WISER Research Presented in Johannesburg

In 2015, like in most years, WISER hosted a group of visitors on our campus for a few months. Two of those visitors, Savannah Johnson and Madelaine Katz, were working on similar research projects exploring the mental health of girls in Muhuru Bay.

Three years later, Savannah and Madelaine still consider themselves WISER advocates, but now, as graduate students, they have taken their research projects all the way from Muhuru Bay to North Carolina and on to South Africa.

Last month, Savannah and Madelaine traveled to Johannesburg to present their combined research, which targeted adolescent mental health outcomes at WISER and in the Muhuru Bay community. The final project, overseen by Dr. Sherryl Broverman of Duke University, was entitled “Becoming WISER: Evaluation of a school-based psychosocial support intervention among adolescent girls in rural Kenya.” The research was featured at Ending Gender Inequalities 2018, a conference hosted in South Africa by nonprofit research institute RTI International. The event provided a high-energy space for leaders from around the world to share perspectives on how to create a more empowering world for women and girls.

“Being in that space, surrounded by people working on women and girls’ empowerment, was rewarding,” said Madelaine. “But having WISER’s results displayed, using WISER’s impact to add to the body of research on girls’ well-being was really remarkable.”

The team’s study administered a novel mental health survey called the Hope Scale, which was given to both WISER students in their first year and to female students of the same age in Muhuru Bay who had also passed their primary school exams. The tool is unique in that it can capture themes that may be missed using other tools. The survey asks girls to agree or disagree with statements such as “When there is a bad experience in your life, you know that it will not stay bad forever,” or “When you become an adult, you foresee yourself getting a job.”

After collecting the results, Savannah and Madelaine found that WISER students scored significantly higher in terms of overall hope than girls who were not attending WISER. They speculate that this higher score may be due to the unique environment that WISER provides for all of its students. WISER offers reassurance that girls will complete their secondary school education, that they have all materials needed for success (school clothes, supplies, menstrual pads), that they are supported by peers, and that they receive guidance and counseling from mentors and teachers.

The team believes this study provides evidence that the students at WISER may have a higher level of hope than their peers who do not have access to educational experiences as comprehensive as WISER. It also suggests that, when it comes to mental health, WISER remains a critical and valuable resource for girls in Muhuru Bay.

This is why, in part, the WISER team is excited to be expanding to double our school population between 2017 and 2020. Savannah and Madelaine’s study suggests that girls outside of WISER may feel less hopeful. What better way to address that issue than to open WISER’s gates to more girls than ever?


You can follow along with WISER’s ongoing expansion by subscribing to our newsletter and by reading WISER news right here on wisergirls.org. For this update, the WISER team would like to send a special thanks to Savannah Johnson and Madelaine Katz for their work and their commitment to WISER’s mission over all these years!

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