Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
The origin of this thought is highly contested but for Esther Rijk and her team at the Melbourne based not-for-profit, The Kickstart Project, it rings true.
In a country where education is not a privilege but a basic expectation, the thought of a child ‘dreaming’ to be educated is almost non-existent.
Imagine living on just $1 a day
For those in many parts of Kenya, including the Kibera Slum, this is their reality given an annual wage can be little more than $400 per year. Once rent is paid, food is put on the table for the family and general living expenses are accounted for, very little is left. You can understand that if any money is left, how putting that money towards school fees may not be a priority.
Back in 2012, Rijk travelled around Africa for 11 months after high school – 10 countries later, she found herself working as a volunteer at a small primary school and children’s home in the Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Kenya.
“I saw first-hand the overwhelming challenges people in the slum faced. The children demonstrated an awe-inspiring desire to be educated, to break out of poverty and make a better future for themselves and their families.”
If there was one key takeaway from Rijk’s time in Kenya, it was this: the chance to attend secondary school has the power to change lives for Kenyan children, their families and in the long-term, their communities.
A look at the facts paints a very sad but clear picture
In 2010, more than one million Kenyan children were not enrolled in school. That’s the ninth highest number of children without basic education in any country around the world. The deeper we delve, the more alarming the situation gets with over a quarter of young people in Kenya having never completed secondary education and one in 10, never finishing primary school.
Inspired by witnessing first-hand the frighteningly poor standard of education in the slum and the devastating cycle of poverty, Rijk founded The Kickstart Project with a small team of passionate people. Since, they’ve been working towards creating a brighter future for Kenyans through education, health and sustainable solutions.
The journey hasn’t been without its challenges.
“Finding sponsors and funding is always the biggest challenge in this space. When we started, I was only 19-years-old, the program was a few years old and we didn’t have a large support network yet.
“As a small grassroots charity, getting the word out there, reaching new sponsors and running successful fundraisers is a huge priority for us in order to sponsor more children each year.”
Integral to The Kickstart Project’s success is the organisation’s commitment to working on the ground in Kenya and alongside locals to change their own future. The charity works with three local volunteers in Kenya, who operate as sponsorship facilitators, providing support and mentoring for the students in the program. Numerous quality boarding schools are also involved and a key expectation of The Kickstart Project is that students maintain a minimum average grade of C+ to remain sponsored.
“We did a lot of research prior to registering the charity. The biggest consistent feedback was that handouts don’t work. Billions of dollars have been sent to developing countries over the past few decades and sadly, much of it is wasted due to the poor implementation of programs or lack of local involvement regarding the specific needs of the community.”
The impact that one educated child has on their family and immediate community is life-changing.
Helping just one child has a ripple effect.
Meet Merryanie – she has 8 half-sisters and her father works as a taxi driver, earning a low wage. She lives in a single-roomed home in the Kibera Slum with her father because her mother didn’t have the money to support her. She applied for one of The Kickstart Project’s sponsorship programs because none of her older sisters attended secondary school. Her dream: to go to a university to become a doctor.
Merryanie says: “I will use my salary to help those who are in need, like me.”
And then there’s Mary. She’s 15-years-old – she and her brother lived with their parents until their father left during the post election violence in 2007. Her mother couldn’t afford the house they lived in and after they moved, her older brother got sick and died. With the support of The Kickstart Project, Mary was able to attend secondary school. During her first term, she received the devastating news that her mother had very suddenly passed away. As a result, she no longer has parents or siblings to care for her.
“I’m so grateful for the support of The Kickstart Project – they looked after me, ensured that I could find a new guardian to live with and be cared for. They kept checking in on me throughout the difficult process.”
Merryanie and Mary are just two children whose lives have been changed thanks largely to the power of education. Without the generous support of individuals and local communities, The Kickstart Project simply can’t do this incredible work.
“In our view, support is not only financial and we completely understand that many people can’t afford to sponsor a child. The first step is helping to spread the word about The Kickstart Project and our work.”
If you’d like to support an organisation that is working in unison with locals on the ground in Kenya to change lives by tapping into the power of education, go to The Kickstart Project to donate or see how you can make a difference by hosting or attending a fundraising event.
Sarah Cannata is the editor of This Woman Can.