Nairobi The ACORN Kenya community organizers, Sammy Ndirangu and David Musungu, met Judy Duncan, head organizer of ACORN Canada, Drummond Pike formerly of Tides and now colleague at Paladin Partners, and me just outside of the Korogocho mega-slum at 350,000 people, the 2nd largest in Nairobi after the more famous Kibera. We were to meet a number of the officers and committee members representing the three or four of the “villages” where we had organized 700 family members over the last almost two years. They wanted to show us their new office for ACORN Kenya and had a good day planned out for us to see the changes in the community and to more thoroughly understand the crisis in education they faced and the progress of the Bursary Campaign we had designed to impact it when we were all last together.
Quickly with formalities over and the flag “raised” in the new office, our swelling numbers (eventually we were joined by 23 of the ACORN members on our rounds during the day) started walking the dusty streets. Something was immediately new even before we made it to the first stop, one of the two grade 1 through 8 public primary schools in the area, and that was that the road paving had been completed and expanded through a joint project of the Italian and Kenyan governments. It made a difference though the downside was hard to avoid since several hundred families had been displaced in the process with only four days notice.
The school’s attendance was only 100 students. Meeting with the assistant principal there was a long and excellent discussion of the bursary campaign. It had made a difference and where forms for the governmental funds that paid the school fees to secondary school from the bursary fund were formerly a closed and opaque process governed by favouritism, politics, and special deals, the campaign had forced openness and free distribution of the forms which led to 40 children winning the scholarships to secondary schools. Even so, the principal noted many children even in the free primary school were hard press to come up with books, uniforms, and the money for the required meals. One door was opening, while others were closing.
We also visited two “informal” primary schools where children were sent by the parents when the “interviews” did not successfully get their children into one of the two public primary schools for a population of 350,000!?! Where the young seemed everywhere?!? These were good spirited and well meaning affairs where many of our members were also very active, but the conditions were rudimentary at best, if not haphazard. There were some 40 odd informal primary schools in Korogocho, so this was the “normal” for education, and after that nothing.
One of the highlights was meeting the mother of one of the campaign “winners,” as she sold rice along the road in Kusuvu village. She proudly took us to her home. Her daughter had stayed out of school for a year and now with the bursary funds was attending secondary school at 18 years old, and very happy.
We were winning and victory was sweet for the leaders, but as much as the road was paved, it seemed it stretch on as one rough patch after another for miles into the future with many holes to fill and rough spots to smooth before one could really feel that the children of Korogocho had a real chance at education.