Ten work days remain before the U.S. team heads out for winter break. My usual gleeful countdown to a vacation has not set in – instead I am willing the days to be longer so my team can make a final push to refine and test our model before the holiday break.

This past week, the team completed the second and final round of site visits. This time we went armed with a rough draft of our model in hand, requesting feedback as we made our rounds. Francis and Munsi went to Kisumu for a flurry of meetings with organizations that work with marginalized children – especially homeless youth – to improve their access to education, shelter, and health services. They also spent a day attending a KenChicks training on poultry farming, which is one of income generating contenders. Vicky and Sabora went to Kilgoris to visit the Kilgoris Project, a program that runs a few schools and has started tea and maize farms to generate revenue and increase their self-sustainability. They also researched a health education outreach program run by Compassion International to see how it is reaching children in the area and measure the efficacy. Moses and I went to Nairobi for meetings with literacy experts and to visit the Kenya Bureau of Statistics and the Kenya National Library Services.

These meetings may seem slightly random in light of the fact that the model we are building is a learning resource center that operates drop-in and outreach programs. None of the people or organizations we visited are doing what we hope to do. We went to study components of their work and to see what is and is not effective about their approaches. Many of these organizations excel at their work but are having a more limited impact than what we are hoping to achieve.

It has become clear through these meetings that there is no other organization in our district, and possibly Kenya, operating a drop-in/outreach program like the one we are designing. Very little non-formal education exists here so it is difficult to find experts well versed in alternative education tactics or impact. It is also difficult to find working proof of the model.

I would like to rally your support and ask you to send me resources or contacts you may have that are well versed in child literacy – particularly those who have experience implementing programs to address literacy issues with marginalized children and/or in a developing country. I would like to contact them and ask for their feedback and insight on our plans and hear about the impact of their work firsthand. I would also like to hear their innovative thoughts on how we can tackle some of the following challenges we have identified that might act as obstacles to smooth implementation or to deep impact in our community.

Some of the challenges we anticipate and want to eliminate include:

  • As children learn to think independently at a learning center, they may question or oppose their teachers in class and create hostility between teachers and Nuru. Will an outreach program at schools be enough to bridge this gap in the students’ learning experiences?
  • The children will have freedom at the learning center but then they will return to the same broken system that suppresses free, creative thinking. How do we prove the value of critical and creative thinking so that it is embraced within a strictly exam-based learning system?
  • We will be pushed toward standard, conventional approaches by the Ministry. We cannot show them proof of our model working here yet because it is unique. We need a strong partnership with them in order to be effective in the education space, yet there is a lack of awareness about alternative education, its impact and the ways in which it can supplement existing systems.
  • Children may be motivated and inspired through our programs and then frustrated when they return to schools that are focused on standardized testing, are overcrowded and under-staffed. Will that hope and motivation sour when the daily learning environment is not fueling the growth.
  • We will be overwhelmed with interest. Children will come in large numbers. How do we scale quickly enough to accommodate them?
  • We will have to work to maintain good relationships between the learning center and the schools since they may feel overshadowed or inadequate as our programs gain traction and popularity.
  • Parents will ask what they, and their kids, are getting out of the experience and how it links to formal education and performance on standardized tests. How do we prove immediate impact and then how do we structure our longer term impact measurement?
  • We need to engage parents in a meaningful way and have them invest in the formation of this program. This is difficult when they are unaware of alternative education and their perspective is limited to public, private and sponsored schools. How can we best include them, educate them and engage them?
  • Children may not have an avenue for continued growth and development outside our programs. How do we change or address this?

I welcome any thoughts, ideas or connections you may have that will help us refine our model and eliminate these questions and challenges. In the meantime, the education team will continue to forge ahead and develop a more detailed plan of attack, which I will share with you in the coming update.