The Necessity of Education to End Extreme Poverty in Rural Kenya
My name is Thomas Hong and I am here in Kuria West as the new Education Program Manager. I have been here almost three weeks observing and learning about the Education program as well as about all Nuru programs. I have also met more people than I can remember while trying to adjust to not only living in a new country with a new job but also living with my co-workers. Chelsea, the outgoing Education Program Manager, has done a wonderful job of preparing me to take over completely once she leaves and I feel fairly comfortable with what I will be doing here. I think our transition was helped by the fact that the Education program itself is going through some changes. Chelsea and I have been devising a new strategic approach for the program as described in the last video blog.
As I have been living here now for a couple weeks, I have been wrestling with the question of why. Riding on the back of a motorbike in the first week, I saw fertile land and springs along the way. Sure the road was dirt but there is plenty of farmland, as far as the eye can see, and there has been sufficient rain. In other words, it appears that this region has the resources to lift itself out of extreme poverty. So why are people living in such poor conditions? Why can’t they improve their livelihoods? I found myself asking these questions and as I reflected and learned about the education system here, it came to me – EDUCATION. People here are impoverished and stay in this state because of a lack of education. It is not the lack of resources but the lack of knowledge. The western world, in its developing stages, was wrought with the ability to come up with new methods or products that effectively and efficiently maximized resources. Some innovations may not depend on formal education but the ability to critically analyze problems, devise potential solutions, creatively plan steps to minimize risk, etc. are shaped through good education and without it, you can find yourself in the same situation as your parents and grandparents; and if they were living in extreme poverty then so are you with no hope of breaking out. And one of the most important things that education teaches is to have hope. Education brings opportunity that allows you to hope for a better future for yourself and for your children. Without hope for a better future, motivation to innovate and improve dies.
This revelation has placed a great pressure on my soul. I always believed in the importance of education as a former classroom teacher but not to this extent. Of course I am not discounting the significance of other programs, after all, keeping a child in school is irrelevant if he is dying of HIV/AIDS or cannot eat because of a lack of maize harvest. What I am realizing however, is that education plays a critical role for long term sustainability and growth. If successful, our education program will bring hope and opportunity for the people here. Our program focuses not only on short term needs of secondary school drop-outs and the unemployed, but on long term needs of primary school students and the families of the unemployed. I am very excited about this potential and look forward to updating you on all the challenges and successes of our program here on the ground.
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