are better equipped to break free from traditional constraints, whether that be in education or employment.

According to Kenya’s UNDP 2022-2026 report, people in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) are affected the most in sustainable development programs. While for the wealthy West, sustainable initiatives are mostly altruistic, these pastoral communities are directly impacted by climate change.

Droughts affect children and women the most in these regions where malnutrition continues to kill thousands despite assistance from local governments and non-governmental organizations.

Embarking on a mission to drive enduring solutions on that front, Mercy Corps has joined forces with the Wajir County Government to bolster the nation’s Geographical Resource Center.

This pioneering center serves as a hub for the acquisition, administration, and distribution of geospatial information, bolstering a range of critical endeavors including urban planning, infrastructure enhancement, environmental surveillance, disaster damage resilience, and resource allocation.

Like any other semi-arid region, agriculture and livestock play a significant role in the economy and livelihoods of the people. The young population grow in nomadic pastoralist traditions that shape their way of life such as female genital mutilation practices and early marriages.

At present, a huge percentage of young girls and boys are unable to complete primary and secondary education. Through community awareness campaigns, however, Mercy Corps and partners are striving to improve prospects for children – eradicating young marriages and female genital mutilation as priorities.

The GIRL program’s impact is undeniable. It has enabled girls to envision a future beyond their traditional roles and has provided them with the tools to make this vision a reality.

Beyond individual success stories that I personally reveled in hearing first-hand, the GIRL program has helped shift the overall narrative in Northern Kenya. Communities are beginning to recognize the value of educating and empowering girls, and as a result, attitudes are changing.

With increased governmental backing, GIRL’s influence is evidently growing. Young girls are becoming equipped with the skills and knowledge to overcome issues that have thwarted entire generations and it’s hugely encouraging to witness.

By promoting education, economic empowerment, and community engagement, the program is not just improving individual lives but also fostering a brighter, more resilient future for Northern Kenya as a whole. A new precedent for breaking free from traditional constraints has been set.

With continued support and expansion, the GIRL program has the potential to create lasting change in these marginalized regions and the wider continent, sending the message that investing in girls is an investment in the future.