SEATTLE — Canadian YouTube personality and author Lilly Singh is the founder of the #GirlLove movement, which aims to “break girl-on-girl hate” and to empower “everyone with confidence and the resources to become incredible leaders.” To help girls in Kenya go to school, Singh helped develop the #GirlLove Rafikis, bracelets that are sold in partnership with social enterprise organization ME to WE.
The rafiki bracelets are beaded by mothers in Kenya, which allows them to earn a living wage and empowers the village they live in by being able to provide for themselves, while also helping to raise funds for Kenyan girls’ education.
Access to education is an ongoing issue for girls in Kenya. In the 2002 elections, presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki promised free education for all. When elected president, he “directed that no child should be charged fees in any of the country’s 20,000 public primary schools,” according to The Conversation. However, many schools did not have the resources to meet the increased demand, and some continued to charge fees for supplies, which undercut the free education principle and kept many children out of school.
Although Kenya has nearly equal rates of boys and girls in school, only 83 percent of girls are enrolled in primary school, according to UNESCO. This figure shows that there is still work to be done to achieve universal education in the country.
Progress is being made in providing truly free education. The Kibera School for Girls in Nairobi is one of a number of schools that “offers free tuition, uniforms, books and meals to girls who qualify,” as reported by VOA. These resources help girls stay in school so that they can build a brighter future for themselves.
The school makes it a point to help the community understand how important education is, especially for girls. Some communities in Kenya have traditionally sold their daughters into forced marriages in exchange for livestock in times of financial hardship. However, in recent years, the increased emphasis on education has contributed to more girls staying in school, even during periods of drought that cause financial strain for families.
Joyce Apus Ipapai, a mother of eight children in Lorengelup, illustrated this change in attitude by saying, “It is no longer profitable to exchange our young daughters with livestock, because when the animals die of drought, it is like we have lost the girl.”
To bridge the gap until truly free education is available to all Kenyan girls, Singh has promoted the sale of the #GirlLove Rafikis, using her birthday to announce the goal of selling 16,000 bracelets. Since the September 26 announcement, the sales have far exceeded the goal, with more than 29,000 sold to date.
Singh also visited Kenya as part of her #GirlLove Rafikis partnership and recorded the trip for her YouTube channel, which has more than 13 million subscribers. She spoke of the motivation and work ethic she saw in the girls attending Kenyan schools, saying “One of these girls could grow up to be a political leader, could grow up to invent something great. Not even ‘could’ — they will. I look forward to it!”
– Valeria Flores