Fifteen years ago, Asha Jaffar dreamed of going to high school, but didn’t know how she could manage the school fees. Her family lived in Kibera, Kenya, the largest informal settlement (sometimes referred to as a slum) in Africa where people live on $2 or less a day. Asha was walking through Kibera when she passed a humble structure with iron sheets for a roof. She realized it was a classroom and talked to the principal who said she could enroll for free. Asha didn’t understand, there were no free schools in Kenya — even the public high school charged fees.
Asha was sixteen when she joined the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy (KGSA), the first school that provides a free high school education to 130 girls every year. She was lucky to enroll, because today the school receives over 100 applications for 35 coveted 9th grade slots. Asha exceled and led her classmates to win a regional Junior Achievement competition outperforming students from wealthier areas that led to her career in journalism and community activism. In Kibera, women were not respected and educating girls was not valued. Girls were routinely harassed walking to and from school and often dropped out because of forced child marriage and pregnancy.
After graduating from KGSA in 2011, Asha completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. She has contributed to international and local media, working as an assistant producer, translator and editor for Clear Water Productions and the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa. In 2014, Asha won the Special Award of the Haller Prize for Development Journalism.
Throughout her success, Asha has never forgotten her roots. She regularly stops by KGSA to encourage students and to say hello to a former classmate who now teaches math and science at the school. She often plans her visit when the kitchen is serving rice and jokes how much she misses KGSA’s school lunches. Growing up in Kibera, Asha understands food scarcity — often the school lunch was the girls’ only food each day.
During the pandemic, Asha spearheaded the award-winning Kibra Food Drive to provide food for needy families. Today food prices have doubled from inflation and the crisis in Ukraine. In April, during Ramadan and Easter, Asha partnered with the Turkish Embassy to deliver sacks of food to more than 250 families. KGSA was proud to host the food drive that benefited many of its own students and staff. Asha’s activism has been recognized by The New York Times, National Geographic and NPR. In 2021, she was awarded the “Africans Rising Activist of the Year.” Asha credits her accomplishments to KGSA’s teachers who treated her like family and driven classmates determined to change their family’s lives.
Simonetta Lein, online TV host recognized by Forbes Magazine as the fifth “Most Influential Woman in the World” recently interviewed Asha and two other KGSA alumnae for her SLTV Instagram Show. She was moved by their powerful stories and the tremendous impact that a small school in Kibera had in Kenya and the world. In 2018 and 2019, KGSA’s seniors beat the national average on Kenya’s high school exit exam qualifying them for University – unheard of in Kibera. KGSA has graduated over 270 students; 70 of whom have been able to pursue higher education bettering their lives and the lives of those in their community.
Simonetta’s philanthropic arm, The Wishwall Foundation, has committed to both support one KGSA student for the 2022 academic year and to share her high school journey on Instagram to raise awareness for the school. Simonetta is a “wish-maker” who founded The Wishwall Foundation in 2015 to “give a voice to the voiceless” and “help make meaningful wishes come true.” It costs $1,000 a year to educate one KGSA girl and another thousand to provide room and board which provides her with food, shelter and security so she can learn without the incredibly difficult obstacles that are part of the Kibera slum. You can learn more about The Wishwall Foundation and the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy at www.thewishwall.org and www.kgsafoundation.org. Follow this inspirational journey and consider helping other deserving girls fighting for a better future.