Needy students in Kwale County have benefited greatly since the launch of a Sh400 million bursary programme.
Elimu Ni Sasa was started by Governor Salim Mvurya in 2013 to offer full scholarships to students who score good KCPE and KCSE marks.
The programme aims to improve literacy levels in Kwale. The initiative targets bright and needy students joining secondary school and university.
Zabibu Sidi, 18, who scored 362 marks in her KCPE, was not sure she would continue her studies.
She had been admitted to Kabare Girls High School, a national school in Kirinyaga County.
But she could not afford the fee.
“I’m not from a well-off family and my parents had struggled to pay school fees when I was in primary school. So when I passed my exams and got admission letter, I did not know what to do,” she said.
She remembered her teachers talking about the Kwale County government sponsoring all students who score 350 marks and above and those joining national schools.
“That was one of my motivations, to pass and get the scholarship. I passed the exams and this made my family proud,” she said.
With the help of her teachers at Kwale Primary School in Matuga sub-county, she applied and was successful.
Getting the scholarship meant that the county government would pay for her school fees in secondary school.
For years, Kwale registered a high number of early marriages and teen pregnancies due to high poverty levels.
Ms Sidi, the fourth-born in a family of five children, said that were it not for the scholarship programme, she would have been married off by her poor parents so they could provide for her younger siblings.
Cases of young girls being married at an early age are not new in Kwale and the rest of the Coast region. One reason is poverty, with parents counting on the bride price paid by the man marrying their daughter to feed their families.
“Without such an initiative, I would not have joined high school and my parents would have married me off to get money, and they were ready to do anything so that my younger siblings could have a better life” she said.
Four years later, Ms Sidi has finished secondary school and will soon join university to study nursing.
“The scholarship gave me the confidence to work harder. I’m hoping that the government will consider me and also sponsor my university education,” she said.
Emmanuel Malonya, 19, a former student at Kwale High School, was also a beneficiary.
Emmanuel, who scored 354 marks, also said he would not have joined high school without the help of the county government.
“I’m glad that I finished school and I will be glad if they continue with the programme and pay for my university fees,” said Emanuel, who scored a B plain in KCSE.
Swaleh Omar, 20, an alumnus of Shimo la Tewa High School, also benefited from the scholarship programme. He would like to study marine engineering.
His father died a few years ago and his mother is a day labourer. “I only have one parent. She would not have raised my fees,” he said
Governor Mvurya praised the bursary scheme, saying it helps to tackle child marriages and teen pregnancies.
“Kwale has been marginalised. Previously we even produced the worst-performing school in the country and that was shameful for us. But I can confirm that the bursary education programme has also helped with the success of these children,” he said.
“We have been having problems with child marriages and teenage pregnancy, but I think part of the solution is Elimu Ni Sasa.”
The scheme has helped more than 5,000 students in national schools and more than 3,000 in universities.
Due to the nature of school selection this year, Mr Mvurya said the county government will not only sponsor students in national schools but everyone who scored marks good enough for a national.
“We'll issue scholarships to students who have attained national school marks in the last KCPE examination regardless of the school they have been selected to join,” he said.
Since its inception, he said, the initiative has led to improved performance in primary and secondary schools as students fight to win scholarships.
As part of the programme, 63 students were sponsored to study in India. Some of them now work as doctors, engineers and in other careers.
Mr Mvurya has touted Elimu Ni Sasa in political campaigns, even now as he campaigns for his deputy Fatuma Achani, who wants to succeed him. He says she will continue with the development projects that he started.
“I think this is a very sensitive programme that has helped our children. If we get a leader who will not take it seriously, all that we have worked hard for the last two terms of my administration will disappear. If somebody messes with the Elimu Ni Sasa, we’re done,” he said in his office in Kwale.