Saturday, October 13, 2018


Visiting the schools 

As part of my education-based mission, I have been visiting our different partner schools  to introduce myself to the headmasters and teaching staff, as well as observe lessons and teaching methods. Based on these observations, I was able to assess the needs and develop two training programs for the teaching staff. 

Our partner schools are Mukambi, Eschimuli, Khaimba and Khabakaya (Primary Schools), as well as Ebubere and Khaimba (Secondary), and Rise & Shine School for special needs students.

I was lucky enough to receive a lovely welcome in all schools and to observe a lot of different topics in different levels.
Some of the classes I attended were science, Religious studies, chemistry, English, Kiswahili, social studies, and ECD, Early Childhood Development. A great opportunity for me to get an overall idea of how lessons are conducted here, what type of methods are being used, how teachers communicate with students, what type of materials they use, and so on. 
The main thing that comes to my mind after all my visits is that it takes a lot of courage to be a teacher in Kenya ! Classrooms are often packed, more than 40 to 50 studends in Primary, and 90 in ECD ! Ninety 3 to 4 year olds in one classroom make for a happy mess, even if teachers are quite reactive and have it under control. The other thing is resources ; as a teacher in Europe, I’m used to having all the resources I want, and diverse and fun materials, enough for all students, ect… Here, the only material available is the blackboard. Most students do not own a copy of the text book, they have to share it with other schoolmates. Pens and pencils are scarce, and very often there are only a few color pencils available for the whole class. 

Anyways, back to the purpose of my mission; there are many different areas that could be covered in terms of teacher training, so I had to decide what would be most beneficial for the schools and students. 
The two topics that I chose are : 
- Safer school environment based on the child-friendly school approach
- Maximising student engagement by using active learning techniques

The first topic is based on UNICEF's child-friendly school initiative; the program contains a lot of different guidelines and subjects, but after witnessing some violence-related incidents at school, I decided to focus on "creating a safe learning environment", including gender-based violence, health issues, and developing child-confidence. 
This topic is to be handled cautiously and bearing in mind the cultural gap. Although corporal punishment is illegal in Kenya, it is still frequent and accepted in schools. Children get caned for poor grades, missing school, or graver issues. Yet most teachers and headmaster know beating a child is unacceptable; because of that, talking openly about it is quite complicated. People are reluctant to talk about it, and even more so with a Mzungu (white person) who knows nothing of Kenyan ways and therefore cannot understand. I am still in the process of figuring out how to efficiently communicate with teachers and reach them on this subject. 
Otherwise, for everything else that is included in a "safer learning environment", schools are usually quite aware of recommendations, although it is sometimes hard to put in place. For example, a Child-friendly School would require separate single-sex toilets for hygiene and girl protection; most schools can barely afford to build enough toilets for all the students, so the idea is appealing yet unrealistic. 

The second topic focuses on methodology and teaching ideas; from my observation, Kenyan schools are mostly using lectures as a pedagogical approach. There is no or few time given to self-reflexion and understanding, rather repeating and learning by heart. Students rarely work in groups or pairs, limiting brainstorm and assimilation. 
Studies on education and learning process show that the information assimilated by actually thinking and understanding is 3 times more likely to be remembered on the long term. Active learning promotes recall and deeper understanding of material, as students are engaging with the content rather than simply listening and repeating it. 
It was honestly a challenging issue to tackle. Most teachers here agree that the Kenyan curriculum and methodology is based on lecturing, but they don't necessarily see the problem with that. Without understanding why lecturing and one-way teaching is not the most efficient way for students to gain and retain knowledge, it is therefore complicated to understand the importance of engaging the students. At first they mostly see the challenges; loosing class control, loosing time, having to prepare a lesson plan... Yet I had the pleasure of seeing through discussions and brainstorm the beginning of a change in the mindset. Obviously one training is not going to change their approach entirely, but it's a first small step. 

Overall, conducting such trainings is very interesting and pleasant, as I get to exchange and share ideas with the school staff, and they seem genuinely implicated (expect that one time a teacher asked if they were going to get paid at the end of the training, and when I answered no, she left the room ūüĎć). The question mark remains as to the long term efficiency of such trainings; I hope to conduct at least one reinforcement training and some monitoring activity before I go in March, but such an important and complex topic should be covered regularly to reinforce good practices among teachers. 

Finally, aside from observing and training staff,  I had the occasion to get active with the students quite quickly. I was asked to conduct sessions in different schools with class 6, 7 and 8 on the empowerment through education, and HIV/AIDS and early pregnancy prevention. I was also able to participate in Lower Primary and ECD classes, allowing me to practice my Kiswahili and exchanging with the learners.

All of these experiences were a great learning process for everyone, myself included, I feel very privileged for having the occasion to share with teachers and students from Kenya ! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

We have arrived a bit more than one month ago to Shianda village with Marine, who I was lucky to meet earlier on the EU Aid Volunteer trainings organized by ECHO and Mondo, which prepared us for our deployment. We met in Nairobi at the airport after a long journey from our home countries, which was followed by a short domestic flight to Kisumu and a 2-hour taxi drive which already allowed us to get some information about the area and people, thanks to our friendly driver.  We were welcomed at the local market by Esther, the director of our hosting organization, WEFOCO (Western Focus Community Organisation), who showed us our accommodation and also invited us for dinner with her family, which was a really nice start for our stay in the village.

Not having running water and most of the time, electricity was a rather new experience for us but we were able to get used to the conditions quite quickly, also thanks to our landlord, Jacob, and his family, who are extremely supportive.

The office is 5 minutes away from our accommodation and since we are walking along the main road and the market is just across the street, it is always really busy with people who never missed the chance to great us, mzungus (‘white person’) at the beginning. It took some time to get used to being noticed by the locals and we also have to be cautious when asking the price of a product but otherwise we now seem to be more part of the everyday life of the community.

Although we were prepared for the limited variety of food within the village, we are fortunately big fans of the local dishes and already have chosen our favorite restaurants, where we usually order chapati with some local vegetables, and we also know where to buy our fresh and cheap local vegetables and fruits.

I have to admit that I expected a much more significant cultural shock but somehow Esther and her team made our adaptation smooth and anytime we enter the office, it really feels like we are part of their team. We are also learning some Swahili to make our adaptation easier since English is the official language of Kenya but Swahili is used as the most common way of communication in the village.
The organization, WEFOCO was founded in 2004 as a self-help group and later was registered as a community-based organization. They are working together with almost 30 women groups around the village and focusing on supporting orphans, vulnerable children in paying school fees and buying necessary school items in cooperation with MONDO, while also providing awareness-raising campaigns and support for families suffering because of HIV/AIDS.

Chairlady of Wichelu Group

Since a large part of the local community in the village, especially the ones living in deeply rural areas lack access to education, information and job opportunities, the organization is also working on strengthening their skills and abilities in income-generating activities. Besides, since women are generally not treated equally in society, encouraging them to be more independent by participating in these activities is also an important aim of the organization.

Chairlady of Namulekuwa Women Group
During the last weeks, my main task was to observe the ongoing activities to be able to define areas of improvement by visiting women groups and agricultural blocks around Shianda village. It was a unique experience since the meetings are very different from the ones I was used to in Europe. They usually start with the welcome dance of the group, followed by a prayer and some amazing dishes prepared by the ladies, usually some ugali and local vegetables. The guests are eating separately from the group who are waiting outside, which was surprising for me at the beginning. After the meal, the chairlady introduces the group, its vision, achievements, and challenges. Most of the groups were formed to find solutions together to these challenges and to be able to afford the education of the children in the community by starting income generating activities as well as by regularly contributing a fixed amount within the group through so-called merry-go-rounds and table banking.

   Chenda Kala Group

Olungabase - Agricultural Block

Although I have already had the chance to attend a meeting with the chairladies who are gathering every month, these visits are very valuable since they allow every member of the group to share their thoughts and concerns. After the meeting, I am usually showed around the field and introduced to the current activities, which mainly focus on poultry farming, producing crops and in some cases making handicraft products. Since they are dealing with these activities on a small scale, they wish to expand their projects to be able to have a more stable income. I was also lucky to have Esther by my side, who introduced me to the groups and also supported me as a translator since some of the ladies do not speak English. Although I felt that we could be much more time-efficient, the ceremonies seem to be an important and unmissable part of the meetings.

Besides focusing on agricultural projects, I am also responsible for monitoring the activities and strengthening the entrepreneurial skills of WEFOCO’s tailor team. MONDO provided sewing and a T-shirt printing machines to the office as well as trainings for members of the community. Since children in Kenya are only able to attend school in case they have the right uniform, it is a vital opportunity since the team is able to sew uniforms for students in the region. However, since the machines are available all year in the office, expanding their activities seems to be an untapped potential.

After getting to know the community and their projects, I feel lucky to have the chance to work together with them in achieving their goals during the next 5 months.

Karibu Kenya !

Habari ! Hello ! 

After a month of settling in and getting our marks around, we would now like to kick off a new era for the blog by introducing ourselves !

We are Linda and Marine, volunteers working with Mondo and Wefoco in Shianda, Kenya, under ECHO’s initiative EU Aid Volunteers. 

Let us present ourselves : 

“ Hi, I’m Marine, French teacher and education specialist, currently working as education and awareness raising officer in Shianda and it’s surroundings. My mission has several angles, such as advocating for girl and disabled child education within communities and working with schools by supporting the teaching staff, with trainings and workshops on teaching methods or pedagogical development, as well as creating a child-friendly school environment. I’m also helping monitor Mondo’s Child Support program, by ensuring swift transition from one school year to the next, following up on children and families. 
In my free time I love travelling and photography (which is why I’m so happy to be in Kenya, two of my favorite things combined : new culture and amazing landscapes !)" 

"Hi, I’m Linda from Budapest, Hungary, working as a Community-based development coordinator at WEFOCO, in Shianda village. The organization is working together with almost 30 women groups who are living in deeply rural areas and generally lack access to education, information and job opportunities. My main task is to observe the group members on-going projects, goals and challenges to be able to define areas of improvement, and assist in strengthening their skills and abilities in income-generating activities. 
I was working in the humanitarian sector before my deployment but since I was sitting in a headquarter in Europe, I am really enthusiastic about being able to work in the field together with the local community."

And that’s all for now folks ! Stay tuned for more Kenyan adventures !

Kwa Heri ! 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Hello Everyone !

Today we are finishing our training in Estonia to become EU Aid Volunteers with Mondo !

We learnt a lot and had an amazing time ! We are all eager to be deployed and start our missions.

More updates on our adventures coming soon !