Investing in Health and Education
According to the World Bank,
educating girls yields a higher rate of return than any other investment available in the developing world.
Educating girls also has dramatic health benefits and has been shown to be the single most potent factor globally in reducing infant mortality. This “return on investment” is linear, with “dividends” increasing with the level of education of the mother. Secondary school education for girls has also been shown to be highly protective against HIV infection.
The mission of the Women’s Institute for Secondary Education and Research (WISER) is to improve educational, economic, and health outcomes for girls, particularly those orphaned by AIDS, while promoting community-wide enhancements in health and development. WISER is a Kenyan NGO formed in 2007.
Where We Are
WISER is based in Muhuru Bay on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya, an area that is isolated geographically, economically, politically, and educationally. This region has the highest HIV, malaria and infant mortality rates in the country. Less than 10% of all children receive the full schedule of childhood vaccinations. The region has limited electricity and access to clean water. Many school age girls receive little or no education because of discrimination, early forced marriages, orphan hood by AIDS, and early pregnancy. Sexual exploitation of school-aged girls is endemic and 50% of sexually active adolescent girls are involved in transactional sex in order to obtain funds for school fees, clothing and hygiene items.
WISER has partnered with Duke University, UNICEF-WASH, Johnson & Johnson, the NIKE Foundation, and the Fogarty International Clinical Research Program to develop and assess signature programs that address the interplay of health, education and development. These programs include a boarding secondary school for 120 girls (opened in 2010) that provides all resources for a safe and effective education as well as healthy psychosocial development. WISER works closely with the Ministry of Health to provide health care and health education to its students, one third of whom are AIDS orphans. WISER also provides a primary school program, WISERBridge, that currently serves over 700 co-educational students. WISERBridge builds educational capacity and helps all students be more competitive for secondary school. WISERBridge also distributes sanitary pads to girls preparing for national exams. Our health programs include the first source of clean drinking water for the community via a water purification facility and pumping system, and a community- and church-based HIV prevention program that enhances family communication and economic strategies that reduce HIV risk behaviors in youth.
Prior to WISER’s work in Muhuru Bay, very few girls in primary school continued to secondary school. After two years of the WISERBridge program over 40% of girls now qualify for secondary school. The number of girls completing primary school has increased by 50% and early marriages have been reduced. WISER also has extensive co-educational programs to build gender allies in boys and young men. We believe WISER’s programs will increase the quality of life for everyone in the region, especially with the strong community partnership WISER has carefully created and nurtured.