Transforming Lives through Education – in Kenya!

Transforming lives through education. That’s what all of us at Shoreline CC do every day. It is also the mission of an organization that I have been connected to since 2007 – Project Education Kenya. Later today (Saturday, October 12th) I will board a plane for Amsterdam and then Nairobi, and on Monday will make my way – along with the Chair of Project Education Kenya’s Board of Directors – to the Clay International Secondary School in a very remote village, Ngomano, Kenya. I have been to Kenya twice, once in 2007 and again in 2010, and have been a member of the organization’s Board of Directors since 2009. The school offers a four-year high-school program to 130 students, male and female, who live within a 25-mile radius of the Makueni district in Eastern Kenya. Enrollment is based on achieving qualifying marks on a standardized government exam. Students living too far from the school stay with host families in the village of Ngomano – or, in the case of female students, in a girls’ dormitory at the school. All parents of Clay students volunteer their time to support the school.

The story of how Project Education – and Clay International School – came to be is a fascinating one.

The organization was founded in 2004 by three American women from Washington state, who discovered their shared passion for educating rural Kenyan children. Debra Akre, Jeanna King, and Andrea (Andy) Clay found an opportunity to act on this passion when Akre’s friend Benson Mutua – who had a similar dream – introduced them to the village of Ngomano, where he grew up. Discussions with the villagers of Ngomano led to a partnership to create a secondary school different from others – co-educational, private but free of fees, funded by donors, fully built-out and equipped, with live-in Kenyan faculty and creative teaching methods that addressed all aspects of the children’s wellness. The parents would assist with the operation of the school and Mr. Mutua accepted the job as first Country Director. Through the Clay Family Foundation, Andrea and Jim Clay purchased 25 acres in Ngomano and financed the building of a campus.

Parents made all the adobe bricks used for construction, assumed responsibility for hiring and funding maintenance staff and for cultivating a campus farm. Local qualified students were evaluated and accepted by the founders for the first class of 30, and the school officially opened in 2005. And so a collaboration was formed where children could flourish, supported by their community with outside help, and where stakeholders improved water sourcing, agricultural practices, and helped start a local basket-making enterprise giving life to Benson’s dream – “Not to give someone fish, but to teach them how to fish.”

The CISS curriculum accommodates the standard secondary school mandates from the Kenyan Ministry of Education. Classes include English, Kiswahili, Mathematics (Algebra through Calculus), History, Geography, Laboratory Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) as well as Business, and Agriculture and various electives. CISS offers a unique cultural shift from traditional Kenyan secondary schools because of its dialogue education with an emphasis toward critical thinking and active class participation. The school’s approach is to also teach skills that will provide fertile ground for lifelong learning and for adapting to a rapidly changing world. As active classroom participants, the students both meet the requirements for passing the state exams and are given the tools which will serve them throughout their lives. Interaction with Board members and foreign donors offers exposure to other cultures, supporting CISS’s goal of teaching the students to become global citizens.

To round out the education of Clay students, the faculty employs the Whole Child approach where the intellectual, physical, emotional and economic well-being of each student is equally considered. Nutritional needs are met by 3 meals fed to them every day and their health is monitored and treated by a visiting nurse in the campus dispensary when necessary.

Each student’s unique skills are cultivated and individually accommodated to assure the best possible outcomes. Integrated into the class lessons are those around character development and preparation for active citizenship outside school life. Whether they seek higher education in country or abroad, CISS encourages them to aspire as Kenyans to participate in and contribute to their village, and to their county and national government.

As of 2013, the school has graduated 127 students, representing 98% of its four graduating classes. 21 of these graduates have qualified for government subsidized university scholarships. 27 off to university and over 60 to colleges CISS ranks first in its district on National Graduation exam scores.

As you may know, now is not the best time for a US citizen – or any Westerner for that matter – to be travelling to and within Kenya. The recent attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi has raised tensions substantially in the country and in the entire region. The US State Department has issued travel warnings and advisories, and all travelers are urged to use extreme caution. My plans to visit the Clay campus in Kenya took shape many months ago, long before the terrorist attack occurred. While I debated whether to postpone my trip, I have decided that the work I am asked to do as a member of the Board of Directors – to spend time on campus and to work closely with local government officials to help bring much needed resources to our students – is of paramount importance. While I have some safety concerns, I cannot justify fear as a basis for changing my plans.

I will return to campus on the 22nd, but will be in touch as I am able from Ngomano. Believe it or not, Kenya’s cell phone infrastructure is highly sophisticated, and I am likely to have consistent connections throughout the next week. Look for additional blog entries over the course of the next few days.

Finally, if you are interested in learning more about Clay International School and the work I do in Kenya, please connect to the link below. I wish you all a productive week. Kwaheri!

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