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Looking Back, to Forge Ahead

I come from a family of 7, the youngest girl. I am not boasting when I say that I was born a very bright child. In my country, for a child to qualify for primary school, they have to go through a series of steps, before they can be promoted to Class One. My teachers at the time in 1986, found my brain too sharp, thus I was enrolled into Primary school directly, without the hustle of the junior classes. I never came second in class, all through my primary school, which saw me amass many gifts. My parents, being very poor, were spared the burden of buying me school requirements because I always got them all in form of awards, i.e. school uniforms, books and pens. My teachers also ensured that I had something to eat from their table, since we seldom had any food at home.
I sat my KCPE in 1991, and passed with marks that hadn’t and haven’t been seen in the history of my school, to date. My dilemma was how I was going to get fees to join high school, because my parents didn’t have a chicken to sell, leave alone a cow, as is the norm in my community, to take me to school. I was pleasantly surprised when I got a letter from a leading newspaper, the Standard, congratulating me on having won school fees worth KShs. 5,000/= in a competition I had jokingly participated in while on holiday at my aunt’s place.
Although my mum was bitter about my having been locked out of one of the best schools in the region for lack of fees, I told her that my sound brain would be content in any school. My mum enrolled me into the village high school and paid for me school fees for the whole year, and even bought me my first brand new skirt and shirt. We couldn’t afford a sweater and a pair of shoes, but I was so happy I felt like a new person. It was over a month late when I finally reported for my first year of high school, but at end of the term, I came second, for the first time in my life, and I was so mad at myself. I promised myself never to come second again, and I never did.
I sailed through my first year, and my teachers were impressed and arranged for me to get the community bursary the second year, meaning that everything was catered for, except my lunch, shoes and sweater, which didn’t faze me as long as I got an education. In fact I found a very old pair of rubber shoes whose upper was torn to shreds and turned them serviceable by improvising the upper with old rags and sewing them back onto the sole with thread and needle. For polish, I used to apply soot from our cooking pots. I didn’t mind the cold, so I never missed the sweater.
Unfortunately, corruption set in and my bursary was cut short just when I was set to start my final year, in 1994. I dropped out of school at 17, and married my first boyfriend. Life was too tough! I couldn’t find even odd jobs because I didn’t have papers. Five years later, a mother of two, I talked to my husband, who was baffled but agreed to enroll me for KCSE as a private candidate. I passed though I didn’t have reading material and there and then, decided that my daughters, and any other girl, didn’t have to go through all I underwent. My husband got me a sponsor for college and am now a trained journalist, though I couldn’t get a job because after numerous interviews, I had to sleep with someone or buy the job yet I couldn’t bring myself to do either.
I set up the Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, in 2002, a haven for girls and young women, in similar or worse circumstances. I do odd jobs and pay their fees, besides meeting their other basic needs. I have to date, educated 46 girls through high school, and outsource vocational training for them to further their studies. Right now, we have over 300 boys and girls who I am keeping in school because I believe education is the key to unlock riches. My Centre offers lessons on adolescence and sexuality in surrounding primary and secondary schools to empower girls with knowledge to help them not to succumb to peer pressure or to give up on their dreams. My Centre also believes in providing money making skills to our girls and young women in order to alleviate poverty. When not in school, we engage in beadwork, knitting and tailoring, to make an extra coin.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Aminah's picture

you are an inspiration

Was really sad to hear that you dropped out of school at 17. Such a bright student and doing that is heart wrenching.

But I guess you have made it up. Your community initiaive in helping educate others is commendable and I am so inspired.

Wishing you all the best



Phionah Musumba's picture

Thank you, Aminah!

Not so sad! I went back 5 years later, at 21, and finished. I passed too! Maybe the only regret I have is having not made it to university, but am good. My girls at the Centre will do so on my behalf. We need to give a hand up, as we might not be here tomorrow, and our actions will determine if someone else gives the ones we leave behind a boost up the ladder.
All the best, and I really appreciate your encouraging comments!

Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya

TJ's picture

happy to hear the backstory

I read about your drive for that piece of paper in another post so now I'm happy to hear the back story to that drive :) the 'before'.

Most definitely, power to your pen Phi

Phionah Musumba's picture

Thank you!

Thanks a lot for taking the time to read and comment on my posts. It is really encouraging and inspiring.
Power to our voices, TJ!
All the best,

Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya

Catsilveira's picture

your words convey power

Dear Phionah,

To me, your words convey power and drive. I get the impression that you were able to transform the challenges that life gave you into a beautiful journey. How did you come up with the idea for the Centre for Disadvantaged Girls? And what is your vision for it? I would love to hear more about your daily challenges, vision for future, positive impacts on girls`s life that have been part of it, etc….

all the best


Hello, Catarina,
Thanks for having taken the time to read and comment on my post. It is very encouraging and inspiring. I hope posting the profile of our Centre will help you understand more.

The Centre for Disadvantaged Girls is anchored on 5 pillars: Education and Training, Poverty Eradication, Women's Health, Women Empowerment and Social Enterprise Development. We work with girls and women from the poorest of the poor backgrounds together with those affected and or infected with HIV/AIDS. We believe that anyone can improve their lot in life, given the chance and opportunity.
Everyday, many girls in my community drop out of school due to lack of school fees, traditional beliefs and customs, or even gender discrimination. Most of these girls are usually bright and could perform very well, given a chance to pursue their education.
Recent statistics show that 11 girls, get infected with HIV/AIDS everyday in Kenya.
In Western Kenya, 380 young girls become pregnant; of course unwanted pregnancies, half of which end in abortion.
40 of the abortions are always unsafe, which leaves at least one young, unwed teenage mother dead from pregnancy related causes, and possibly infected with the deadly virus.

The Centre for Disadvantaged Girls was created and assigned itself the responsibility to help make the lives of disadvantaged girls in the community better, by empowering them with education.

The Centre of Disadvantaged Girls has a vision to create a haven where girls, women and youth in the society, especially the community around us can identify with their very own, and together prepare themselves to face the world responsibly not only financially, but also educationally, health wise and socially.

We aim to achieve this through:-
I. Ensuring that all the willing young women who dropped out of school because of poverty related reasons get another chance to finish their education.
II. Offering counseling to young women in regard to issues affecting their sexuality, economic and social lifestyles.
III. Providing a forum to make new friends and guiding mentors.
IV. Providing financial support and services to members to uplift their living standards.
V. Equipping them with the knowledge and skills to fight poverty, and also HIV/AIDS.
VI. Enforcing hard work both inside and outside the classroom.
VII. Providing money making skills to the women and youth at the Centre.

How do we ensure that the youth engaged through the project make a difference in the community?
Since most of the populace at the Centre are the poorest of the poor, imparting skills to them will ensure that they have a level competing ground with their well to do peers when it comes to development matters in the community. With a level playground, we believe that the youth will be empowered in terms of self esteem, financially and educationally, which will give them the clout with which to have a say in what kind of a community they want, in terms of leadership and even economically.

How do we evaluate a beneficiary?
One of our core values is honesty. We believe in giving help where it is most deserved. This means that we engage the services of Community Leaders in the health and administration sectors to help in identifying beneficiaries. We also go the extra mile by moving from door to door of the chosen beneficiaries, to ascertain that they are indeed deserving of any type of help. Our staff is also specially hand picked, where vigorous interviews are carried out, as we believe in working with like minded people who have a calling, to help others.

What kind of timeline is our project pegged on?
Our Centre was initiated in 2002, and registered by the Kenya Government under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development as a CBO Registration No.10097/2009, on 2nd April 2009 and we intend to be around for a very long time, or until poverty is sufficiently tackled in our community. We have managed to send girls and their brothers to school, who we absorb after high school, to work with us, since they understand what we are up to, giving back to the community.

We aim to solidly cement our project by putting to use the skills we attain at the Centre, back into the community. For instance, if we train teachers, we believe they have to come back and teach in the community, same for healthcare workers, carpenters, masons, and tailors, among others. This should be their way of giving back to the community. We help them set up their own businesses, which is the essence of their empowerment, as long as what they engage in is beneficial to the community. We sign a document, outlining these stipulations, at their absorption into the project as beneficiaries. They accept to be empowered, in order to empower others.

Who benefits from this project?
We empower an average of over 200 youth, 120 females and 80 males, who are absorbed into the project actively, in different ways, every year. We also empower 70 women through our Malkia Empowerment Network Program, the business arm of the Centre for Disadvantaged Girls. With them, we recycle used polythene bags which they make into bags, baskets and handbags. They also make jewellery from beads, and leather sandals, ornamented by the same colourful beads. Some of our work can be viewed on our Facebook Page, Malkia Empowerment Network. We hope to sell our merchandise internationally in future, because our local market rates are so poor, in relation to the effort the women invest in.

What indicators do we use to realize our goals?
We achieve this by:

1. Establishing Girl Power Clubs in participating schools, which submit monthly progress reports to our office.
2. Formation of Focus Group Discussions about the before, during and after period of all beneficiaries in our community.
3. Monitoring the general progress of each beneficiary, door to door, in terms of social, moral and financial responsibility in the community.

Closer home, the indicators we use include:
1. The beneficiary’s community development and social entrepreneurial skills, ability and sacrifice. This is one of the reasons for the strict vetting for the calling before absorption into the Centre.
2. Are they able to give a hand up, as opposed to a hand out policy, after being empowered? If yes, our goals will have been achieved.

We aim to:
• Buy a sizable piece of land on which to build a vocational college complex (to offer marketable courses for the youth in mass communication, computer studies, carpentry, tailoring, catering and masonry among others), a hospital (to provide quality affordable medical care to the suffering community, which is too poor to access medical attention when ill), and a radio station (to address issues affecting the girl child in Kenya vis a vis around the world).
• Help educate young women drop outs willing to go back to school by securing bursaries/and/or school fees for students with potential.
• Give information on the facts of life to young women, believing that with knowledge, they shall not perish.
• Empower young women to believe in themselves by stopping the compromising of their integrity.
• Enlighten young women to think big and pursue visions and ambitions that will impact on humanity positively.
• Provide money making skills to supplement what their parents and/or guardians make, in order to help in eradicating poverty.
• Make young people responsible members of the society.

a) Luncheons
These are organized to openly discuss our life experiences, especially on social issues. Here we invite talented women who have made successful achievements to share the secrets of how they climbed the ladder of success.

b) Clinics
During these clinics, the girls will be given tips on good grooming, etiquette and manners, beauty and make up, hair dressing and styling, dressing and design, cookery, communication skills, interior decoration e.t.c. These clinics are organized by specialists and professionals in the said fields who we approach to volunteer and mentor the ladies by assisting them attain their physical qualities and ambitions.

c) Seminars
Seminars and conferences will be organized to teach and learn more on different subjects that affect young women in Kenya, which include Female Genital Mutilation (F.G.M), early or forced marriages, domestic violence, gender discrimination, teenage pregnancies, abortion, drug abuse, prostitution and many others.

The Centre for Disadvantaged Girls welcomes partners from all interested women without racial, sexual orientation or religious bias.

The Centre for Disadvantaged Girls in Kenya is a nonprofit making organization with support from its Founder, Phionah Musumba and sale of the Malkia Empowerment Network merchandise. These funds enable our office to run and pay bills.

We highly welcome sponsorship from organizations and individuals to help us reach out to the young women with this important message, not to lose hope. That there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

All the best,

Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya

Katalina's picture


Thanks for telling us you great story! Good to hear about your education opportunities. All the Best, Katalina

Phionah Musumba's picture


I must thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post. It is not only encouraging, but inspiring too.
Warmest regards,

Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya

Katalina's picture

The best of success to you in

The best of success to you in your program. I used to live in Kenya, great people! Katalina

Phionah Musumba's picture


You are welcome back any time!
We love visitors.

Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya

surfgirl-CA's picture

Thank you, Phionah,

for your work on behalf of school kids in Kenya. I'm amazed you can run the project w/ the funding sources you mention!

surfgirl-CA --
When we come from the willingness to love, not fear, we will see the best and highest materialize in our world.
Quand nous venons à partir de la volonté à l'amour, pas la peur, nous allons voir le meilleur et le plus élevé se matérialise

I must say that God loves me, He provides me with jobs here and there, and the sacrifice pays, since my own daughter is in National school, and her sister in Provincial, yet I always manage to raise not only their fees, which are very high, but also the other girls'. Even so, Malkia Empowerment Network-CDG, our business arm, pays some, from the proceeds of the sales of our wares. If we could only get an international market, then we wouldn't really complain much. All in all, God is good. Almost forgot. Am gonna send you a profile of our organization. Girls who drop out of school and can't go back for one reason or another are empowered with a skill of their choice, to help them make a living. Thanks for your kindness.

Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya

Ms. Phionah! -- also, i wonder how we can get you all a market for the bags & such... hmmm... Why don't you 'friend' a bunch of us , & let's talk about it.. it might be more direct then only posting to the Resources page.

surfgirl-CA --
When we come from the willingness to love, not fear, we will see the best and highest materialize in our world.
Quand nous venons à partir de la volonté à l'amour, pas la peur, nous allons voir le meilleur et le plus élevé se matérialise

Phionah Musumba's picture

Thank you!

Hello, Surfgirl-CA,
Thanks a lot for your help.
Friending a bunch of you in this forum is a very bright idea, though it would be tricky too, seeing as we wouldn't know who would be interested or willing to help.
I would however be grateful if you gave me an insight on who to friend, to curb the aspect of my offending someone unintentionally. Sending you the profile in a private message. I hope its OK with you.
Thanks again, and all the best,

Centre for Disadvantaged Girls, Kenya

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