In last month’s blog I wrote: For the last 15 years we have been raising funds (over £100,000 so far) to give people in Kenya a chance to use their own courage and determination to take the small steps which slowly lead to less vulnerable and more secure lives. This month I want to give a practical example of how vulnerable life is and how Education Exchange supports people when times get tough. This example invites you to learn more about our two Upper Planet Training Centres.
Upper Planet Kitukunyi was opened in 2012 and Upper Planet Mwatunge last year. The two Centres are in villages some twenty miles apart. They both serve deeply rural populations and their main aim is to enable young people to be better equipped with IT skills as they seek employment or go on to university. There is no guaranteed IT provision in the Kenyan secondary school curriculum, and computers are only slowly making their appearance in Kenyan schools. So Upper Planet gives young women and men a chance to get up to speed in IT and make themselves more employable.
The manager of both Upper Planet Centres is George Mwakisha. George is a great IT teacher and a tireless entrepreneur. He is totally committed to giving young people the best chance to use their talents to climb out of poverty. Every day George travels by motorbike between the two Centres. Education Exchange provided the motorbike; our grant to Upper Planet in 2017 is £3200. George looks to supplement that income with a range of business opportunities: Cybercafé, telephone banking office, photocopying and printing, installing IT equipment- as well as student fees for IT training. It’s a continual balancing act and here at Education Exchange we keep a close eye on how the finances are going and are ready to help out when things get really tight.
2017 is proving to be the toughest year ever for Upper Planet. In June George had a motorcycle accident, was injured and could not work for a month- he’s still not fully recovered. “You will realize that my absence in June really affected the business such that at Kitukunyi we were operating at negative and we had to use funds from Mwatunge”
But there is slightly better news now: “Just to let you know am back to business as usual although I still have a problem with my leg but am getting better. So sad that up to this moment I am not in a position to ride myself to work!! But all will be well soon”
Two other factors have made a real difference this year: the election and the drought. Drought is much more crucial in Kenya than in the UK- and much more common! When crops don’t grow in Kenya, prices of food rocket and people eat less and less. They have no money for extras such as IT training. They can’t pay their school fees or medical costs. In March George wrote: “The business is not doing so well due to drought condition in the area”
Drought brings a halt to business transactions: so too does an election. In July George wrote: “Remember we are in the election year and the current government are unsure of if they will still be in power come September so most ministries have stopped all major projects they were undertaking. So come September we shall know the government in charge and all stalled projects will be finished.” (Upper Planet installed some computers in a local school, but there are currently no funds at the school to pay for machines or installation).
We all face difficulties in our daily lives. In the UK there are now fewer safety nets for vulnerable people than there have been in the past. But the Kenyan communities that Education Exchange supports live a much more fragile and precarious existence than most of us have ever experienced. They accept that fragility with courage and humour. Thanks to the generosity of our donors we are able to support them. And that’s a real privilege.