Creative Problem Solving for an Education Program in Rural Kenya

The time for creative problem solving has come. Last week the education team’s progress was interrupted late Wednesday night by a letter from the Salvation Army, the current sponsor of Taragwiti Primary. The letter stated that the proper higher-ups at the Salvation Army had not been made aware of Nuru’s intention to sponsor Taragwiti Primary or the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was awaiting final approval from the Ministry of Education (having already been signed by Ministry representatives, the parents, the school administrators and the Salvation Army pastor). In the letter, the Salvation Army representatives made statements like “…we oddly set our eyes on a copy of the MOU…” and “this MOU will not be recognized or honored by the Salvation Army church” and “The Salvation Army has no intention for whatever reasons, to engage in a partnership that shall infringe on her sponsorship rights, roles and responsibilities as far as schools are concerned and as provided for by the education act.” Hmm… a setback.

The process of sponsoring Taragwiti was in full swing during Thomas’s term here, with meetings recorded since April between Nuru and the DEO, Nuru and the Salvation Army pastor stationed at Taragwiti, the local chiefs, parents, the Taragwiti head teacher and others.  Aware of this history and having met one of the Salvation Army representatives who had signed this disgruntled letter the week prior to discuss the sponsorship, you can imagine how oddly I set my own eyes on their letter. I promptly called Francis and shared the news, asking him to schedule a meeting with the Salvation Army as soon as possible. A meeting was set for Monday, August 2nd at 10:00 am. In the meantime, I gathered my thoughts on the situation.

Why was it that the Salvation Army had suddenly appeared in the final hours when the parents had unanimously approved Nuru as the sponsor and we were just waiting for the Ministry to finalize the paperwork? Where had they been for the past few months during the numerous discussions? Why were they claiming ignorance when they were surely hearing about this from the parent committee, the head teacher and their pastor? And why did the very man I met with sign a letter saying he had just oddly set his eyes on something we had discussed the week prior? The plot thickened.

I read up on the history of school sponsorship in Kenya and reviewed the Ministry of Education’s Education Act.  In 1963, when Kenya won her independence, the Kenyan government overhauled the education system. What had been a predominantly church run system led by missionaries and various religious entities was augmented by government run secular schools. The government recognized the power of the church in education as a funding body and decided to leave schools that had been established by churches under the sponsorship of that church. The role of sponsors in the Kenyan education sector was born out of this need for financial support and was formally included in the Education Act in 1968. The guidelines presented for sponsors in the Act are very hazy and ill-defined but most sponsors of public schools are religious entities that are there to provide spiritual guidance and teachings in the schools. Many also contribute financially to the material needs of the school. Few are actively engaged in daily operations or academic management.

And so it is with the Salvation Army. They founded Taragwiti years and years ago and have held a presence on the school grounds ever since. The pastor stationed on the school compound provides spiritual guidance with lessons every Friday. The Salvation Army’s church membership in Taragwiti is also largely comprised of parents of Taragwiti Primary students. So while their role is not one of academic oversight or management, they have a presence at the school.

Children playing

In a way, the Salvation Army is actively engaged at Taragwiti. However, Taragwiti remains among the lowest performing schools in the district and has scores that continue to fall every year, the parents and students are outraged at the poor quality of education provided at Taragwiti and none of the students at the school have scored well enough during national exams to pass on to secondary school. The academic state of affairs is abysmal.

Monday morning we had our meeting with the Salvation Army. Though they arrived 45 minutes late, we embarked on an amicable discussion. They proposed that they remained the legitimate sponsor and that we work under them and provide aid. They proposed that they keep the land and leave the school named Taragwiti Salvation Army Primary but surrender academic management to us. The proposals, though concessions of sorts, were not in line with our mission, values or goals so we declined. If we are unable to work out the sponsorship of Taragwiti Primary, we will move on to the next school on our list and work to make that one a model for the district.

The meeting was inconclusive and the Salvation Army resolved to seek guidance from their superiors and get back to us next week. However this shakes out, it is an interesting example of how sponsorships work in Kenya and how we can never assume that good intentions and best laid plans will pave an easy way.


About Lindsey Kneuven

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