Here in Kakamaga, over the past six years on a voluntary part time basis, along with her husband Norm, Cheryl Filipenko has been helping girls go to high school, and worrying about what comes after.
Choices are what Cheryl had at age 16 when starting high school in Oliver, BC; limited choices with boundaries, but choices nonetheless.
All students in her Grade 10 class felt obligated to continue their education. Cheryl went through Grade 13 because her parents did not have the means to send her straight to university and she did not know what to study. But she knew she would continue her studies.
There were not that many subjects offered in school but she liked science and so, on graduating, she applied for a loan and university entrance into a BSc programme. She had worked every summer since grade 8, first in fruit stands where she gained confidence and then in a fast food restaurant in Osoyoos. Pretty much as students do at home today, 50 years later. For Harambee girls such work is not an option.
She had the admirable savvy as a young woman to job shadow the school principal’s daughter who was a lab technician in New Westminster. She applied to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s two year Lab Technician course. She could afford her first year of study at NAIT because she lived with her aunt who was a nurse at University Hospital in Edmonton and because her second year was spent at the hospital on a work-study programme.
She then found full time work in the chemistry department of University Hospital, the same place she had trained. “It was a great career.” *
With little available work, volunteering or ‘job shadowing’ would be an option for a Harambee girl, but there appears to be a social factor here where any shift upward in level of education is prestigious, making such an avenue undignified. Perhaps it’s time to put appearances aside; it’s a choice Cheryl is working on with Beatrice and Beverlyne.
* [It comes as little surprise to learn that Norm is a chemist…]
[With permission. Photos: Norm Filipenko]