Aug 25, 2021

A new academic year

Smart in new uniforms
Smart in new uniforms

August marked the start of the new academic year in Kenya.  Usually, this particular academic year would have commenced in January but, with the long lock-down of 2020, the revised programme to catch up 'the lost year' has involved shortening holidays and cramming more into terms with a resultant change in dates of new academic years for this and next year.  This has been very hard for many families to cope with as, the crammed school year has resulted in 4 terms in the past 12 months rather than the usual 3 with the accompanying financial burden of school fees and costs.   Despite the claim that education is free in Kenya; this is not the case.  Only the tuition element of education in government schools is free.  As there are not enough government schools accessible to a large part of the population, many children have either to board at school or to attend private schools and this brings increased cost.  There is still the cost of boarding supplies, books and stationary, transport, exam and administration fees, uniforms, bags and shoes etc.  This is a considerable burden.  As an example, one term of day school at a government high school (including lunch and transport, uniform etc) is the equivalent of one to two month's salary for a school teacher.  One term of government boarding school would be approximately double that.  In families where only one parent has a reasonable income and there are two or three children to educate, it would take most of their income just to pay schooling.  

Understandably, at the beginning of this academic year our social workers were kept busy finding youngsters on the streets who should have been back at school but whose parents were still scrambling to find funds to pay fees or buy uniform for new schools where children were moving to high schools.  Many children started back late and some have still not managed to get to school at all.  These are families we are eager to help to get children the education they deserve and to get them off the streets while they await education.  

We have also spent time with many parents discussing alternatives to high school education for some youths where vocational training may be a better and more affordable choice for them and many have entered various training programmes such as computer training, plumbing, electrical etc.

Please consider a small donation to help some of these children and youths to get a chance at their choice of education in school or vocation training.   Thank you.

Jul 15, 2021

Two steps forward, one step backwards...

Boys in their uniforms for school
Boys in their uniforms for school

Since our last report, we are pleased to be able to tell our supporters that, although we are not back to normal, (will we ever be?) we are continuing to make progress and find alternative ways to help children and families in Kitale and surrounding areas.  Despite our county being put into another lockdown a month ago, we have still been able to continue our family reintegration and support work.  Thankfully, schools and colleges have remained open this year and being able to keep children in the education system this year has been particularly rewarding.   We have also been able to place over 100 youths in vocational training programmes which will enable them to find employment or be self-employed when they finish their courses.   Fingers crossed, with no further interruptions to education this year, we will be celebrating a lot of graduations at the end of the year. 

To date, we have not reopened our Street Smart centre.  This has been for a number of reasons including covid regulations, insufficient funding to rebuild it and a new approach that we are working on to enable us to do reintegrations directly from our office to home without needing the intermediary building - at least for the time being.  We hope soon to be able to rebuild and start our mobile school again but, for now, it is important that we do as much as possible to prevent children reaching the streets and avoid them being in town for any length of time during curfews, lockdowns and covid in general.  So, we continue to work within communities to try and identify problem cases as early as possible and we patrol the streets so our outreach team can get children home or into suitable temporary care as quickly as we can.  

Schools are closing today for a two week break after which children will progress into the next academic standard.  Due to the long closure last year, holidays have been shortened and terms lengthened to allow a catch-up and avoid children being put back a grade.  Usually, the academic year would start in January not the end of July.  However, this seems to be working and is certainly preferable to children repeating a year of schooling.  An unplanned benefit of the shorter holiday is less likelihood of children taking to the streets after many weeks at home, particularly in cases of little food, abuse, neglect or just boredom.  So, we hope that being present in communities over this break, we can keep the numbers on the streets to a manageable level.

We wish you all the best during these difficult times.  We have been lucky that, so far, Kenya seems to have kept this pandemic under control and we are not seeing huge numbers of people needing hospitalisation.  However, the economic impact has been huge and we have no social security or welfare safety nets.   

Thank you for all your support.

Jun 27, 2021

As one drought has ended, another one threatens

Apprentice in training
Apprentice in training

Last year was very wet in this part of Kenya.  Considering the drought suffered a couple of years prior, that was a welcome relief and people revelled in a decent harvest.  This was particularly well received in light of the difficulties suffered due to the Covid 19 lockdowns and issues which put a strain on most families' jobs, freedom of movement and incomes.  However, we are now well into what should be the wettest time of the year - but it isn't.  If we do not get some good rainfall soon, there is a real possibility of a repeat of the drought. 

Families who moved to Kitale and its environs to escape the harsh arid climate of north west Kenya, mostly settled in and around the town although some drifted back to their northern homes after receiving some training or assistance.  We continue to work with some of the families and youths who moved into our area and most now have completed apprenticeship training courses or have been set up in small businesses and are self supporting.  We aim to provide sustainable solutions for families, not just to give hand-outs.    However, as people start to worry about potential drought again, we are starting to see a steady influx of youths moving south in hopes of finding employment or a way to escape the threats of drought.

Traditionally, families north of Kitale relied on a mostly nomadic lifestyle centred around herds of goats and camels.  Over time, many have settled and become pastoralist, farming small holdings along river banks or fishing.  However, climate extremes have seen many of these rivers flood and destroy small farms in times of extreme rains or, in drier times, completely dry up leaving no water supply for irrigation or to assist in rearing livestock.  Life is always uncertain in these parts and we need to find solutions to assist many of these families to find alternative ways to feed their children.  As road and communication infrastructure improves, there are more possibilities for youths to set up different businesses with a little training and some help in set up costs and that is where we are trying to make a difference.  Sadly, old cultures will have to adapt to new ways if people are to survive increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.

Our latest group of youths entered their training courses in April and are learning skills that will enable them to be employed or self-employed wherever they choose to settle.  Their training will last for one year and they will then be provided with a Certificate and a set of tools.  Last year's graduates are all working - some employed, some self-employed - and helping to support their families.  We hope to soon set up a training scheme outside of Kitale, further to the north, to enable these youths to be closer to their home communities and we hope for your help to be able to do this. 

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