Ken’s Action: Organising Communities for Growth

Homa Bay
November 2013
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.

Sara John Uwezo RegionalKen 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.


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NEW! Call for Proposals for Africa Education Review


Special Issue on “Evidence-based Research on Learning Outcomes in Primary Education in Africa”

Volume 11, Issue 3, 2014

Uwezo East Africa is calling for proposals to be submitted for the inclusion of academic papers into a special issue for the Africa Education Review. This special issue will be published in September 2014 and will be guest edited by Professor Ishmael Munene from Northern Arizona University, with Dr. Sara Ruto, Dr. Mary Goretti Nakabugo and Dr. John Mugo all of Uwezo East Africa as guest editors.

This special issue of the Africa Education Review seeks to illuminate – through empirical studies – the state of basic education in Africa from the perspective of learning outcomes. We are interested in data-based studies describing and analysing learning outcomes at the national, regional, and continental levels as well as along thematic standpoints.

For further details, please download a copy of the call for proposals HERE:  Africa Education Review – Call for Proposals

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UWEZO KENYA: The Kajiado Assessment Experience

“Guiding Uwezo’s Core Processes”
Deborah Otieno
Regional Office Intern
July 2013

Saturday 20th July 2013 found me gazing at the dry expansive landscape, dotted with several cows in the background. I did not need an expert to know that I had reached Kajiado North County.  We parked by the roadside at Kitengela where we were to meet our first volunteer. We easily spotted her because she had adorned the Uwezo Kenya t-shirt. She alerted us of the whereabouts of her colleague just a few meters away. Upon spotting her, we departed from our colleague Francis, who was to go to monitor the assessment in Isinya. We were to meet at the same place in 2 hours’ time, so we walked towards the chatting volunteers.

I recognized them from the two day training that had been held at the Clarence Bethany Ministries Grounds at Nkoroi, near Ongata Rongai from 16th-17th of July where I had engaged one of them in a very brief conversation. Now here we were, ready to meet the respondents.

We spotted a group of children and Beatrice approached one of the girls and asked her if her mother was at home. She quickly led us in and pointed out her mother who was sitting at the foot of the stairs. Beatrice walked straight to her and asked her if she had seen her in the community. I assume she expected to be easily recognized since she supposedly was the village elder. The respondent hesitantly replied in a level voice that she had never seen her. Beatrice explained the assessment process to her and was permitted permission to conduct the assessment.

From there, we proceeded uphill where; again we spotted some children playing outside. We singled out a boy who was riding his bicycle. When we approached him, he widened his eyes and kept a safe distance from us.  He informed us in a low tone that his father was at home. We therefore waited at the gate as he went into the house to call his father.

He approached us with a genuine smile and he looked very eager to hear what we had to say. He told us he had heard about Uwezo Kenya therefore we proceeded with the assessment as soon as he allowed us to.

The final assessment was carried out at the EPZ zone. Getting into a plot in the area, we singled out a young boy who was playing near his mother who was washing clothes. She allowed us to proceed so Caroline humbly questioned her. After seeking permission to administer the test to her 5 year old son, he in delight responded well by readily identifying the letters and reading the words. We couldn’t help applauding as he proudly beamed at us. We were extremely impressed by his performance at such a young age. After bidding farewell to our final respondent, we made our way back to our pick up point as we chatted with the volunteers.

In my opinion they did a fine job of questioning the respondents with courtesy and Caroline particularly stood out. She addressed the final respondent with such humility and kindness that she totally blew my mind.

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Deborah Otieno
Regional Office Intern
25th July 2013

The Kangundo DEB primary pupils streamed in and were led to the VIP section. They were seated on the same row as the Vision 2030 Director General – Mugo Kibati; senior educationists; and the political top guns: Baringo Governor Benjamin Cheboi and Parliamentary Committee on Education Chairperson: Sabina Chege. If you are wondering what type of occasion promotes pupils to share the VIP seats, then I am pleased to let you know that it was the vibrant and informative Uwezo Kenya launch held on July 23rd at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development in Nairobi.

Uwezo Kenya’s Country Coordinator Dr. John Mugo informed the audience that the 2012 nationwide assessment tested 153,900 children in basic literacy and numeracy skills. The report revealed that children are still not learning at the required level. Another shocking revelation on the subject of general knowledge revealed that 1/5 children between class 6-8 did not know the meaning of the colours of the national flag. Although enrolment rates are high, children are still not learning at the expected levels despite this message being repeated to the public in the last three years.

2012 though was a different year. Hon. Sabina Chege commented that education stakeholders made major decisions without considering the learners’ voice, it was high time the ultimate consumers of education spoke for themselves. Antony, one of the honoured guests attending the launch as a student from Kangundo DEB Primary School earnestly recounted the major factors that enhanced learning: consultations between parents and teachers, creating a harmonious environment enabling pupils to seek clarifications from their teachers and teachers making extra effort by being caring, supportive and motivating students.

Another pupil and honoured guest – Sheila – expanded on the factors that hindered learning: poverty leading to poor concentration in class, child labour and lack of proper school facilities.  The last hindrance was: teachers not caring for pupils which she emotionally demonstrated by mimicking an imaginary teacher by saying ‘Let them do what they want, after all at the end of the month, I will get my salary. No problem, even if they play, I am going to get my salary.’

This statement was followed by an uproar from the audience and it took a few moments for her to continue her speech. As the launch continued, Hon. Kibati and Hon. Cheboi drew from this important statement made by the young girl. Hon Kibati further stated that Uwezo Kenya carried out a survey that required radical action because Vision 2030’s ultimate objective is to provide a high quality of life for all citizens and these citizens are in fact children. Hon. Cheboi, also drawing from Sheila’s sentiments, commented that the issue she raised was not to be taken lightly. He congratulated Uwezo Kenya for exposing Kenya’s education situation.

Following these speeches was a discussion panel comprising of Baringo Governor Cheboi, Chairperson of the National Assembly Parliamentary Education Commission Sabina Chege, Nancy Macharia from the Teachers Service Commission and educationist Anna Obura, moderated by Uwezo Regional Manager, Dr. Sara Ruto.

All in all, the launch was a successful event that attracted over 200 guests. We would like to thank our honoured guests and panelists, Uwezo partners and friends for ensuring that the launch event creates long-lasting awareness on the learning situation in Kenya.

Asanteni Sana.

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