The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award is known as the President’s Award in Kenya, or the PA for short. Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit two very different schools where the Award is being run. Both were girls schools; both were full of engaged and enthusiastic young women. But they were as different as different could be.
Kirigiti Rehabilitation School is the only correctional centre in Kenya for girl child offenders. The children are sent to the school by the courts following sentencing for a wide variety of crimes, some extremely serious.
The school works hard to help the girls turn their lives around. There is some academic study, focusing on the basics of literacy and numeracy. There is some vocational training, including lessons in dressmaking, baking, hairdressing and beauty therapy. The facilities are very, very basic.
But there are also clubs and activities. And these include the President’s Award. About 20 girls are working towards their Bronze, learning new skills and then putting those skills into practice through their volunteering. For instance, they make dresses for other children in the school at no charge.
These children come from exceptionally challenged backgrounds and they have all the odds stacked against them. Many have been abused. Yet their engagement in the Award programme (and in the all girls Scout Troop that the school runs) shows that they can still enjoy the challenge of being part of the President’s Award programme – and can share the same activities as other, luckier, adolescents.
I was overcome with admiration for these young people and their hard working teachers.
I was no less impressed by the girls and staff we met at our next visit, just a few miles away. In the middle of a coffee plantation lies St Anne’s Secondary boarding school for girls. It’s a government school, with pupils drawn from a wide range of backgrounds. The school has about 400 girls – and a quarter of them are participants in the President’s Award.
I spoke at school assembly to the pupils, gathered in the main courtyard beneath two flagpoles – one flying the Kenya flag and the other, in my honour, the Union flag (which had been smartly broken by three Ranger Guides). I then toured the classrooms which included science laboratories that brought back immediate memories of my own schooldays.
The school principal, Mrs Kimemia, was an inspiration. Quietly spoken, but absolutely resolute in her determination to do the very best by her pupils. She has been associated with the President’s Award for many years, introducing it in each school she has managed.
The Award participants put on an entertainment for us of traditional songs and dances, shared food and drink they had prepared and gave short presentations about their Award experiences. They showed themselves to be highly articulate and amusing young women – ready to take on leadership roles within their families, communities and the nation as a whole.
“It is a tradition, you know,” Mrs Kimemia whispered to me as we watched the girls perform, “that all Gold PA Awardees go on to university.”
Two very different schools. One Award programme.