Community is a word that seems to get thrown around and attached to other words to make certain things seem more worthwhile or grounded (think community action, community service, community organizer); and yet, the word by itself is important. No one can survive on this planet without a community: it’s where we celebrate our joys, recover after losses, find opportunities, share resources… it’s in this communal space that we can find avenues for individual and social change.
At Global Education Fund Kenya we’ve been spending time building the community with our students. For instance, it’s funny how small things build bonds between people, like the way GEF alumni call each other GEFA (as in “jeff-a”) members or how a hilarious handshake that was made up at one of the schools last year has turned into the official GEF handshake. On top of this, the students have been meeting at the GEF Kenya office once a month for ongoing discussions about gender, sexual and reproductive health. It’s also an opportunity to share with and support one another, talk about school/life and, of course, practice the official handshake.
Recently, we embarked on a full day of community building with the students. Escaping from the dusty Eastlands, the students spent the day at a beautifully green and lush retreat centre in Karen. In the morning they had a discussion about community: What’s the point? How do we nurture it? How do we use it? How do we maintain and grow it? The conversation was facilitated by the ever so hilarious and yet poignant George, a youth facilitator from the Eastlands area, who also participates in the monthly discussions. While my Kiswahili is bad and my Sheng nonexistant, I nonetheless followed along and laughed in unison with the students as George would illustrate particularly funny points being made in the conversation.
After the conversation, the students participated in community building activities such as a putting together mock businesses and the guiding their blindfolded friends across a field where they were to place glasses of water in specific buckets. This activity ended up being more than community building and communication, as it quickly turned into a comedy routine with students yelling out directions to their blindfolded friends, then rolling on the ground in exasperation and laughter at the outcome. It was a great day.
I once had a rather serious dinner conversation with a group of people about community. We all were asked to write down a list of communities we felt we belonged to and from there the conversation erupted. There wasn’t really a conclusion to this dinner talk but a general thinking that without community life would be rather dull and difficult. For the students that GEF supports, a strong, positive and supportive community is the way for them to build confidence and assertiveness in their academics and as teenagers figuring themselves out.
By expanding the community, as GEF continues to do, this is the way for students to access new opportunities, new experiences and more areas from where to learn.
Global Education Fund Kenya Scholars from schools around Kayole, Nairobi have been meeting every month to support one another, grow as a community and have a safe space where they can learn together from expert facilitators. The most recent meeting came on May 12th, and it was an exciting meeting, which began with entertaining icebreaker games led by one of the facilitators. The scholars then went into boys and girls separate groups.
The girls had a facilitator from an NGO that encourages youth participation in the social, political, economic affairs of nation building. After introductions, the facilitator took the girls through a COMMUNITY MAPPPING TOOL in reference to the book “GIRL Centered Program Design” from Population Council Kenya. The community mapping tool has a ranking system that helps gather information from a group, such as what is most common vs. least common to the group, most important vs. least important, most acceptable vs. least acceptable. In this case the girls were asked to identify the safest places vs. the least safe places around their community for meeting outside the GEF Kenya office. This exercise helped the girls understand more about the community where they live. Schools, churches and salons were some of the places they mentioned as safe places with bars/clubs being the least safe place.
Of course, if girls are working towards empowerment, boys need to buy-in and be aware of the need for identity and gender equality. The boys also had an interactive session with their facilitator who is a motivational speaker/youth leader in the community. They discussion centered on IDENTITY:
Who am I?
What defines me?
Do I like me? and if not, what should I do to make corrections?
What does a real man stand for?
What guides his life?
What forms boundaries of behavior?
The students have expressed that they are appreciative to have people talk to them about life skills, reproductive health and entrepreneurship because no one does this in school. The scholars were excited about the meeting and requested to have more time for such discussions.
Global Education Fund (GEF) Kenya was excited to graduate over 20 students in 2011 and happy to welcome our current secondary students back to school and back into the GEF Kenya Leadership Program after their holiday break.
As exciting as a new year always is, 2012 hasn’t been without its challenges, as secondary school fee structures showed a significant increase since last year. As students transition from primary to secondary school, we will be watching to see what the transition rate and subsequent drop out rates for 2012 will be. Education is critically important to families working to improve their circumstances and if school fees continue to increase, as we have seen happen over the past few years, more and more students will be shut out of school.
GEF Kenya was therefore happy it was able to accept more students into its Scholarship and Leadership Program. Additionally, the staff moved into a new office, centrally located among GEF Kenya students, where GEF Kenya looks forward to hosting its Leadership workshops, young women/mens’ safe space discussion groups and alumni meetings. The space also is ideal for a study space and library for students, and both students and staff are excitedly making plans for use of the building.
We thank you for your continued support and look forward to giving you another update soon!
Hunger is a major issue worldwide. This fact is even more prominent right now with a serious food crisis in East Africa. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “What effects one directly, effects all indirectly.”
While the students, who are in school because of Global Education Fund (GEF), are not starving like some Kenyan communities in the North, everyone is affected. Food prices are so high here in Nairobi that partner schools are over-spending their budgets in order to feed their students. At the end of last semester, the government even closed some schools early because of food security issues.
Recently GEF students honed their critical thinking skills when they discussed food security and its impact on the communities where they live. Facilitated by an expert in nutrition from Kenyatta University and supported by students from Africa Nazarene University (ANU) and GEF alumni, the food security workshop focused on the current famine in East Africa and what young Kenyan students think about food production and food security in Kenya.
At the beginning of the workshop, a group of GEF students presented a skit illuminating their understanding of hunger in Kenya: a rich family didn’t notice others going hungry and wasted their food, a poor family felt ashamed that they were forced to beg to feed their children, and a group of government officials horded donated food.
Following a conversation about the skit, students were divided into small groups and assigned a particular question to tackle:
Students presented their findings to the rest of the students, which led to a plenary session around common themes that emerged: the fear and social associations of fulltime, career farmers; the lack of understanding of markets; the diversification of food production; corruption within the food production industry and what everyone’s role is in this system.
Over lunch and at the end of the workshop, students continued their conversations about food security. Some discussed where the food from lunch came from, others talked about the potential in alternative food production and the market for these foods. In the discussion about food security within Kenya, students learned about their roles, as young Kenyans, in changing the attitude and systems surrounding food production and food security in order for everyone to be able to access nutritious, affordable food choices in their communities.
Bottom line: GEF students further developed their critical thinking skills in discussing ways to resolve a critical issue in their community – food security.
We are proud and excited that this is the fourth year of the Youth Scholarship & Leadership Program in Kenya.
This year GEF is sponsoring 77 secondary students; 25 of these young girls and boys are in their senior year of high school. This senior class is the first to have benefited from both GEF scholarships and the leadership program for all four years of high school. From these programs we have seen remarkable growth with our students - in their performance in school as well as in their transition out of high school. The 19 scholars who sat for their national exams last year did very well. Over 60% of the graduates score well enough to qualify for university and three students qualified for government subsidies for university. This is a significant accomplishment given that these students come from an area where only 5% of all students qualify for university each year.
Congratulations GEF Scholars and Thank You to our supporters!
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