International COVID-19 Grant

Shanel’s Story: A Return to School

Shanel’s Story: A Return to School
Shanel has good reason to smile: she's back at school and learning life skills through Operation Hope.

Shanel is a 13-year old girl at a primary school in Nairobi. Fourth born among five children, her family lives in Kayole, where her father supports the family through menial jobs and her mother supports the family by selling fish in the marketplace. Fishmongering is an upgrade from her previous neighbourhood laundry job. Shanel’s mother credits United Methodist Women with the positive turn of events in their lives.

Previously, Shanel would go to bed hungry. She lacked the basic necessities of life including a school lunch or a sanitary pad. In school, she and her siblings were often laughed at by their peers, who jeered at them for their extreme poverty. The smile on her face did not reveal the hard times she was facing.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in Kenya in 2020, Shanel and her siblings were forced to stay home from school. They only survived by doing menial jobs for their neighbours who would give them a bit of food in exchange for a day’s work. 

When the government reopened schools, with the necessary restrictions in place, her mother decided to send only the eldest child to school as she could not afford to send them all. Shanel stayed home, hoping and praying that things would be better for the family. Her clothes were worn and she began to look haggard. 

However, the situation changed for the family when her mother benefitted from a loan funded by United Methodist Women through the Operation Hope Socio–Economic Empowerment for the Vulnerable (SEEV) program, also called the Vulnerable Response Project (VRP). This program addresses the economic empowerment of women living with HIV/AIDS; the project encourages business development, education and the mentoring of recipients.  

New Skills

One of sixty beneficiaries of the loan, Shanel’s mother was able to stop washing clothes for others and open her fish business which proved profitable. Her mother paid Shanel’s tuition, bought food stuff and other necessities, including personal hygiene items.

Shanel returned to school! At this time, Operation Hope continues to provide life skills support for beneficiaries of the program and their families, such as Shanel and her mother.

Shanel told her counsellor, “Many of my friends wanted me to join groups that could improve my social standing. Such groups include befriending men who had money and therefore would pay many of my costs and keep me comfortable. Had it not been for the training I had received in life skills, I would have succumbed to peer pressure and would have left school.” 

The support from United Methodist Women for this COVID-19 grant has gone a long way to keep Shanel in school and at the same time, build her self-esteem. Today, Shanel does not see herself as so alone but feels a part of Operation Hope, a place of hope in the marginalized and informal settlements of Nairobi. She and her family thank United Methodist Women.

With Regional Missionary Elmira Sellu, Flory L. Atieno co-founded and leads the United Methodist Women-funded Operation Hope in Nairobi, Kenya.

Posted or updated: 3/19/2021 12:00:00 AM

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United Methodist Women Economic Development Initiative (EDI) creates economic opportunities even in the most vulnerable rural communities. The seed grants support women entrepreneurs to start and run viable small enterprises, agribusinesses and income-generating activities. The opportunities that these small grants create for women, their families and communities are powerful catalysts, especially during COVID-19 when the economic situation is becoming more and more insecure.