When you hear the statistics that millions of girls are out of school in the world, it can easily numb your mind. But then there are the stories of individual girls that pierce your heart with so much feeling…the girl who overcame the odds — and Peninah is one of them. The founder of our Uganda partner program, Arlington Academy of Hope in Uganda, highlights her incredible rise to the top of her class:
When Peninah Kituyi first came to the Arlington Academy of Hope in 2004, she had lost hope in education. A lanky eight-year-old at the time, she had already attended three schools, leaving each one in quick succession as hostile students taunted her and called her names because she was an albino. In class, she couldn’t see what her teachers wrote on the blackboard. Seated at the back of the classroom, all she could see was a blur. She could not write, and she had difficulty identifying objects in a room. And like all albino girls, her skin often erupted in painful blisters. School for her was torture, and she was ready to give it all up. After all, in each of the classes she had attended, she was consistently at the bottom. There seemed no future for her in education.
That year, however, the Arlington Academy of Hope opened in neighboring Bumwalukani, about three miles away. It was a private school, charging as much as 85,000 shilings a term at that time, but Peninah was able to convince her dad to try and enroll her there in one last attempt. Her dad obliged, but was pessimistic. Could this school be any different from the other schools Peninah had attended?
Peninah’s dad’s doubts were dispelled almost as soon as they reached the new school. Although the school was barely finished and had little to its name, the teachers on staff were welcoming. Peninah was welcomed warmly, and when the teachers realized her disability, they put her in the front of the classroom so she could see better. They also contacted the school’s founder in the US, John Wanda, to see if he could find some special help for the little girl. John Wanda was able to find a donor, Linda Watkins, who gave money to buy the girl special lotions and clothing. She was also taken to an eye specialist in Kampala who fitted Peninah with prescription glasses. Peninah came back a transformed girl. For the first time, she could see clearly. At school, she took everything in that the teachers taught. By the end of that first year, she had risen to the top of the class, easily beating the other 30 boys and girls and showing that she had talent and capability.
In the seven years that Peninah has spent at AAH, she has been a model student. She was an avid reader, topping her class in books read each year. She also sang in the School Choir, and was one of the students who represented the school and the region in the National Music Competitions. While her eyes continued to bother her, she never let that interfere with her education. There were occasions she misplaced or lost her glasses, but she still managed to figure out how to read and remember what her teachers taught. The school takes her for periodic eye tests to ensure that the glasses work well. Everyday she walked the 3 miles to AAH as if in a hurry – school meant everything to her. Her parents saw the blossoming of their girl and were grateful for the opportunity AAH had given to her.
Last year, Peninah sat her PLE. Although she knew she would pass, no one expected her to pass as highly as she did. She led all the girls in her school, and in the district of Bududa, by obtaining 8 aggregates. For a girl who was on the verge of dropping out of school, Peninah had become the best girl in her district. Life could not be better.
Because of her performance, Peninah will receive a full scholarship from AAH to attend any secondary school of her choice. AAH will pay for her all her tuition and boarding fees, uniforms, textbooks, and anything else required by the school. All students from AAH who obtain 8 aggregates or better get this offer. This year, 8 students performed at this level. The remaining 30 students who sat PLE at AAH will get scholarships, but they will be required to contribute a nominal amount of 75,000 shillings towards their education. This comes to about 10% of the cost for each student in their first year. AAH scholarships have helped hundreds of students afford a quality education in some of Uganda’s best secondary schools. And for Peninah, it is a dream come true. She beat all odds to reach this far.
Here at She’s the First, we’re all about beating the odds and helping girls like Peninah to achieve their dreams. To learn more about Arlington Academy of Hope, the program that Peninah participated in, visit www.aahuganda.org, and think about what kind of fun fundraiser you can do with friends to sponsor a girl there for all or part of a year!