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.
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.
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.
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
Community members enjoying the poly opening