Mobile Art School in KenyaThe Mobile Art School in Kenya (MASK) is an award-winning school that provides fine arts education to children in Kenya. In a place where arts education is often neglected, MASK demonstrates how an education focused on creativity and innovation brings more economic opportunity to students. MASK instills critical values like empathy and peace in its students and encourages continued development in Kenyan culture.

The Origin Story of MASK

MASK was founded by Alla Tkachuk in 2007. Trained as a scientist but at heart an artist, Tkachuk moved to London from Russia years before to follow her dream of working in the arts. In 2006, Tkachuk spent three weeks on the Kenyan-Tanzanian border on a painting trip. During her time there, she connected deeply with the people through the universal language of art. She began to wonder what she could do to give back to a community that had been so kind to her.

Tkachuk began hosting a simple painting workshop for children in the village. After a few more workshops, the headmaster of the local school came to Tkachuk with great excitement about her program. Tkachuk then realized that arts was not regularly taught in the region and this deeply troubled her.

After consulting with non-governmental organizations, local schools and teachers, Tkachuk established the Mobile Art School in Kenya in 2007. The program travels from one school to another in rural Kenya, bringing art supplies and a passion for the cause with it.

The Growth of MASK

As MASK became more popular, the program was able to expand. Soon after the school’s start, Tkachuk and her team hosted workshops for teachers in more than 25 schools, supported by Kenyan education authorities. In 2013, with the support of the national press and the Kenyan government, the MASK Awards was developed in hopes of further fostering creativity in students nationwide. These awards are open to all young people in the country and include prizes such as paid internships. Winning artists also get the opportunity to have their work exhibited at London’s Saatchi Gallery and at the U.S. Library of Congress, among other locations.

MASK’s Programs

The Mobile Art School in Kenya has two main programs: Creativity Clubs for children aged 7 to 12 and Creativity for Entrepreneurship and Leadership (CEL) for students aged 16 to 21. Creativity Clubs focus on fun, simple art. The program aims to help children harness their creativity and teaches them how to observe, analyze and connect ideas through creative outlets.

CEL is more practical. It aims to use creativity to train students with skills that will prepare them for the working world. The course focuses on entrepreneurial and leadership skills, teaching students creative problem-solving abilities. After completing this course, students are eligible to be part of the Creative Workforce Project at MASK, an initiative that helps students secure paid internships to kickstart their careers.

MASK’s Impacts

Brittany Glenn, a student at the University of London’s Institute of Education, conducted a case study on the Mobile Art School in Kenya to analyze the importance of arts education in lifting people out of poverty. She found that for many, MASK was an introduction to the fine arts. The program instilled values of peace and empathy and also encouraged cultural appreciation and preservation.

Further, arts education is a critical part of career success. MASK boasts many successful students in various fields who all benefited from the creative problem-solving skills that the program instilled in them. One MASK student, Hellen, came from a remote village in Kenya and now works as a chemist. Her time with the Creativity Clubs and her experience as a MASK volunteer provided her with the critical thinking skills she needed to succeed in college. Hellen even “invented a new domestic poison from a local plant” while studying, which her college planned to patent.

Hellen is only one of the many success stories from the Mobile Art School in Kenya, illustrating how fine arts education can bring people out of poverty and help them flourish.

Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr

Higher Education in KenyaEnrollment in higher education in Kenya has been on a steady increase, posting a gain of 28% from 2013 to 2014. However, the government has cut funding to higher education programs. The cuts have made it difficult for universities to handle this influx of new student enrollment. Kenya’s Commission for University Education has decreased government subsidies to these institutions but is still trying to find ways to support quality higher education opportunities in the nation.

Kenya’s Higher Education System

Kenya has both public universities and private universities. Public institutions are established via Acts of Parliaments, while the Commission on Higher Education oversees the operations of the private institutions. Acceptance to bachelor’s degree programs require a Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education and typically lasts between four to six years. The higher education system has several similarities to the university system in the United States. It also shares many of the same issues with regard to equitable access and funding.

Beyond issues of government funding, the higher education system in Kenya faces issues of overcrowding, ever-growing demand and poorly equipped libraries and curricular resources. Due to all of these challenges facing the high-demand university system, outside NGOs and investors have worked with students to create a more productive, accessible and equitable system for higher education in Kenya.

Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program is one of these outside investors working with students. It wants to ensure students who want to access higher education in Kenya are not barred from doing so strictly because of a lack of financial resources. The Mastercard Foundation partnered with the United States International University-Africa in Kenya to provide 1,000 merit-based scholarships for those seeking an undergraduate degree.

This partnership and subsequent scholarships amount to $63.2 million. The first scholarships began in the 2020-21 academic year. They will ensure students are receiving high-quality university educations and also have access to leadership development opportunities. Further, the scholarships seek to address inequities with regards to who has access to higher education in Kenya. A total of 70% of the scholarships will go to young women, 25% to refugee scholars and at least 10% will go to students with disabilities. The Mastercard Foundation has a history of investing in global youth. It has stated that it is committed to creating a generation of African leaders who will transform not only their own nations and continent but the entire world.

Higher Education Creating African Leaders

This scholarship program not only supports students financially but grants access to internships and post-graduate career services. The program hopes to create graduates who go on to become entrepreneurs, NGO leaders, social workers and changemakers. Overall, the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program has committed $1 billion to support higher education worldwide and creating more equitable access to higher education and working to support leaders of the next generation from every part of the globe.

Tatiana Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Scofield orphanage
Scofield Orphanage, located in rural Kenya, is home to about one hundred orphans. Ben and Emily Okello, the Kenyan founders, instill in each child that they are capable and worthy. They dedicate their lives to this ethical endeavor and invest in the self-sustaining future of each child despite the ongoing difficulties caused by food shortages and the pandemic.

A Self-Sustaining Future

The Borgen Project spoke with Patty Congdon, a longtime volunteer who works alongside Ben and Emily Okello. Concerning the start of Scofield Orphanage, she said “Most of them, the parents have died of HIV, and therefore, they are seen as unclean, and people just leave them to die, and so, he just couldn’t stand it anymore…he said, ‘Emily, can I bring ten children home?’ And she said yes… and that was the start of Scofield.” After starting the orphanage, Ben and Emily realized that they would need to provide an education to the children. By doing so, they invest in each orphan’s self-sustaining future.

A population-based survey conducted in Kenya found that 93.9% of school-aged single orphans had never attended school. Orphans in rural parts of Kenya struggle to complete an education, and many of them never have an opportunity to attend school; without passing the national exam and acquiring a university degree, orphans struggle to acquire a job that lifts them out of poverty. Additionally, without a supportive community, orphans are at risk for exploitation, life-threatening food insecurity, medical complications and a variety of other dangerous circumstances.

Education in Kenya

In Kenya, students must pass eighth-grade national exams to advance into high school education. From there, they must pass twelfth-grade national exams to acquire university education. Patty Congdon shares that over this past decade, every single student at Scofield Orphanage has had a 100% pass rate in the eighth and twelfth-grade national exams. During the pandemic, children in Kenya faced school closures and many lost access to educational resources.

The loss of education especially affected vulnerable children in rural areas. This is attributable to the fact that remote learning is not an option in many isolated locations. Vulnerable children in rural areas are at much higher risk for food insecurity as well as exploitation. This is especially true when they lose access to the resources provided to them by schools. The pandemic heightened the struggle for children located at Scofield Orphanage in Kenya. However, they continue to find ways to provide education, food and shelter to each vulnerable child they house.

Fighting Educational Disparities

Due to the influx of young people pursuing higher education, many universities have increased their standards for grade point averages. Whereas students could previously apply to college with only a C+ average, many universities now require a B average. This heightened expectation has not diminished the opportunities available to the industrious orphans at Scofield.

Patty Congdon said, “Right now, not only are our kids going to university, but they are going to university for engineering, for medical, for computer science. They are going for high-level professional skills, which has just been the other thing that has just been unbelievable because Ben sets such a high standard for them from the minute they can walk on that they are capable. He just instills in them that they are capable, each to their own skills, and that they are to be professionals, and so, they don’t just want to be successful, they want to be successful at an incredibly high level, and it’s just amazing. So, every kid that we have right now who’s in school is going for all these advanced professional degrees on top of it and doing well.”

More than 90% of Kenya’s orphans do not attend school; meanwhile, the orphans housed at Scofield Orphanage have a 100% pass rate on both eighth and twelfth-grade national exams. Furthermore, those that have advanced to university are studying in prestigious fields. This is a meaningful step toward ensuring the self-sustaining future of each child. It also proves that, with proper support and education, the lives of orphans in Kenya can realistically improve.

The Challenges of 2020

Though Scofield Orphanage continues to succeed, it faced significant difficulties during the pandemic and locust invasion of 2020. Kenya’s government shut down all motor vehicle travel. As a result, no vehicles could come in and out of towns and villages. Additionally, Scofield Orphanage’s teachers were sent home; Ben and Emily Okello oversaw approximately one hundred children’s education.

Concerning the food shortages and travel bans, Patty said, “Ben had to go by foot to try to find food in villages that had been decimated by flood, drought and locusts.” She continued, “He had been able, in the past, to go over the border to Tanzania to try to get food. Borders were closed, and as he tried to go wider and wider—he’s doing all of this by foot— someone finally gave him a donkey cart. Can you imagine going forty miles with a donkey cart to look for grain? And then finding it and coming forty miles by foot with a donkey cart with, you know, ninety pounds of grain? It’s a lot, and everything is very expensive. So, everything’s been really difficult. Thankfully, none of the children have come down with COVID.”

Scofield Orphanage endured the food shortages as well as the pandemic, but Patty Congdon continues to advocate for consistency on the part of donors who contribute to Scofield Orphanage. Scofield needs consistent support so that they can afford food, necessities, medical treatment, teachers’ salaries and education.

The Need for Support

When asked, “What are the biggest needs facing Scofield right now?” Patty Congdon said, “Consistency in funding and at levels that are sustainable is still the number one challenge. A big goal that we still have is trying to get them solar power because they still don’t really have lights. They don’t have running water, and from a health perspective, running water would be a game-changer, and being able to have things like computers to study, it all goes back to electricity, and right now they don’t have that.” She continued, “Basics like lights and running water and being able to plug in a computer, those things don’t exist. Those are the big challenges right now.”

Scofield Orphanage faces immense difficulties and is in need of consistent support. Nevertheless, it continues to transform the lives of orphans in rural Kenya by investing in the self-sustaining future of each child. The ethical role model it provides demonstrates how to effectively help vulnerable children.

Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr

Vulnerable Children in KenyaOrganizations like UNICEF and ACAKORO have been providing educational resources to Kenyan students despite the immense difficulties in the country due to COVID-19 and 2020’s locust invasion. On March 15, 2020, the Kenyan Government forced schools to shut down due to COVID-19. Due to school closures, millions of students risk losing out on education during the pandemic. Organizations stepped in to provide resources, remote learning services and sanitation facilities to vulnerable children in Kenya.

Education in Kenya

Over the past decade, poverty in Kenya has improved due to the country meeting many of its Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals are goals created by the United Nations to help underdeveloped nations improve and one of these goals is to achieve universal primary education. A key issue that Kenya needs to address is education disparities. According to a UNICEF study conducted in 2014, low educational attainment of the household head and living in rural areas is the highest indicator that predicts child poverty.

Impoverished children struggle to gain an education. More than 1.2 million primary-school-age children do not attend school. Even more vulnerable children like orphans have increased susceptibility to experiencing education disparities.

Employment in Kenya

Young people in search of employment experience difficulties finding a job that lifts them out of poverty. Only 1% of Kenyan youth have a university education and many young people are entering a job market with few hirable skills. A whole 40% of the youth in Kenya either did not go to school or failed to complete primary education and the largest percentage of people unemployed in Kenya is represented by those aged between 15 and 24. Higher education in Kenya is expensive and not accessible to disadvantaged children.

UNICEF Provides Aid

Nationwide access to quality education is key in reducing poverty and investing in the futures of vulnerable children in Kenya. UNICEF alleviated education burdens during the COVID-19 crisis by providing remote learning to students and giving solar-powered radios and textbooks to vulnerable families. Through UNICEF’s solar-powered radios, 40,000 vulnerable children were reached with educational resources that are necessary for remote learning. On December 23, 2020, UNICEF provided 700,000 masks to be distributed in time for schools to reopen on January 4, 2021. Improved access to sanitation is an ongoing issue, and due to the pandemic, the need for sanitation is of crucial importance. UNICEF foresaw the issue and provided handwashing facilities to hundred of schools.


ACAKORO is a community-based organization, supported by UNICEF, that uses football as a tool for development. ACAKORO works with the community of the Korogocho slum and has been tutoring vulnerable children during COVID-19 so that they can continue their learning. UNICEF is also supporting the government and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) with remote learning and getting schools ready to reopen safely.

The Kenya Jua Kali Voucher Programme

The Kenya Jua Kali Voucher Programme, implemented between 1997 and 2001, was a revolutionary comprehensive policy designed to provide vulnerable youth with vouchers to pay for training courses. A similar modern-day strategy can be put in place in order to address the lack of access to essential education in Kenya. Providing equal access to education for all children in Kenya is essential to lift people out of poverty.

Organizations such as UNICEF and ACAKORO are addressing education-related disparities amid the pandemic, thereby addressing overall poverty in the nation.

– Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr

Education in Kenya
Kenya has seen great success in combating poverty, with the national poverty rate declining from 46.8% to 36.1% between 2005 and 2016. Over this same period, the economy grew at an average annual rate of 5.3%. An increased focus on education accompanied this economic success. In line with this new focus — changing education in Kenya is now at the forefront of one nonprofit’s agenda.

Educational Improvements and Barriers

Increased education and poverty reduction closely connect in the developing world. Education gives students the skills to seek better-paying jobs and improve their lives. Acknowledging this, the Kenyan government opted to make primary education free in 2003. It followed up by making secondary education free in 2008 as well. Due to these policies, 94% of rural Kenyans younger than age 13 now enroll in school. However, the quality of education these students receive is highly variable. For example, only 47% of primary school graduates can successfully test into secondary school.

Challenges exist because while school is free, poor children often struggle with difficult home environments. They often must support their families at the expense of their education. Additionally, weak oversight and insufficient government support mean that many areas suffer from poor quality education, lacking recourses or qualified teachers.

Flying Kites

Flying Kites is one organization with the aim of changing education in Kenya — specifically, education quality. The organization is a Kenyan nonprofit that runs a program to educate teachers and works with Kenya’s ministry of education. Importantly, it is trying to make education more accessible to poor students. Flying Kites partners with “high potential, resource-poor” schools to invite teachers to attend workshops and sit in on classrooms at the Flying Kites Academy. These teachers go through a program to teach them how to improve their classrooms and provide more support to students.

The Borgen Project recently had the opportunity to talk with Katie Quinn, the Director of Operations in the U.S. for Flying Kites. She explained how Flying Kites originally began in 2007 with a primary school catered toward disadvantaged students in central Kenya. Today, its school has evolved into one of the highest regarded academies in Kenya. Flying Kites is attempting to replicate that success across the country.

So far, Flying Kites has seen great success in improving education in Kenya with its Teacher Training Center. It evaluates the classroom skills of incoming teachers and has found that only 12% of them are proficient in all skills. However, after a year in the program, 67% of teachers achieved classroom proficiency.

According to Quinn, focusing on teachers is the best way to improve the education system.“The delivery of quality education by engaged and supported teachers dramatically improves student outcomes, empowering even the most vulnerable students to become curious and critical thinkers and to develop the skills they need to become life-long learners and positively impact their families and communities.”

Flying Kites’ Approach During COVID-19

COVID-19 has undoubtedly been a disruption to the lives of Fly Kites’ students. However, the organization is working hard to make sure that every student stays on track. It has provided direct relief to more than 6,000 local families. Also, it has been distributing meals to students in need. The organization has also pledged to cover all back-to-school expenses for students at its partner schools. This will include uniforms, school supplies and more. It hopes to guide its students through this difficult time and ensure that none of them give up their education.

Once the pandemic ends, Flying Kites hopes to continue to expand its reach to schools — changing education in Kenya. Quinn explained how the organization is planning to create a “model schools district” by working with all 45 local primary schools as well as the Kenyan government. The aim is to create a better environment for teachers and their students. By doing so, Flying Kites seeks to create a repeatable model for education in Kenya that improves student outcomes and creates better opportunities to escape poverty.

– Jack McMahon
Photo: Flickr