“For me, school is like a safe haven. It helps me to keep busy and keep away from bad influences,” says Monica Muthoni, a Grade 7 student in Muhamarani Primary School on Kenya’s coast. “There are so many young girls in my village who have dropped out of school because their parents can’t afford the fees. Unfortunately, most of them are idle and vulnerable to risky behavior mainly due to peer influence.”

Not long ago, Monica fell out of her safe haven of education amid poverty, with an ailing mother and three siblings to care for.

Her story shows how narrow the margin is between stable family life and disaster. Monica’s early childhood was safe in a middle income-family, living on their family’s small farm in rural Mpeketoni, in Lamu County. She and her siblings enjoyed the privilege of access to education.

Monica and her mom, Beatrice

Then one day she experienced a devastating incident that would pitch her life into chaos.

The Biggest Challenge

One Tuesday morning, she woke up to a life-shattering shock: her father had died. It left her mother Beatrice severely depressed and her siblings torn apart. Monica’s school attendance became inconsistent, as her mother struggled to cope.

Time passed and the family’s economic situation worsened. As the eldest child, Monica had to do something to save her family. One day her mother asked her to leave school, at least until she could save enough money for school fees.

“I couldn’t stand seeing her struggle to deal with my dad’s demise and provide for us,” Monica says, “so I agreed to stay at home.”

Beatrice admitted the biggest challenge she faced as a single parent was “lacking the financial capability to educate my four children. My medical condition does not allow me to perform hard tasks, yet that’s the only way I can provide for them. I’ve so far undergone 4 surgeries where I spent a lot of money leaving me with barely a coin to pay for their [school] fees.”

Monica, feeling vulnerable to early pregnancy or marriage like her peers, remained at home caring for her brothers and sisters, while hoping to find a breakthrough.

Education Opens a Door

One afternoon, the head teacher of her former primary school reached out to her mother. She told her of an Aga Khan Foundation program that provided financial aid to out-of-school children to help them overcome economic and social barriers. Monica felt relief and then a wave of excitement. After a long period, she would finally have a chance to learn!

The project has eased the financial burden of school fees and learning materials for Monica’s family. If not for the project, says Beatrice says, her daughter would probably still be at home, or someone’s teenage wife, a young mother, or working as a housekeeper or doing odd jobs. Instead, Monica is in school determined to change her future.

“My favorite subjects are mathematics and science. I hope to become a nurse and help my mother to recover from her ailment and also improve my family’s livelihood,” Monica says.

Read more about the Aga Khan Foundation’s education programs in Kenya.