We finished the last of the interviews on Friday with six girls from two schools for the deaf. Isaac, one of the interpreters, knows at least four languages if sign language is counted. He signed in English and the students responded in English, their third language. The other interpreter was Sister Caroline. Harambee will award two scholarships, one for each school.
All applicants were first screened by Sarah at the front desk out on the lawn and about 160 girls were turned away at the gate. Sarah and the others screening are all Form 4 Harambee graduates and they know what to look for. Those with marks too low to cope in one of the nine boarding schools were asked to leave a record of their marks and their contact information; this hopefully made them feel somewhat better for their trek into Kakamega. It is expensive even to hire and sit on the back of a boda-boda or bicycle taxi to make the journey into town for the interview. The 400 odd who made it past Sarah were interviewed by one of three Harambee graduates who noted each candidate’s family history and marks for grades 6-8 in primary school. The Harambee girls also asked if each student’s parents were alive; number of wives; with whom they lived; the number of brothers and sisters and how much schooling each had, and who helped with the cost of this schooling. The girls then drew maps to their homes while waiting for their interviews with Cheryl, Norm or me. Such is the weather that all interviews took place outside under shade trees.
We asked questions that might confirm the accuracy of the previous interview and help with the follow-up field interviews. Questions such as: What does the Harambee centre do? What is a scholarship? Did you repeat any grades in primary school? How many times did you write the final exam? Marks? What activities did you do outside of the classroom (sports, drama. choir, debate)? What do you grow on your shamba? Is there a fence around your shamba? Any big trees on the property? Lvestock? What are the roof and the walls of your house made of? Who brought you here today or did you come unaccompanied?
Each of us averaged 10-12 interviews a day, and then we would spend time together deciding which of the days interviews should be verified, which to put in the ‘maybe’ pile and which to reject. If there were too many discrepancies between the first and second interviews or if the standing in each grade was too low, or if we learned that, for example, though a girls father had died, the aunt, a nurse, had paid for all the siblings educations, then we would direct the interview to the ‘no‘ pile. We had to, there are only 60 scholarships available.
The third phase of this process was to send more Harambee graduates out into the field to check on the accuracy of the information. Scholarships are based on need and academic achievement and such is the pressure to land a desk in high school that families will exaggerate or fabricate and even submit doctored school records. The verifiers make the trek each day to the countryside to see if indeed the house does have a thatched roof and mud walls and just two rooms for 6 siblings. They inquire of the boda-boda diver, the school principal, the children in the school yard, some granny walking along the road, the lady digging in the neighbouring shamba, and family members to check on accuracy. Verifiers have followed maps to a run down hut only to discover the girl actually lived in a five room, permanent brick house. If this is true out goes the application as there are too many honest ones yet to explore.
At the start of every interview we ask the girls to read aloud and to explain in their own words: If any information on this application is found to be false the interview will not be considered.