Dr Auma Obama: Helping others to help themselves

Oct. 2020

The coronavirus pandemic lockdown in Kenya resulted in the closure of all educational institutions in the country. Despite this, the Sauti Kuu Foundation wanted to help national exams candidates in Alego Nyangoma (in rural Western Kenya), who have no access to E-learning, prepare for the exams. With the PATRIZIA Foundation coronavirus relief fund Sauti Kuu has been able to initiate projects to this end. We recently spoke with Sauti Kuu’s founder and director, Dr Auma Obama.

Hello Dr Obama. What have been the biggest challenges faced by the schoolchildren you look after during the Covid-19 pandemic?

The lockdown prevented the schoolchildren from travelling to us. All facilities in Kenya were shut down. Children weren’t allowed to go to school, they couldn’t go to church or visit public buildings, and unfortunately, they couldn’t come to us. This was a major challenge for us. We decided to offer remote lessons, particularly for the schoolchildren doing exams at the end of the school year. But because most families don’t have electricity, let alone internet access, at the beginning the pupils had to pick up teaching materials at the entrance and work on their exercises at home by themselves. That turned out to be extremely difficult, because they had nobody to supervise them; they felt isolated and needed better support. So, we tweaked our concept – we have enough space here in our training centre to adhere to social distancing, and we’ve got the teachers. We gave them the required protective equipment, such as face screens and masks. And that allowed the schoolchildren to come to us and have lessons here in different rooms. They come to Sauti Kuu every weekday.

In what ways did the coronavirus fund help you?

The money provided by the coronavirus relief fund set up by the PATRIZIA Foundation allowed us to buy teaching materials for the children, hire teachers and pay for printing paper and other essential materials for the project. It also enabled us to give exam candidates exercise sheets, books and pens. The children were split into smaller groups to adhere to the hygiene regulations in lessons. For some of the candidates that had fallen behind we offered one-on-one lessons – while maintaining the required distance between the teachers and pupils, of course.

We also organise teaching sessions to sensitise the children to Covid-19 and explain the disease itself and preventative measures. We put a session aside every Monday to do this. The pupils present their tasks themselves in front of their fellow pupils. It’s significantly improved their awareness of the disease. This work is extremely important because people hardly wear masks in rural areas.

Have you also provided support to the families of the children?

Yes, we have – with the Grow to Eat project. The idea is to help families become self-sufficient in the long term. The first step was to distribute food packages to the families, but this was on condition that they plant kitchen gardens. We did this because we’re aiming for sustainability. We want them to grow their own food. This region is an agricultural area and there’s enough fertile land. Lots of families consider themselves poor, but we want our initiative to show them that they’re not that poor … they have land and they can do something with it. This is a general principle we go by at Sauti Kuu: “use of what you have to get what you need”. By helping families grow their own vegetables, we’re handing them an opportunity to fend for themselves in the long term by using local resources.

Later, we want the Grow to Eat project to develop into the Grow to Earn project, because if families can harvest more than they actually need themselves, they can also sell what’s left and earn money.

How did they react to your ideas, and are they already starting to work?

The exam candidates were delighted with the things we set up to help them prepare for their exams, and they came to lessons regularly. We asked them to fill in feedback forms, so we know they particularly appreciated being able to learn in small groups.

The schoolchildren also understood how dangerous the Covid-19 pandemic is and know what they can do to protect themselves and others from infection. They wear their masks and adhere to the distancing and hygiene rules. And of course we hope they’ll pass on what they know to the local community. It’s still early days for the kitchen gardens, but the families are really excited about them and the children are also working on them enthusiastically.

When will schools re-open in Kenya?

The schools in Kenya reopened in mid-October, but only for classes that need to take state exams, so that’s years four and eight, and pupils taking the KCSE [the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education]. It means our exam candidates can no longer come to us, because they’re going to school again and they even have to study at the weekend.

We’ve now expanded our programme to include schoolchildren in the other grades that are not allowed to go back to school yet, and we’re teaching them at our place. The families of these children also have to plant a kitchen garden for the children to be allowed to take part in the programme. And the children have to get involved in setting up the kitchen gardens themselves and help their parents. The families also receive food packages to get them going because it takes a while for the gardens to grow. Of course distributing the food is important, but it’s not our main priority. If anything it’s a kind of motivation and reward for being prepared to plant a garden. The main aspect about the initiative is that families are able to use the gardens to feed themselves, so they’re not permanently dependent on help from outside – they can fend for themselves. And the good thing about this is that the kids learn how to look after themselves alongside their parents.

Sauti Kuu Foundation

 

Sauti Kuu is Kiswahili for ‘powerful voices’. The Sauti Kuu Foundation strives to help young people living in rural Kenya to give them the opportunity to have a better future. Working in Alego, Sauti Kuu enables children and youth to gain technical skills, knowledge and social competencies. The provided support ranges from tuition, sport, and life-skills activities. All are aimed at developing personality, promoting education and training, as well as long-term economic development in the rural areas of Kenya. The overall goal of Sauti Kuu is to create a platform that allows children and young people to develop different strengths and realise their potential all round.

The children supported by Sauti Kuu in Kenya come from Siaya County, a rural area with a population of between 3000 to 4000 families. The children and young people are between 4 and 25. They live in a catchment area within a radius of up to five kilometres – a distance they are able to comfortably cover on foot to get home before dark.

Sauti Kuu is in the process of establishing a vocational training centre – whose buildings were partly funded by the PATRIZIA Foundation – and is currently developing a curriculum in eight vocational subjects with the aim of offering adolescents a one-year foundation course before they go on to a technical training centre for skilled crafts. The courses give the young people a chance to try out their skills in the various subject areas so they can find out which career path they want to take. The objective is for them to follow a career path of their choice because they really want to learn a profession, and not just because they have no choice.