SOWING ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE FOR CHILDREN IN SLUMS
The hustle and bustle of dusk is in high gear at the expansive Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum in the East of Nairobi. The narrow road passing through Njenga area is covered in a cloud of dust and packed with activity of people and motorcycles rushing to different directions. On both sides of the road lies a string of dimly-lit make-shift stalls where people pause to buy small quantities of food for their families. And as tangible dark approaches, the aroma of deep-fried fish blends with the oduor of bean soup and a mixture of noises that will dominate the rest of the night.
But somewhere in the midst of this chaos stands the True Vine Gospel Church; a blue structure made of corrugated iron sheets and wood; built to the standards of the slum’s architecture. Its wooden ceiling offers room for three tiny cubicles measuring 8ft by 6ft. A group of about twenty children sit quietly with their heads bowed and their eyes fixed on their books, as they make good use of the dim light provided by two rechargeable bulbs hanging from the roof. Among them is John Mumo, a grade eight pupil at Kyamusoi Primary school, a boarding institution in Makueni County, approximately 140 kilometers from Nairobi.
“I must finish all my assignments before school resumes after the mid-term holiday,” John quips as he peruses through a mathematics text book. For this fourteen-year-old and many other children from Mukuru, this tiny library offers a conducive environment where they can comfortably finish their homework and study in peace and quiet. “I joined this club three years ago while in grade five. Back then I would score less than two hundred and seventy marks but my performance has greatly improved as I have now hit the four hundred marks.”
Mukuru Kwa Njenga is home over 100,000 inhabitants and it stretches across three constituencies in Nairobi; Embakasi South, Makadara and Starehe. Like in other slums of Nairobi, residents of Mukuru Kwa Njenga are low-income earners and are therefore unable to provide textbooks and other learning materials for their children. Most of them are casual labourers who rarely have time for their children after work. Congested housing without power supply also makes it difficult for them to study.
According to the Reverend Bernard Musombo, a senior clergy at the True Vine Gospel Church, the area has been disconnected from the national power grid for two years following constant demolitions to pave way for a slum upgrading project. This means that they have to use rechargeable bulbs to keep the project running. For John and other children, this is a shot in the arm, as most parents in the slum cannot afford to buy them the required books. He hopes to join Machakos Boys High School and eventually become a chemical engineer in future.
“I am very focused on my studies. My dream is to become a pilot.” Mary, a grade six pupil at Downstream Primary School is closely following in John’s footsteps. “Our houses are very small and we have not had power for the last two years. I must visit the library everyday of the week to study for a better future,” she adds.
The initiative dubbed “Homework Clubs” was launched in Kibera in 2005 under a partnership between St Jerome Anglican Church and Church Army Africa. Under the project, local churches with access to power provide spaces that act as classrooms during the week while the organization provides other infrastructure such as furniture and textbooks for use by the children. Members of churches partnering in these clubs also volunteer to help children with their studies as well as provide life skills and psychosocial support. This is one of the services that has kept Mary attached to the club.
There are fifteen Homework Clubs spread across eight slums in Nairobi and serving hundreds of children each year. Daniel Omondi, the project’s coordinator at Church Army Africa attributes its success to support and cooperation from the community. “Through this support, we have seen children joining universities across the country.”
One such success story is of 19-year-old Pauline Nyanduti from Kibera, who is awaiting admission at an Ivy League university in the USA to study medicine. Pauline joined a club run by the St Jerome Anglican church while she was a pupil at the nearby Olympic Primary School. “This library offered me an opportunity to study when my parents could not afford the kshs 300 remedial fees required by my former school,’’ she adds. With discipline and assistance from older beneficiaries of the club, Pauline emerged among the top students in the 2015 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations with four hundred and twenty-three out of a possible five hundred marks, which enabled her to join the prestigious Alliance Girls High School for her secondary education.
She is now offering the same assistance to other children as she awaits to join university. “Children from the slums are academic giants. They just need local solutions to the problems they face, which hinder them from getting quality education,” she adds.