How do you improve education in Nairobi slums?
I left our meeting with the grassroots organization Progressive Volunteers feeling very optimistic. As I sat in their office in Nairobi, Kenya in July, they told me that the name Progressive Volunteers doesn’t just reflects that the local volunteers (including the PV staff) are helping other people progress. It’s also because “when you are making change in someone else’s life, it is also progressing you,” as Jeremiah Mzee, the group’s chairman, explained .
Since 2007 PV has recruited almost 100 young adults from Nairobi to volunteer to make their city – and especially its slums – a better, more peaceful place. This week, Meshack and Vaida from PV’s communication team share about their work in Nairobi’s informal schools.
Every child has a right to education. Education is life. It helps equip one with the necessary tools to face life’s challenges. Education also opens doors to opportunities that are otherwise impossible.
A school in Korogocho, one of the slums in Nairobi where Progressive Volunteers mentors work.
The children who attend the informal schools (those public schools that do not receive any government money) in the slums of Nairobi face many challenges in trying to get an education.
These informal schools are severely under-resourced and under staffed. The teacher student ratio is typically 1:40. This ratio shows that although the children have access to an education, it is substandard. It’s not an odd thing to find 3-4 students sharing a desk. And you will often find a room partitioned into four classes, with 1st-4th grades all in the same space. You can only imagine the confusion that occurs when the classes are on. The very minimal supervision at the schools leads to many students missing classes. Most of the pupils see school as a chore. This has brought about a high drop-out rate especially at the beginning and at the end of each of three school terms.
Eric, a volunteer from PV, mentors students at Emmaus Educational Centre in Lucky summer Area in Nairobi.
The founders of Progressive volunteers saw the challenges that these pupils faced in getting a quality education. PV came in to try and remedy the situation. With help from partners such as Global Giving Foundation, the local administration of the Kenyan government, parents, community leaders, and other community-based organizations (CBOs), we have developed a mentorship programme that uses volunteer mentors to act as “big brothers and sisters” with the aim of guiding these students towards a constructive life.
The mentorship program places volunteer mentors from PV in one of the many informal schools once a week to holds sessions on different topics every week. The topics cover health issues, self-empowerment, drugs and alcohol abuse, academic issues, self-esteem, and awareness issues. We are also planting trees at some informal schools to increase shade and improve the environment.
[Tanya’s note: When we met with the PV team they stressed how important these local mentors were to the students. It is a big motivation when the students hear success stories from people who they can relate to and identify with.]
Jeremiah from PV gives a talk on Gender-based Violence at Precious Star High School in Mathare North Area.
With this structure in place we hope to give each child in our district an opportunity to empower themselves.
When the standard of education goes up, the students start seeing things differently. They will in turn become ambassadors who champion for the right of a child to go to school. This will go a long way in empowering them and the community at large.
Boyd, Tanya, and the PV team meet to discuss the potential of local volunteers to improve Nairobi’s schools and environment. (July 2014)