FOR more than two decades, Rachel Dawai has excelled in granting bright, needy pupils and girls an education at the Coast. Dawai, the director of the Citadel Group of Schools, started a school from humble beginnings and turned it into a giant in education.
Dawai says her passion for teaching started way back in the 1970s at Asumbi Teacher Training College in Western. Her teaching career started in 1978, after she graduated from Asumbi. Dawai was first posted to Barani Primary School, Kilifi county, but was transferred after just one term to Buruhania Primary School, Mombasa county.
Her two-year stay at Buruhania saw her gain enough experience. She was then transferred to the Ganjoni Primary School, the only public primary school in Mombasa that is well known to excel in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination, as an administrator.
“My teaching journey had just taken off,” Dawai says.
In early 1980s, Ganjoni had neither a classroom nor an administration block. It struggled to cope with a population of about 400 pupils. “We used to teach under the mango trees. However, this did not deter us. We talked to well-wishers and the defunct Mombasa municipal council to help us build classrooms,” she recalls.
Margaret Olang’, a once vocal Ganjoni ward councilor and now an MCA, donated the piece of land where the primary school stands. After the classrooms were completed, Dawai steered the schools’ performance to a higher level, churning out good grades and producing some of the best pupils countrywide during national examinations.
In 1994, Dawai decided to venture into private school business. However her idea was not about making money but assisting bright pupils from poor families. Ratriza Juniour School was established and started enrolling kids around the Ganjoni neighbourhood. However, the school failed due to misunderstandings between the directors who had come up together to form the institution, Dawai says.
This did not kill her spirits. She immediately changed the name of the school to Citadel Sega and started admitting pupils again. Dawai enrolled about 250 pupils that following year. The number was overwhelming and she had to look for ways to expand the institution. And thus, Citadel Junior School Tudor was born.
“For 12 years teaching at Ganjoni Primary, my work was so commendable. All my pupils excelled, and this is why many parents brought me their kids,” she says. However, while the two schools were struggling to grow, Dawai was appointed to the government to work at the Office of the President (Daniel Moi) from 1995 to 2002.
She says the two schools continued operating in her absence. Her retirement from the civil service gave her ample time to focus on her schools, which by then were posting exemplary performances in the KCPE examinations.
Through her hard work, Dawai, who is fondly called ‘Mama’ by many of her students, says she has been able to nurture lawyers, doctors, engineers and neurosurgeons. Her former students include Prof Maurice Mbondenyi, the deputy director of Kenya School of Law, and Dennis Omondi, a pilot with British Airways. “I have seen my pupils become professionals and better students,” she says.
In three years consecutively, 2001-2003, Citadel Group of Schools (Sega and Tudor) were in the headlines for producing top students in the KCPE examinations in Mombasa.
Dawai's passion for girls' education has driven her to set up a modernised girls’ school, Citadel Maiden, in Kilifi county. She says the plight of girls in the Coast has been on the rise because of poverty levels, which have led to forced and early marriages.
“I’ve always been bothered to see a high number of young girls dropping out of school," she says. "That is why I established Citadel Maiden, a secondary school meant to enroll girls from poor families.”
Dawai says the only way to help and secure girls' future was to start an school to cater for their needs. Upon admission, a girl is only required to carry personal belongings, uniforms and stationery. The fees are covered by the institution, which is located in Mtwapa, Kilifi county.
Kilifi is one of the regions at the Coast where educating girls is not considered as important as educating boys because of beliefs that a girl will eventually be married off after attaining a certain age.
Many people are still unaware of Citadel Maiden's existence, Dawai says. The school first opened its doors in 2012, when it admitted nine bright students from poor backgrounds in the six Coastal counties to join form one.
Since then, the number of students joining the institution has be on the rise. Dawai says the intake is based on student’s academic performance. “I have directed my principal to only admit bright girls who performed exemplary in KCPE examinations. We admit three girls each from Taita Taveta, Lamu, Kwale, Tana River and Mombasa counties. In Kilifi, we admit 10 girls because the school is located in the region,” she says. The management is planning to expand the school and admit girls from all 47 counties.
Last year, Dawai rescued a Maasai girl who was being forced to marry an elderly man. She says the girl is currently doing better in her studies at Citadel Maiden. “I will not stop this cause until I see all poor girls getting better education,” she says.
Last year, the pioneer students of Citadel Maiden sat their Kenya Certificate of the Secondary Education examination, and Dawai says most of them were bright and well-disciplined girls.