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Dec 16, 2019

The New Polytechnic is Open!

Bernard Odour, at the poly opening
Bernard Odour, at the poly opening


The Children and Youth Empowerment Centre opened the Rathithi Polytechnic as a specialized facility to serve the young people based at the CYEC and related programs, who have graduated from high school.

The exceptionally high rates of unemployment (and underemployment) for young people in Kenya, which is even higher for the demographic that CYEC serves, means that there is need for special effort to ensure our young people are prepared for their futures. A well-thought-out skills development program, which the polytechnic is putting in place, is a key component of such a program.

The polytechnic formally launched in November 2019 and currently serves a total of 52 learners, both full-time and part-time. Current formal programs include catering, tailoring, computing, masonry and life-skills and leadership. The agriculture program is yet to gain formal status.

Empowerment theme

In keeping with CYEC’s goal of empowering young people to seize control of their personal and collective destinies, the polytechnic program has three main objectives: 

  • To equip learners with relevant and sound know-how;
  • To provide ready access to learning and production facilities;
  • To foster life skills development among learners.

The three objectives tally with the three requirements of general empowerment: increased practical know-how; accumulated material resources and enhanced self-understanding.


Provision of practical knowledge is a central component any significant empowerment effort. For ordinary skills training institutions, such know-how is focused on helping individuals to find employment in the open market. For the CYEC’s polytechnic program however, there is a keen appreciation of the need to use its skills development program for the empowerment of the broader community. This is because an empowered community is a key component of any long-term solution to the challenges that have made the CYEC program necessary.

Even while preparing its learners for marketable competencies therefore, the polytechnic is focused on developing training programs that are likely to have a major positive impact on community empowerment. These programs include conservation agriculture, waste management, renewable energy solutions and non-timber-based building technologies.

Learning and production facilities

The socio-economic backgrounds of the learners at the polytechnic are such that program sustainability is an issue of critical importance. It is necessary, for instance, that learners are able to have meals as part of what is offered at the polytechnic. For purposes of efficiency, this means that learning facilities are best utilized for production as well. For example, those in the agriculture program are expected to produce food for the polytechnic’s kitchen while those learning catering are expected to cook for all. The same is true for the other programs. The polytechnic’s facilities, with time, are expected to start generating income.  

Life skills development

For the polytechnic to serve as an effective means of community empowerment, it will be necessary for it to have an active outreach service, which is best done by students. To be able to do this the students need to be self-aware and have leadership competencies. This is why life-skills and leadership training are an integral part of the polytechnic’s training program. The aim of this initiative is to enable learners to see themselves not as victims of circumstances beyond their control but as agents of positive change for their communities. The learners are equipped with the skills to design and implement programs for positive change in their communities. 

Support requirements

The polytechnic requires plenty of support in order to build its programs to a level that can realize meaningful sustainability, including from paying students. Such support includes the development of general infrastructure such as classrooms, workshops and dormitories as well as program support such as staff salaries and utility bills. Of special significance for the development and sustainability effort however is the agriculture program.

Program leadership

Of special note for the polytechnic initiative is the fact that its leadership is based on beneficiaries of the CYEC program. The institution’s manager belongs to the first cohort of children to be rescued from the streets of Nairobi at the inception of the national program. He is now a university graduate and is working with several other former street dwelling children who are now instructors at the institution, with more set to join in when and as they graduate from their respective colleges and universities.

Art display at the poly opening
Art display at the poly opening
Community members enjoying the poly opening
Community members enjoying the poly opening
Sep 23, 2019

Wildcats in Nyeri

Leadership Workshop at the Polytechnic
Leadership Workshop at the Polytechnic

Students from K-State’s Staley School of Leadership Studies again spent two months at the Centre this past summer. They undertook a variety of projects to support Centre programs. The K-State team facilitated a six-week leadership development course for students at the new Rathithi Polytechnic. Course topics included communication, self-awareness, conflict/resolution and a project that required students to identify and create an action plan to make progress on a local community need.

Each student also took the lead on different projects. Kat continued Penn State's food insecurity surveys by analyzing the data collected on food security and dietary diversity in households in three communities where the Centre is engaged.  As expected, the surveys show that one of the main reasons children go to the streets in these areas is because they lack food in their homes. The CYEC intends to use this study to develop community interventions and to communicate needs to the local government.

Tori, with the help of Marisa and Gladwell, focused on creating a marketing and communications plan for the CYEC/ZFI in order to ultimately generate more awareness and resources for the Centre. This new communications plan includes branding guidelines, social media campaigns, a promotional brochure, website updates, student testimonies and more! 

The Centre has cultivated strong relationships with local civic, educational and religious groups over the years. Many of these groups, as well as individuals, have provided in-kind support for the Centre's programs. To facilitate this, Alex is creating a website that shows what the Centre's current needs are to enable donors to prioritize giving. This site will also accept mpesa, a widely used mobile money system in Kenya. 

Brad developed, distributed and analyzed a CYEC student survey in order to better understand their experience at the Centre. The survey focused on the students' educational and professional aspirations, their perceptions of the Centre and ideas for how the Centre could improve. Results of this survey were shared with CYEC staff.

The students had an amazing experience at the Centre and thanks the staff, volunteers and young people for making them welcome and helping them learn!

KSU Team 2019
KSU Team 2019
Jun 25, 2019

Penn Staters at the CYEC

Once again, students from Penn State spent the better part of May at the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre working on projects identified by staff at the CYEC. Penn State and the CYEC have been collaborating for more than 10 years to provide PSU students with the opportunity to gain practical experience working and learning about community development while supporting the initiatives of the Centre. This year the students worked on two projects – one to develop a prototype landfill and another to facilitate an assessment of food security in neighborhoods where the Centre works.

Nyeri, like most communities in Kenya, lacks a safe way to handle its waste. Two youth volunteers at the Centre, Bonny and Kiki, have been working to develop and commercialize ‘waste to value’ initiatives including making charcoal briquettes from waste and recycling other materials. When the local municipality decided to build a new landfill, Bonny and Kiki wanted to ensure it would be safe, taking into consideration air and water quality in both the design and management of the site. The Penn State students researched the design of landfills in resource-poor environments and worked with them to design and build a prototype landfill at the current dumpsite. Their work caught the attention of national media – you can see them on the news at:

Food insecurity is another challenge in the area, and it potentially contributes to children and youth ending up on the streets. However, there is no real understanding of the incidence of or risk factors for food insecurity. The Centre asked the students to develop a survey instrument and methodology to help them identify how prevalent (and deep) food insecurity is and to identify who is at greatest risk of lacking adequate food. The students developed an instrument that includes the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) as well as general information on household demographics and dietary diversity. The FIES is used globally and identifies mild, moderate or severe levels of food insecurity. Our students worked with staff at the Centre to ensure the survey was culturally appropriate and to train the enumerators. They completed the survey and are entering the data for analysis now.

The students were able to learn and share with the staff and youth at the Centre. We thank them for making us welcome and letting us work alongside them!

Enumerator training
Enumerator training
Coding and entering data
Coding and entering data
At the landfill
At the landfill
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