Category Archives: education

Tangible results, excited children

In recent conversations, I’ve been summing up my role at Hatua Likoni as a ‘Management Consultant.’ The majority of my efforts dealt with the internal workings of the organization, putting systems in place that will keep it growing and functioning smoothly, hopefully for years to come. Most of my results are therefore somewhat invisible to anyone glancing at the organization. It was not the typical “go volunteer in Africa” experience and I’m fine with that. I know exactly how crucial strong internal management and various sets of systems are for the success of an organization’s programs, and the satisfaction of its staff.

I did have one big project though that could have a very visible and amazing impact on the people of Likoni. My role in it was somewhat small, but it provided the key push to get momentum stirred up in the community to carry it forward to completion. (And that is exactly the type of role that I believe foreign development workers should have in developing communities! Inspire local people to address and resolve their own issues and needs.)

Back in September, I organized an event at Hatua for International Literacy Day. It is an official holiday founded by UNESCO, celebrated annually on September 8th, and first observed in 1967.  The aim of the day is to focus attention on the need to promote worldwide literacy. On this day, individuals, organizations, and countries throughout the world renew their efforts to promote literacy and demonstrate their commitment to providing education for all.

On my initial tour of Hatua in June, I saw boxes of donated books locked in one of the bathroom stalls. We had no shelves to put them on, and no funds to create a library that would allow students and adults to check them out. So there they sat… Until this day that celebrates literacy initiatives, when we opened up the boxes! We picked out a few hundred books, sorting them into those for Young Children, Primary School students, Secondary School students and Adults.  And we set up a large table surrounded by chairs for each category.

Nine local schools sent students to participate, and local organizations, businesspeople, and individual friends and supporters of Hatua Likoni also came.  Over 150 people attended the event.

A local musician donated his sound system for our use that day, and chairs and a stage were set up in one half of the large hall. Eight talks on the topic of literacy were given by local residents, educators, and government officials. They all encouraged the students to pursue their goals and further their schooling.

Hatua Likoni’s primary objective is providing high-quality affordable education and academic guidance to underprivileged, intelligent students.  The people of Likoni are valuing education as more and more important for their children, but resources remain limited, and so therefore do opportunities.  In order to promote this enthusiasm for learning and reading, Hatua gave Likoni a “library for a day” so that children and adults could enjoy the thrill of reading – an activity that few have ever been able to cultivate.

Immediate Outcomes:

  • In the 24 hours following the event, 8 children showed up at our office asking to check out books from the “library.”  Adults and children continued to show up through December, wanting some time with our books. We decided to print temporary member cards so that we could check out books to people, and they loved it!
  • Hatua Likoni co-founder Gabrielle Fondiller and Rashid Gakucha, District Representative to the National Youth Council, discussed the situation, and decided to pursue raising the necessary funds without the government’s assistance, as long-ago promised funds were never going to arrive.
  • A stakeholder’s meeting was held ten days after the event, which led to the establishment of the Likoni Library Planning Committee, comprised of local teachers. This committee is organizing a local “harambee” (fundraiser event) for the library early this spring.

We are very optimistic about being able to raise enough money to equip the already-built (but empty) library space with furniture and shelves.

  • A carpenter was called in to estimate costs and they are estimated at 523,295 Ksh –> only $6,977!

Can you help us reach this very attainable goal?  Can you donate a shelf or a chair to Likoni’s first-ever library?  Go to our Library page to see donation options, and to read more about the five-year history of this effort to provide a library for these Kenyan children.  If you’d like to know more, ask me anything you like!

Right now, kids crouch on the floor of our office to sift through stacks of books, because we don’t have shelves there either. You can be a part of fixing this, and providing a learning environment that will encourage success!

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Filed under education, Fundraising

Wengi Watoto (Many children)

One of the Directors here at Hatua is excited and eager to revamp the curriculum at our school, Madaraka Community Nursery School.  We will be speaking with some of the top-performing schools in Likoni about their curricula, and adapting ours based on what we learn from them.  One of the crucial elements that my Director is already aware of, and very excited to implement, is having the teachers switch to a method of teaching that focuses on tracking each individual student’s progress and learning abilities, rather than teaching each day’s syllabus by rote, without adaptation to the students’ grasp.

I realize now how very fortunate I was to grow up taking such attention for granted.  Here in Kenya, it seems the emphasis has had to be more on getting the kids into the classroom, than on what to do with them once they’re there.  So, schools are built, teachers are hired, and kids are collected into the classrooms.  Slowly but surely, more and more parents (and their children) are realizing how powerful and valuable education can be for one’s future.  And the government provides free primary education, which is a huge step forward.  The result is that many kids are getting into school.  Unfortunately… that’s also part of the problem.

There are never fewer than 25 kids in a classroom – and there can be as many as 60, or 100!  Does that mean there are not enough schools?  No, I don’t think so – there are 30 schools in Likoni alone, though admittedly they range from 100-1000 students each.  And of course, building schools is a pet charity of foreigners from all over.  I believe the Issue is that there are simply too many children.

our Baby Class has 58 students

In the past 10 years, the population of Kenya has climbed at a steady rate around 2.6% each year (the 27th highest rate in the world). The result is that 42% of Kenyans are under the age of 14.  (ref: CIA World Factbook) Check out this interactive comparison of population growth rates of all the countries.

Having identified an Issue, I’ve been trying to trace back its Causes, in order to find a Solution.  (Spoiler alert: It’s never that easy.)  Here are some of the thoughts I’ve had in pursuit of one though.  They are by no means fully developed or even that helpful, but I felt like this was a good example to share, to show how difficult it is to address and remedy such an issue.

Ok, why are there so many children?  Well, families are huge here. The average family has 4 children (ref: World in Balance), and a family with 8 or 9 children is not uncommon at all. Why? In a developing country, I would’ve expected that people would want to keep the number of children that need feeding to 1 or 2.  But that’s like putting all of your eggs in one basket, apparently.  I’ve been told that the reasoning is that the more kids you have, the more likely it is that one of them will get a good job that pays well and can take care of the whole family.  Life is viewed as so tenuous here that you hear people speak about the guarantee of your next meal feeling as slim as the chance of whether you’ll be alive tomorrow.  So, the running philosophy is to make lots of kids, to increase the chances that one of them will live long and prosper.

Except Kenya can’t afford to provide this free primary school education for all of these kids, much less begin to provide free secondary school education (high school).  But the value of education is becoming more appreciated – surely more parents will begin deciding to raise and educate fewer children for longer, like my host family is doing with their 3 children.

Except if a Kenyan says they have 2 or 3 kids, people look concerned, and ask what went wrong. A large family is a sign of a capable man.  Kind of like how a large man is a sign of a rich man.  So, that’s a major cultural hurdle.  The egos of men are not to be trifled with when attempting to change a male-dominated society.  But spreading information can change that right?  Perhaps a campaign that outlines the many benefits of smaller families, not just for the children and the family’s sakes, but for Kenya as a whole.  And increased family planning services and sharing information about how and why to limit your pregnancies.  Ok, it seems Kenya is already doing this. Back in the 1960s, Kenya was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to begin developing a national family-planning campaign.  The average number of children per woman has dropped to around four from around eight in the 1980s, which constitutes one of the fastest-ever national declines in family size.  (ref: World in the Balance)  But that’s still a lot of kids per family.

AND family planning can only do so much, now that the kids already exist. But a 1993 study found that literacy was a strong contributor to desire for small family size (ref).  So, as education continues to spread, desire for fewer children will likely increase.  That also explains my hostfamily’s smaller size.  So, in time, this issue should right itself?

Family planning poster

Except “While the Kenyan government formulates official strategies on family planning, promotion of the message and means of family planning falls mainly to local health-care offices and nongovernmental organizations.” (ref: World in the Balance)  For family planning to be even more effective, the government probably needs to take an active role in promoting its use.  And, despite the efforts that have been made, I’ve been told that many women like the idea of the pill’s benefits, but as a whole, tend to forget to take it on a regular basis.  And abortion is as divisive a topic here as anywhere, if not more so (thanks to the legacy of missionaries, and the stoking of the issue with regard to a clause in the new proposed Constitution).  Although my Muslim hostsister said that although her religion says it is a sin, she doesn’t think the Kenyan Constitution should ban it – she’ll simply follow her religion’s rules, over the government’s.  Well, maybe the other forms of birth control, like the Depo Provera injections, and IUDs, are something that could be made more readily available in developing countries then?

Except I’m sure it would be extremely difficult to get pharmaceutical companies to make them available at prices low enough to make a difference to the women most in need of them.  The poorest people are the ones who won’t get the information or medical supplies that will let them control the size of their families.

So much for figuring out how to reduce classroom size.  I feel like the last station for this train of thought is to do market research in order to woo corporations into a new market.  Well, one can’t expect such a major issue to be simply remedied.  It muddles my brain a bit.  Which explains why this blog post that is a bit all over the place.  And way too long.  🙂  If you made it this far, I hope your brain isn’t too befuddled, and got something from it.  Now go outside and have a good weekend.  I welcome your comments on this topic, and its many threads.

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Filed under Culture, developmentissue, education, populationgrowth