Article by Dr Sara Ruto, Regional Manager – Uwezo East Africa
The panoramic view of Lake Victoria ushers one to Homa Bay town. The beauty of the gentle water mass, and its evening breeze are a soothing welcome to the tired traveller. This is the home of the Uwezo implementing partner, aptly named ‘Star of the Lake’ and the district coordinator, Kennedy Nyamura, or as he is popularly known, Ken.
The quiet serene waters are a contrast to both Ken and his organization. Ken is a bundle of energy who talks as fast as he walks. He is involved in so many things; listening to him leaves one breathless. He seems to have met a match in his organization, a membership group of 18 women and three men. The organization is united in its social entrepreneurial spirit. They work, create some income and use this for benefit of self, and other needy members of the community. The organization is not rich in labels. Indeed if you look for a sign post directing you to their location, you will not find it. The office space does not have splendor. Almost five distinct operations, Uwezo being one of them are housed in the room. The Uwezo corner is distinct, but so too is the shop that sells some of the groups products. The organization is known, recommended by government agencies because of the people who drive it, and perhaps because of the actions they undertake. That Ken and indeed the Uwezo concept has thrived in this space is quite evident, as this is home to the unique, home grown Village Education Committees (VECs) that Ken started early in 2013 in Homa Bay District.
Ken manages the affairs of three departments within his organization; education, governance and human rights. He is expected to conceptualize, create partnerships and develop relevant programs. He has not let his organization down. Since 2012, he has been a key player in the Homa Bay County Education Network, or HOCEN, representing his organization in the same key areas. He has formed linkages with Sunset FM, the local radio station where he periodically reaches out to talk with citizens on matters education. And he also started the fledging Village Education Committees or VECs in mid-2013, to energize parental involvement and action.
Ken views VECs as an avenue to engage with school governance. They enhance relationship and communication between children, management staff and parents. His entry point was the 30 Uwezo sampled villages, where he had formed partnerships with the local administration and built a network of locally based volunteers. After the assessment he approached the volunteers and asked them to request the Chief to call for a village meeting so that they could discuss the schools in their villages. He also spelt out the importance of members of the School Management Committee (SMC), religious leaders and other key people in the village being invited. He had already envisioned that these members would be critical in the proposals he was about to make to the village members. In each of the 10 gatherings that he has been able to organize with the help of his volunteer army, he attended in person, and presented the facts on learning, and implored on them the need to get energized. The avenue to the action that he spelt out would be the VEC and the focus would be the school. Then he requested the village to select persons who would steer their affairs as the holders of VEC.
VEC finds its energy in the community but operates through the school structures. Indeed, I visited one VEC committee and spoke with the Chair and nursery school teacher. Both spoke with energy and passion about the vision for their children, and why organizing is important.
What is his inspiration? Ken explained that he wanted to form a group who would be friends of education. Rafiki wa Elimu. It’s a concept that Uwezo lamely introduced and went as far as designing registration forms. Thereafter, individuals like Ken have sought to make it grow. Will VEC sustain the treacherous weather that the future brings and actually grow? I am optimistic that it can. It can because it is rooted in the community. It can because it has a passionate leader who is doing what he believes in. But ultimately, it can especially if he is met half way. Ken represents the small percentage of partners who have decided to take another step. He is motivated. He has planted the seeds that can soar, especially if met by more responsiveness from people who will germinate his seed with additional ideas, more imagination and more support. Perhaps there is room for Twaweza and Uwezo to water this seed.