“Every Girl Is Important” Furthers Girls’ Education in Kenya

Diane Rodriguez founded Every Girl Is Important with Sister Veronica Rop in order to further education for disadvantaged young girls. (Courtesy of the Fordham University website)

Diane Rodriguez founded “Every Girl Is Important” with Sister Veronica Rop in order to further education for disadvantaged young girls. (Courtesy of the Fordham University website)

Countless young girls in Kenya don’t have the opportunity to pursue a high school education. Due to financial situations, families are forced to make decisions about who gets to receive an education. More often than not, girls are the ones kept at home and are denied opportunities for an education and a better life. 

Diane Rodriguez, Ph.D., and a professor in curriculum and teaching at Fordham’s Graduate School of Education, founded the nonprofit “Every Girl Is Important” along with the help of her student and friend, Sister Veronica Rop. 

“We have an African saying that states, ‘Educate a woman and you educate the whole village,’” said Sister Veronica. “This means, one educated girl, like myself, has the potential to change a whole village and beyond.” 

Sister Veronica was born in Moiben, a village in Kenya and grew up in the Ndalat Settlement Scheme. While growing up, her father was a strict Nandi man, following the customs that emphasize the role of women in raising the children, owning no property and depending entirely on the male figure in the household, according to her biography on the Catholic Theological Ethics website. 

From her early life, Sister Veronica said she questioned such ideas that put women in a “second-class status.” Education for women was seen as a distraction from their other duties, like being mothers.  

Sister Veronica attended Ndalat Mixed Secondary school along with 24 other girls. She struggled to pay for school and would even brew and sell local beer to support herself financially. She was the only one of the 24 girls to graduate with her high school diploma and the first woman in her village to pursue a college degree.

“Despite every obstacle, God gave me the grace to go through and complete my education — which I loved very much,” she said. 

After graduating high school, Sister Veronica was able to continue her education in America. 

“Leaving my country of origin to study in a new land was exciting,” she said. “[It came with] a lot of anxiety and fear of the unknown.”  

Sister Veronica said these fears vanished when she met Rodriguez at Barry University in Miami in 2001. She described Rodriguez as “a unique person, approachable and with a gift of inspiring and bringing out in one the ability to appreciate oneself and culture.”

Sister Veronica said that during her doctoral graduation at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in 2013, Rodriguez visited her home village and workplace and was able to see what the majority of girls go through in rural parts of Kenya.  

“Meeting our beautiful girls in villages and in elementary schools gave her [Rodriguez] a sense of what a secondary or high school education can do for a girl in Kenya,” Sister Veronica said. “Sharing my experience of how a mere high school education transformed my life and opened opportunities for me became more evident that empowering girls through education is the only way to alleviate her dignity and to rescue her from FGM [female genital mutilation] and early marriage, thus break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy in society.”

Boarding schools give the girls a way to avoid the various factors that cause them to drop out of school, said Sister Veronica, so her mission with Rodriguez became clear.

“Professor Diane and I, with the girls we met in mind, came up with the plan of how we could work together to first begin the Every Girl Is Important project in Kenya, before extending it to other needy girls in other parts of the world,” said Sister Veronica. “I know this is a big dream, but it has to start somewhere.”

Rodriguez said she started a GoFundMe, initially thinking it was going to be easy to raise the money. But it wasn’t. She said she spoke to a lawyer at Fordham University who assisted and advised her to make Every Girl Is Important a nonprofit with a 501(c)(3). 

They started with $10,000, then met Bernie Williams, a retired New York Yankee center fielder, who donated $10,000 more, Rodriguez said. After this, a story was published in Fordham News. An alumnus saw and donated $10,000 as well.  

“He called me directly and said ‘I want to donate. I think you’re doing a good job,’” said Rodriguez. 

Every Girl Is Important has now raised $100,000. 

“The Assumption Sisters of Eldoret have provided the site or location where the school is expected to be build while Fordham University, School of Graduate Education, New York, have taken up the part of raising funds through their students who also take part in immersion program run by Prof. Diane,” said Sister Veronica. “Thanks to the first set of students and professors to visit Kenya, some girls are pursuing their high school education through their sponsorship.”

Sister Veronica said their dream of having a high school for disadvantaged girls in Kenya is coming true.  

Rodriguez has traveled to Kenya many times, even taking some of her students with her.  

“We got a course approved to take students to Kenya again, and we had it set up for last April, but because of the pandemic we had to stop,” said Rodriguez. “We were going to start the construction at that time as well, but because of the pandemic we had to stop, and now we are waiting to see what’s going to happen next.”

Sister Veronica said that their plan now is to have the school ready in 2021 or after COVID-19. Their goals after the construction of this school are to build even more schools to “empower more needy girls through high school education in Kenya and other parts of the world.” 

She said she welcomes every person coming across this paper to share in the African saying put well by Professor John Mbiti. 

“‘We are because I am and I am because we are.’ The saying highlights our need for each other,” said Sister Veronica. “Each one’s contribution in any form however small makes a difference for God loves a cheerful giver.”