Lessons Learned in Educating the Extreme Poor in Kenya

The Scene:

It was a beautiful day as Francis and I were walking the shortcut towards Taragwiti Primary School. We walked up the goat path into the woods when about halfway up the hill we turned and saw a big beautiful white building that stuck out like a sore thumb behind us. My initial thought was, “What is that monstrosity? Did some wzungu build themselves a summer home or maybe a hospital in this poor village?” It seemed to stick out so much because it was bright white and enormous amongst brown mud hut buildings nearby. When I inquired about what that was from Francis, he informed me that it was St. Joseph’s Academy and those were the ECD classrooms we had helped build. It was the first time I had seen it from this side.

Some Context:

This past year the Nuru Education Program had initiated many different projects based on research of school baselines we conducted when we first arrived. It was apparent that school facilities were in very poor condition and one of the projects we started was to help schools renovate or build classrooms. Based on a priority point system we instituted, we began and finished construction at Keborui and St. Josephs’s. If you recall though from our new strategic direction (blog from March 8th) we are no longer going to continue such programs because of the high costs of constructing classrooms and the unlikelihood of these programs being able to scale or be sustainable. The research is also not overwhelming that these kinds of interventions lead to the type of outcomes we are seeking based on such a heavy investment.

My Reflections:

I was a little shocked that this building was Nuru’s doing and honestly a bit ashamed. There is no doubt these classrooms will benefit St. Joseph Academy and its pupils but it makes me wonder how much more we could have done to benefit schools with the same funds. Though there is evidence that suggests improved school infrastructure helps students in developing countries, there is clearly more research that shows greater benefits for money spent to student achievement when schools are provided more textbooks and school materials; or as I shared in the last blog, there is more impact to investing in female education. This project is definitely a lessons learned for me about where to invest Nuru’s resources for future interventions (not to say we will never to do construction projects again for they may sometimes be necessary). A benefit of this kind of project, however, is the kind of buy-in we can gain from the community. The people in the communities see this building and are very appreciative of Nuru’s work in education. It allows us then to proceed with other projects with their support. I found this to be the case as we reached Targwiti Primary School and received full support for our education program and our future direction from the newly arrived sponsor who cited the classrooms as evidence of Nuru’s good work being done in the area.

About Thomas Hong

Leadership Program Director — Thomas has worked in education and leadership development in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Mongolia and Uzbekistan. He holds a B.A. in Economics and master’s degree in teaching from the University of Virginia and an MBA in international organizations from the University of Geneva.

Read More Stories of Hope

Because everybody deserves a chance at a better life.

Together, we can help farmers in Africa chart
a path to a better future.