Food for Thought
Nakuru is located approximately 101 miles northwest of the vibrant Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Approximately halfway between Nakuru and the capital is the home to Hell’s Gate National Park. The spectacular landscape was used as a model for the ‘Pride Lands” of Lion King fame. The park is located in the Rift Valley and takes its namesake after a narrow break in the cliffs. This passage was once a source of sustenance that fed the early inhabitants of this area. The subject of this profile shares how their work to expand the access to quality education for local students and insight on the Nakuru Children's Project’s undertaking in providing an environment of physical and mental enrichment.
Kevin: How did Nakuru Children’s Project begin? How long has the program been in operation?
NCP: Nakuru Children’s Project was born during our Founders first six-month stay in Nakuru, Kenya in 2009. We were offered the opportunity to co-teach class four and five at a local public school, Nakuru Workers Primary School. Through our teaching and speaking with the local teachers, we learned and observed how poverty predisposes children to poor health and poor school performance. During home visits, we would learn how this, in turn,affects family life. Nonetheless, what struck us most is how exceptionally positive, friendly, and generous people in Nakuru and other parts of Kenya are. Children who did not get enough to eat would share parts of their lunch with their classmates who only ate once a day; teachers would identify children who did not eat lunch and give them part of their lunches. We learned that the community looks out for its members and that people from the community help one another where they can.
Our projects have been going for the last eight years. We contribute its success to the dedication of our project managers who work tirelessly without receiving any sort of wage, to the partnerships we have formed with the public, governmental schools, and to our policy to not create dependency but to give ownership to the parents, students, and people involved in our projects.
Kevin: What are the focus areas of Nakuru Children’s Project?
NCP: Nakuru Children’s Project was based on the principle of working together as a community. Our UK registered charity and NL based foundation aim to alleviate poverty and improve the access to education of children who would otherwise go without food or education. Our local project managers volunteer 100% of their time to help us identify the families in need of help. Together, we have envisioned and realised our three focus areas: feeding programmes at two local public schools that currently feed 286 of our neediest students a hot lunch on every school day, a sponsorship programme which has enabled 100+ teenagers access secondary education, and the construction of classrooms, which is what it all started within 2009, and continues to enable schools to split up classes as large as 110 students who have to be admitted under governmental rules.
Kevin: According to a large number of studies, a quality nutrition regiment is complementary to success in academics. What does it feel like to provide the sustenance that propels the educational endeavors of students?
NCP: Seeing and knowing that our children prosper thanks to the food they are eating in our feeding programmes, reminds us every day of how important nutrition is. Children cannot be expected to concentrate in class when they simply do not have enough energy as a result of a lack of food. In an ideal world, resources would not be distributed this unequally and parents could feed their children themselves. But, we are happy to be able to help when they cannot.
Some of our proudest moments are when parents of students who are on the feeding programme come to speak to our local project managers. We have had several parents informing us that they had started receiving a steady income, from previously unsuccessful businesses or occupations. Seeing their circumstances had changed, they came to thank the teachers for our support and suggested that we should offer their child’s position on the feeding programme to a child from a family worse off than they currently are. To us, this proves that our model is working.
Kevin: There are different breaches in the educational infrastructure that vary due to various regional and economic disparities. What are a few obstacles that your program experiences in this locale? How does your organization mitigate these challenges?
NCP: In our opinion, one of the biggest challenges is the disparity between the quality of private and public schooling. Children from well-to-do families can afford to go to private schools, therewith often receiving a higher quality of education. After the Kenyan government introduced its Free Primary Education plan, the number of children attending primary school increased exponentially. This also meant that class sizes have increased. Where private schools are able to contain the number of students per class, public schools are unable to do so. This means classes get as large as 130 students per one teacher in heavily populated areas.
Nakuru Children’s Projects works together with schools to build classrooms and reduce class sizes. Over the years, we have enabled schools to reduce classes with as many as 90 students to classes of 30 students per one teacher. This allows children with learning difficulties to benefit from much-needed one-on-one attention from teachers and reduces the workload of teachers previously having to mark 90 exercise books after each class!
Kevin: How have students benefitted from the contributions of donors?
NCP: Our children have flourished thanks to the contributions of our wonderfully supportive donors. They now have access to facilities they have always needed, but that was never present. Our very first school-leaving class eight would not have been able to continue to attend their primary school if our initial set of donors (or rather friends and family!) had not come forth to help us build them a classroom. Having been able to combine the building of classrooms, with our feeding programme and sponsorship programme, means that our children have been in smaller sized classrooms than children in other schools and that they have received better nutrition allowing them to increase their academic performance or skills. These improvements have in turn allowed them to access higher levels of education, funded with the help of sponsors.
Aside from all the direct ways in which our students have benefitted, they have also benefitted on an emotional level. Take, for example, our secondary school students that are part of our sponsorship programme. For them to interact with their personal sponsors through letters, has given them access to people and stories they may have otherwise never gotten to know. Knowing there is someone on the other side of the world (or within Kenya!) who cares enough to share what they have to allow them to continue their education, impacts them tremendously. Norman, one of our former secondary school sponsorship recipients wrote to his sponsor, “You have made me not the same again, but an important person to society. This opportunity that you gave me has opened my eyes. My greatest dream is to open a children’s home, to facilitate as many children as possible.”
Kevin: What are some examples in which programbenefits have permeated the community outside the classrooms?
NCP: Feeding the children and paying for their school fees, means parents are alleviated of some of the problems hanging over them as dark clouds and presenting continuous worries about their children. Parents are empowered to continue working and saving the little money they get to save on food. All while knowing that their children are in school and will not be sent home as a result of their parents only having paid school fees in part.
One of the schools we work with is Nakuru Workers Primary School. It was founded by two of our project managers and started as a school consisting of one mud classroom. Within the area, the school was known as the ‘matope’ school. The school of mud huts. Though this was a quite negative reference, the teachers were not deterred to make it into one of the best schools in the area. Attitudes towards the ‘school of mud’ started changing when parents saw what the teachers were achieving, in partnership with our organization. In the past five years, Nakuru Workers Primary School has ranked among the top five performing schools in the district. Outperforming some other private, better-funded schools.
Kevin: There are 50 primary schools in Nakuru. Are there plans to extend the project’s reach and vision to other districts?
NCP: We currently work together with three public schools in Nakuru. This was part of our long-term vision and plans. We want to benefit as many children as possible, without having to make concessions in the areas of our core values: working together with local teachers, parents, and communities at large. It takes time to identify where this is possible and who would benefit most. With all of us holding full-time jobs alongside our (voluntary) work at Nakuru Children’s Project, we continue to focus on Nakuru for the time being. We may, however, expand to other areas of Kenya if our needs assessments lead us there!
Kevin: How can potential donors connect with your organization to help?
NCP: Anyone interested in our work or inspired to help, can find out more about our projects at www.nakuruchildrensproject.org.uk
Our donors have found many different ways to assist: from running the London Half Marathon in aid of Nakuru Children’s Project, to donating proceeds from bottle recycling, to doing sponsored walks, or by signing up as a sponsor to one of our secondary school students. If you want to learn more or sign up as a sponsor, you can also access our page on FaceBook