Internet in KenyaLoon, a company division of Google, is using balloons to provide internet in Kenya. The Kenyan government is collaborating with Loon to provide more substantial 4G coverage since many areas of Kenya have poor service. In the future, Loon hopes to expand to other areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. Loon is hoping to expedite the process of sending balloons to Kenya because of the increased demand for information during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Importance of Internet Access

UNESCO estimates that 45% of households worldwide do not have internet access. In Africa, 72% of people are unable to use the internet because companies do not see the need to travel to remote locations with less robust populations. Loon is looking to change these statistics by focusing its services in remote areas so people can use apps to communicate with each other.

Internet services help empower people in poverty by offering opportunities for education. Many students in rural areas do not have schools near them, so students rely on quality education through the internet. The Kenya Education Network (KENET) works to bring internet and laptops to various schools in Kenya. KENET has already invested $2 million in supplying free high-speed internet. The internet has become an essential need for educational purposes; Loon’s work will elevate people’s access to these important services.

Are Balloons Reliable To Provide Internet Access?

Loon used its balloons in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria destroyed the cellular towers. The balloons were deployed to provide immediate internet access for people on the island. Before the official launch, Loon tested out 35 balloons, which led to 35 thousand people being able to access the internet in rural Kenya.

Now that Loon is working to send out more balloons, the company is hoping to cover 31 thousand miles. The balloons are effective for providing internet coverage because they work like normal cell towers. The signal is transmitted for 100 days by software controlled from the ground.

The Future of Reliable Internet In Kenya

Loon expects to deploy more balloons in the future through a partnership with Telkom Kenya. Kenya is one of the leading technological countries in Africa. From 2019 to 2020, an increase of 3.2 million people accessed the internet in Kenya.

One of the barriers for people in poverty in accessing the internet is high-cost data plans. Kenya has higher data prices than other surrounding countries. An unlimited data plan in Nigeria can cost around $26, but the same plan in Kenya allows for only 50GB of data. In Kenya, 36.1% of people live below the poverty line, so many Kenyans do not make more than $1 each day. Cellular data plans are still unobtainable for some of the population.

While the Kenyan government is looking to provide a better signal to rural areas, residents may not have the money to pay for cellular services. Access to more service areas through Loon and cheaper data prices through Telkom Kenya could help increase people’s connectivity.

Sarah Litchney
Photo: Pixabay

Ocean Sole Flip-Flop ArtAlso known also as zoris, pluggers, jandals or thongs, it is commonly thought that flip-flops originated in Ancient Egypt around 4,000 B.C. Over time, the materials used to make these shoes evolved from palm leaves, papyrus and straw to rubber and plastic. As such, modern flip-flops are typically cheap and have an average lifespan of two years. Havaianas, a Brazilian flip-flop brand, produces more than 150 million pairs of flip-flops annually. Worldwide, three billion people purchase new flip-flops every year.

However, these non-biodegradable shoes far exceed their two-year wearable lifespan in the form of polluting oceans, threatening marine life and washing up on shores. In Kenya, where approximately 36% of people live on less than $1.90 per day, the coastal area of Watamu is littered with flip-flops, including those that have drifted to Kenya from areas like India and China. Non-profit organization Ocean Sole works to up-cycle flip-flops into art in Kenya, cleaning oceans and shores while simultaneously creating job opportunities in a country where at least 4.9% of people are unemployed.

Ocean Sole

Founded in 1999, Ocean Sole currently impacts more than 1,000 Kenyans through either direct employment or flip-flop collection. It employs and provides a steady income to approximately 90 Kenyans, and employees recycled over half a million flip-flops in 2017 alone. Per year, about 47,000 kilograms of flip-flop waste are collected.

The collected shoes are washed, blocked together, carved with knives and sanded into colorful sculptures and art pieces. The sculptures include figures of buffalo, lions and giraffes, and are sold online worldwide. For every $20 spent on flip-flop art, Ocean Sole collects and up-cycles 146 pounds of ocean trash while helping Kenyans maintain a steady income.

Ocean Sole’s Community Focus

Julie Church, Ocean Sole’s founder, was inspired to establish the organization after seeing toys that children had made from flip-flop debris. Church encouraged the children’s mothers to transform the flip-flops into art to sell at local markets. Thus, the organization began with a focus on community and works to maintain that emphasis. In recent initiatives, the organization has used flip-flop offcuts to make mattresses for those in need, expanding its community impact.

Between 10 and 15% of Ocean Sole’s revenue goes toward vocational and education programs, conservation efforts and beach cleanups. The organization’s social enterprise pays employee bonuses, as well as welfare programs to help employees educate their children. Kenya’s current literacy rate is nearly 85% for males and about 78% for females, yet over one million children were out of school in 2010, and more than 25% of young people did not have at least a secondary education. Ocean Sole is working to increase these literacy and education rates.

Through his position at Ocean Sole, Raphael Kangutu, one of Ocean Sole’s flip-flop artists, is able to support his wife and six children and pay his nephew’s school fees. Ann Nzilani, another artist, was able to move herself and her two children out of the slums in Kenya. These stories are examples of Ocean Sole’s dedication to equal opportunity employment, helping women like Nzilani, as well as men, put food on the table, pay bills, buy land and educate their children. In an interview for the organization’s blog, one mother and Ocean Sole employee explains, “Before working with Ocean Sole, … my children couldn’t go to school because there was no money to pay the fees. I would try to sell fruit on the road, but there is no tourism, or I would only get one customer.” Ocean Sole helped to change this woman’s life, and many more.

Ocean Sole and COVID-19

Navigating the impact of COVID-19 has been a complex process. After orders for flip-flop art were canceled among customers worldwide and as the pandemic progressed, Ocean Sole had to furlough some of its artists for at least a few months. However, the organization’s management and sales team are working diligently to increase income and bring back furloughed employees.

Despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ocean Sole’s capacity for growth is striking. The creation of flip-flop art in Kenya has already had significant economic and environmental advantages, playing a small yet important role in the decrease of poverty in Kenya from almost 47% in 2005 and 2006 to around 36% by the end of 2016. Ocean Sole has made great strides toward the transformation of the lives of thousands of Kenyans and will continue to foster employment opportunities, paving the way for a better — and cleaner — future.

Zoe Engels
Photo: Flickr

boat made of plastic
More than 12 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans annually, and it costs at least $8 billion in damage to the marine life and environment.  Single-use plastic items like grocery bags, drinking bottles, straws and foam takeaway containers comprise the majority of waste. In developing countries, between 400,000 and 1,000,000 people die every year from diseases  related to mismanaged plastic waste. Kenya has taken a radical step in eradicating plastic pollutants and helping its citizens understand the danger of polythene bags. The country is also home to The Flipflopi. The Flipflopi, a large boat made of plastic, serves as a pledge to end the single-use plastic crisis and is a symbol for a brighter and more sustainable future.

The Plastic Problem

Because Southeast Asian countries mismanage 75% of their plastic waste, 60% of marine pollutants come directly from just six different countries. Of this litter, 80% is made of plastic, and it forms large gyres in different oceans around the world. There is an alarming trend of whales dying from ingesting fatal amounts of plastic. Other marine animals suffocate and get entangled in plastic debris and are poisoned by the toxic plastic particulates. Less than 10% of the total amount of plastic ever produced – almost 10 billion tons – has been recycled.

In August 2017, the Kenyan government banned plastic and imposed strict laws against plastic bags. At the time, Judi Wakhungu served as the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Regional Development Authorities in Kenya. With Wakhungu’s help, Kenya embarked on the long-overdue journey of reducing plastic pollution. Now, the imposed punishments for single-use plastic ranges from four years in prison to fines up to $40,000.

In 2015, travel and tourism generated 59% of Kenyan GDP, and the GDP is expected to reach $4.2 billion by 2026. However, Nairobi’s coastlines, the heart of Kenya’s capital and a famous tourist destination, are starting to become polluted with plastic waste. They must be protected at all costs to maintain tourism and GDP growth. Because plastic blocks waterways and ends up in drains, it serves as a direct cause of flooding in developing countries that have poor sanitation facilities. Two billion people live in areas with trash buildup due to the lack of waste removal systems. The trash gets trapped in waterways, causing severe pollution, illness and even death.

The Flipflopi boat made of plastic tackled exactly this issue. It created a system of converting plastic into something valuable. In fact, it is on a mission to reuse all generated plastic creatively until there is a worldwide consensus on stopping its usage.

The Flipflopi Project

In 2016, Ben Morison, Ali Skanda and numerous volunteers began building a nine-meter sailing dhow, all made out of more than 10 metric tons of plastic waste and 30,000 pairs of recycled flip-flops collected on beach cleanups in Lamu. A dhow, which is a traditional vessel with one or two masts, has always been the icon of the Kenyan coast and has sailed the Indian Ocean for more than 2,000 years. The Flipflopi is the first entirely plastic sailing dhow that was launched on September 15, 2018. Coincidentally, its launch fell on International World Cleanup Day.

Morison, who is a tour operator in Lamu, Kenya, understood that plastic pollution is not only damaging marine life but also to Kenya’s tourism. Because more than three billion people wear flip-flops, Morison wanted to make a call to action. In 2016, he reached out to the master craftsman, Ali Skanda, and recruited a team of volunteers to make a change. Two years later, the project came to life, and Flipflopi sailed from Lamu to Zanzibar. Its 650 km voyage marked Kenya’s fight against plastic waste and Flipflopi’s partnership with the United Nations Environment Program’s Clean Seas campaign.

In only 14 days of sailing, the Flipflopi stopped in 12 different communities and hosted seven events ranging from beach cleanups to recycling workshops. Children also attended these initiatives and were taught how to create useful objects out of empty plastic bottles. In the majority of Flipflopi’s port stops, local governments announced their commitment to reducing plastic waste and expanding recycling practices. Kibarani pledged to revive the city of Mombasa, shut down its landfill dump and plant trees in its territory. The Flipflopi was also able to secure partnerships with 22 hotels and 29 businesses in Kenya to minimize their plastic waste usage.

Purpose and Awareness

The Flipflopi bears the symbol of loving, appreciating and taking care of the environment. The boat made of plastic was built with no technological interventions. Because of this, it took two and a half years to complete instead of the typical five months. However, the project’s longevity demonstrates that any person can repurpose and convert single-use plastic into something as grand as a sea vessel. The boat was not built for the sake of building a boat. Instead, it serves as a symbol of commitment to make a change and give plastic a second life. The project was meant to teach the world a lesson on how plastic affects marine ecosystems, the human environment and Earth, as well as what people can and must do about it.

The Flipflopi is only getting started. Its co-founders and volunteers plan to construct a 20-meter plastic dhow and sail it to Cape Town, South Africa, not only to advocate for new worldwide policies but also to continue the legacy of traditional and sustainable dhows.

This boat made of plastic is a symbol of change and serves as a light at the end of the long plastic tunnel. It is a promise that future generations will treat the planet lovingly and kindly.

– Anna Sharudenko
Photo: Abdalla Barghash

Rafode
For many years, microfinance was viewed as one of the most successful means of raising individuals and communities out of poverty. In Myanmar, small and medium enterprises made up 99% of the country’s businesses. Most of those were, to no surprise, micro-businesses. In particular, the tool of microfinance was viewed as especially helpful to women. Yet, it turns out that studies found that microloans were not actually as impactful as many wanted them to be. The problem is that, because microloans are often given to those considered high-risk borrowers, high-interest rates are charged, making it difficult for those receiving the loans in the long run. The way to make microloans sustainable is by diverting the focus away from scalability and immediate returns. Rafode, a startup in Kenya, has done just that.

Headquartered in Kisumu, Kenya, Rafode is a “non-deposit taking Microfinance Institution.” With its main focus on women in rural communities, Rafode has successfully distributed over 40,000 loans, all with a value of around 700 million Kenya Shillings or $6.5 million. Relying on technology to deliver its products and services, Rafode has succeeded in reaching rural communities and uplifting both men and women through microloans.

Products and Services

Rafode has eight different products, all in the form of loans for different purposes.

  1. Inuka Business Loan: As a group loan, this is intended to encourage clients to create, upgrade or expand a business. This loan is the first step to receiving an individual loan and can range from 10,000 to 480,000 Kenya shillings.
  2. Masomo Loan: Dedicated to education, this loan is aimed to support a client’s family in receiving an education.
  3. Green Energy Loan: Working with other companies that provide green products, including Burn, Marathoner and Sunking, this group loan provides support for rural clients seeking access to affordable green energy products.
  4. Agribusiness Loan: As the name would suggest, this loan exists to specifically help small scale farmers in the agribusiness industry.
  5. Pamoja Loan: As another group loan, this works to support a group hoping to support its local economy.
  6. Emergency Loan: As an individual loan, the Emergency Loan serves to cater to the client’s emergencies, typically related to their business.
  7. Individual Business Loan: A more selective loan to receive, this loan exists exclusively for clients who already have businesses, and who already have businesses that are stable and have a reliable source of profits.
  8. Asset Loan: This final loan is self-securing. Providing real flexibility to clients, they gain the ability to finance movable assets and free up cash they might not have had before. Like the Individual Business Loan, this exists for clients who already are seeing their business profit, and hope to expand or grow it even more.

The Value of Microfinance

While conventional microloans have not been so effective, researchers have found that by providing microloans with little to no collateral, there are usually better results. Specifically, when given to women, these results are even more effective. This is because, especially in developing countries, microloans are among the only things that increase women’s decision-making power. In other words, microloans undeniably empower women.

So, Rafode’s efforts to give 85% of their microloans to women, focusing on rural communities and offering a plethora of different types of loans, all with very little collateral, have enabled this startup to do extremely impactful work that provides mutual benefits to the clients and back to the company. The most successful microfinance products allow flexible payment periods, individual liability contracts and one of Rafode’s main tools, the use of technology.

By believing in microfinance and adjusting to what will work by trusting in their clients, Rafode has raised individuals and families out of poverty, as well as revitalized economies in the process.

– Olivia Fish
Photo: Flickr

Five Examples of Police Brutality InternationallyProtests in the United States are bringing light to a troubling issue which has taken lives for generations: police brutality. However, police brutality affects almost every country in the world. Wherever there is a police force, there is the potential for police brutality. Here are five examples that demonstrate police brutality internationally.

5 Examples of Police Brutality Internationally

  1. Kenya: Police officers in Kenya often accept bribes. Not only that, but police often accuse, imprison or even kill those who cannot offer a bribe. Police officers demanding bribes disproportionately affect poor Kenyans. Kenyans in poverty are often unable to pay police and can experience detainment without probable cause for an indefinite period of time. Additionally, police frequently get away with assaulting or murdering citizens without suffering legal repercussions themselves. On June 8, 2020, citizens took to the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, to protest the police brutality that police employed when enforcing curfews during the COVID-19-related lockdown.
  2. Hong Kong: During the protests for democracy in 2019, widespread human rights violations occurred at the hands of the Hong Kong police, largely without repercussions. The brutality included improper use of rubber bullets, which have a design so that police can fire them at the ground before they bounce and hit people. Also, there was a misuse of bean bag rounds, the physical beating of nonviolent protesters, misuse of tear gas and pepper spray and the use of water canons. In some cases, detained protesters experienced subjection to severe beatings that amounted to torture. As a result, there has been a call for an inquiry into the police’s use of violence from an impartial and independent source as opposed to an internal investigation.
  3. Philippines: Since 2016, the drug war that Philippine Director General Oscar Albayalde waged has resulted in thousands of deaths. The killers, including police and independent gangs of men on motorcycles reportedly affiliated with the police, have not experienced legal action. Law enforcement killed more than 12,000 people during the drug war, and Human Rights Watch has urged Albayabe to consider the rights of the population. Frequently, police executions of citizens result from drugs that police plant on citizens, compounding the injustice. Some have called the drug war in the Philippines a “war on the poor” because it discriminates against the urban poor. Robberies often follow police killings of the urban poor. By targeting vulnerable populations, crooked police are able to commit extrajudicial crimes.
  4. Pakistan: Police brutality also affects the people of Pakistan. A particularly unjust example of this is the death of Salahuddin Ayabi, a person with mental disabilities, who went into police custody for an armed robbery. The police severely tortured him and ended his life. In Pakistan, police have killed hundreds of detained people by means of torture. The police often produce false testimonies and plant evidence on people before detaining them and sometimes murdering them. The Punjabi government has proposed legislative reform. However, some argue that the problem is not the legislation itself but the lack of proper implementation to hold police accountable. Impoverished Pakistanis are a targeted demographic, experiencing subjection to extrajudicial killings, detainment and police torture.
  5. El Salvador: Between 2014 and 2018 in El Salvador, police killed at least 116 people. To put this in perspective, El Salvador’s population is 6.421 million, about three-fourths of New York City population. Raquel Caballero described these killings as “brutal assassinations” in an interview with Reuters. The brutal actions of the police seem to correlate to the gang violence which plagues El Salvador, as many victims are gang members. Of the 48 cases of extrajudicial murders committed by police, only 19 officers experienced prosection and only two received convictions. El Salvador’s murder rate is one of the highest in the world, but some argue that should not excuse police officers to act in such a brutal manner. Additionally, women from high-poverty areas suffer from police brutality as a result of scant reproductive rights. For instance, women who seek abortions, even for obstetric emergencies, often suffer prosecution.

The examination of police brutality internationally by groups like the U.N., Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International is crucial in maintaining awareness of the pervasiveness of this problem. Perhaps the organizations which prosecute guilty police officers worldwide will emerge victorious in their efforts. Police need to meet the same standards as the populations they serve.

Elise Ghitman
Photo: Flickr

The Pangea NetworkAround the world, women are disproportionately affected by poverty. Kenya is one place where gender issues and poverty go hand in hand. Over 35% of the Kenyan population lives below the poverty line, and women, children and the elderly are most at risk. However, as poverty and inequality increase, so does the movement to help change the tides in Kenya. Nicole Minor learned of Kenya’s struggles and set out to change the lives of women throughout the country. The Pangea Network, a non-profit organization focused on empowering women in Kenya, was born.

Poverty in Kenya

Kenya has a population of more than 50 million, with over 17 million currently living in poverty or extreme poverty — on less than $1.90 a day. However, poverty in the country is steadily decreasing, falling from 43% in 2003 to 36% in 2016. And although poverty in Kenya remains a significant problem, the country has a lower overall poverty rate than most sub-Saharan countries. Kenya’s GDP continues to rise by approximately 5% annually, which is an impressive feat. Despite these facts, however, Kenya is unlikely to reach the goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 without new poverty reduction policies and faster growth rates.

Women in Kenya

In Kenya, women and girls are most vulnerable to poverty. One notable gap between men and women is in education. Of those in Kenya that earn higher education, approximately 30% are women — despite government policies that ensure gender equality in education. One reason for this is that women in Kenya have traditionally been relegated to the domestic sphere and lack opportunities for attending university, which can limit job prospects.

Despite the hardships they face, women are fighting back against gender inequality and poverty through enterprise and entrepreneurship. That’s where the Pangea Network comes in.

What is the Pangea Network?

The Pangea Network is a nonprofit organization focused on “empowering motivated individuals” with “knowledge, skills and an ongoing network of support in order to achieve their dreams and make positive, life-changing contributions in the communities where they live.” The organization’s founder, Nicole Minor, began creating the framework for the Pangea Network in 2005 in an effort to dedicate herself to social service. Today, the Pangea Network is an international organization that operates in Kenya and the United States.

How it Works: The Kenyan Women’s Network

The Pangea Network operates a four-year course called the Kenyan Women’s Network, which teaches participants a variety of skills intended to guarantee their future success. Some practical skills that participating women may learn include bookkeeping, financial literacy and micro-financing; women can also learn about issues like human rights, wellness and personal development.

The ultimate goal of the Kenyan Women’s Network is to enable participants to develop and grow their own businesses, which will generate profit and allow them to become financial providers for their households. Women who participate receive loans from the Pangea Network, allowing them to fully develop and expand their enterprises.

Impact

The Pangea Network has had a huge impact throughout its years in action. For those participating in the Kenyan Women’s Network, the average weekly income rose by almost 40% between 2015 and 2018. Over 560 different businesses founded by participants have grown in size and revenue, 45 of which began only with help from the Pangea Network. Furthermore, almost 200 women have received animal husbandry and livestock training; nearly 400 women have received first aid training; and more than 60% of Kenyan women who participate in the program report that they are their family’s primary source of income.

Beyond the Women’s Network, the Pangea Network provides scholarships for school-aged children in Kenya. It also sponsors boys’ and girls’ retreats focused on empowering children and providing them with both skills and a love of learning.

The Pangea Network is an inspiring organization dedicated to empowering Kenyan women and equipping them to succeed. Participants in the Women’s Network are hardworking, driven and well-deserving of the tools they are given to start or grow their own businesses. The Pangea Network is not only providing these women with hope, but it is also helping to close the gender gap and fight poverty in Kenya.

– Paige Musgrave
Photo: Pixabay

Food loss in AfricaIn developing countries around the world, small-scale farmers see up to 80% post-harvest losses on their fresh produce. The most significant factor contributing to this large-scale food loss in Africa is the lack of proper cold storage facilities. Most small-scale rural farmers do not find refrigeration feasible due to unreliable sources of local electricity, the high cost of conventional cooling and the lack of technical knowledge.

Growing up in the rural Kenyan village of Machakos, Dysmus Kisilu witnessed firsthand how smallholder farmers struggled financially, losing 40-60% of their harvest due to the lack of refrigeration. When food losses are at such a high rate, food security also becomes an issue. About 30% of Kenya’s population faces food insecurity and poor nutrition each year, and agricultural food loss in Africa plays a significant role.

Kisilu wanted to utilize his knowledge and skills in renewable energy to make an impact on small-scale farmers, specifically women and youth, and food insecurity in Kenya. After studying solar-powered solutions to post-harvest losses at UC Davis in 2016, he developed Solar Freeze – a company that provides mobile solar-powered cold storage units for small-scale farmers.

Solar Freeze

Solar Freeze includes four innovative technologies within its system:

  1. Mobile Solar-Powered Cold Rooms – The Solar Freeze units are portable cold storage units that derive their source of energy from solar power. This off-grid solution allows small-scale farmers to store their temperature-sensitive produce like fruits, vegetables and dairy products in a temperature-controlled environment to ensure longer shelf life and maintain freshness.
  2. Cold Storage as a Service – Smallholder farmers and traders can use the Solar Freeze app and SMS service to locate the nearest mobile cold storage unit. Through the use of mobile and cash payments, farmers can pay for Solar Freeze’s storage service for affordable rates, saving costs in spoiled food, refrigeration hardware and physical storage space.
  3. Cold-Chain Distribution, Logistics and Transportation – Solar Freeze’s mission is to provide not only cold storage but also refrigerated transportation. Small-scale farmers should eventually be able to move smaller amounts of produce more frequently and cheaply with a cold storage “Ubering” service that does not require an internet connection to place shipping orders.
  4. Solar Freeze Mobile App and IoT Monitoring – Farmers will be able to monitor real-time data from the cold storage management system through the Solar Freeze app and IoT platform installed within the cold storage units.

Implementation in Kenya

Solar Freeze takes on a micro-franchise business model that aims to integrate its technology and knowledge with village women and youth. The goal is to get more women to own and operate the cold storage units as independent micro-franchisee entrepreneurs. Through the micro- franchise model, Solar Freeze will supply women smallholder farmers and their communities with solar-powered cold storage units and provide resources, training and mentorship to operate the units and grow their agribusinesses.

Solar Freeze has also created a youth empowerment program called Each One Teach One. The program, already training 50 youth, teaches the younger generation how to work with the cold storage equipment as well as solar irrigation. They learn the entirety of the solar-powered technology to repair and maintain the machinery. Students then teach others in their community the skills that they learned.

The innovative technology and implementation of Solar Freeze aim to transform rural agriculture in Africa, making agribusiness more efficient and profitable. It also plans to aid in ending women and youth unemployment, food loss and hunger in Kenya and Africa.

Future of Solar Freeze

Solar Freeze has currently tested its technology and business model with 3,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya. Out of the 3,000 farmers, 90% reported that there was a reduction in post-harvest losses. Kisilu plans to impact 30,000 farmers with Solar Freeze by 2030. The impact Solar Freeze can have on smallholder farmers and the surrounding communities could be a massive stride in revolutionizing farming and ending hunger and food loss in Africa for future generations.

Dalton Dunning
Photo: Flickr

School closures in Kenya
As a means to control the rampant virus that is COVID-19, Kenya closed all of its schools in March 2020. Although school closures in Kenya have occurred to maintain citizens’ safety, there are problems and concerns. George Magoha, Education Prime Minister of Kenya, stated that, due to schools closing just three months into the school year, students will be a year behind in their studies once school resumes in January 2021. The school closures could further marginalize certain children and families. Additionally, teenage pregnancy is another problem that learning at home could bring.

Further Marginalization of Kenyans

Once schools shut down worldwide, many students seamlessly transferred to online learning. This, however, was not the case for rural, remote areas in Kenya like Kajiado and Samburu county. According to the World Economic Forum, only 17% of Kenyan households had internet access as of 2016. With little to no access to internet connectivity and technology itself, online learning is nearly impossible. These children are at a strikingly harmful disadvantage in comparison to students residing in more urban areas, like Naibori country. Students in rural areas cannot academically progress like other students who have the means to learn online.

Not only are students with little internet access often behind, but school closures in Kenya also greatly impact refugee students. For many refugee students living in the Dadaab refugee complex, for example, going to school and receiving an education is their best opportunity for future success. Considering lower retention rates and even being a year behind, this success may prove to be more difficult to attain.

School closures in Kenya also place a heavy burden on parents and guardians. With little to no preparation for home-schooling, parents and guardians now have to teach their children. Little to no academic planning creates major problems with information retention, causing students to be even more behind in school.

Teen Pregnancies

Only 10% of teenage girls who leave school ever go back. Due to the virus, young girls cannot attend school, thus potentially lowering this percentage even more. The longer teenage girls are out of school, the worse the consequences may be for their futures. One example is teen pregnancies.

According to a Kenya government-administered health survey, teen pregnancies are rapidly increasing. As of 2015, Kenya had the largest number of teen pregnancies in East Africa. According to Plan International, “98% of pregnant girls were not in school, and 59% of the pregnancies among girls aged 15-19 years were unintended.” Prior to the pandemic, education and resources for young teenagers were not readily available for many. Now, those resources are even more difficult to receive.

Moreover, going to school every day was an escape for teenage girls from predatory family members in the home. With school closures in Kenya, young women do not have the protection from family members and neighbors that their schools provided. Sexual violence in Kenya affects about 33% of girls; due to school closures, this number may rise.

Solutions

Although many students do not have access to necessary resources, learning by the radio has been a very helpful resource for both Kenyan and refugee students. For the 100,000 students who reside in the Dadaab refugee complex, radio lessons have been able to reach all 22 of the complex’s schools. This allows refugee students to continue their education, thus, continuing their mobilization in society.

To promote the health and safety of all Kenyans, UNICEF delivered many basic needs to Kibera in April 2020. Kibera is the largest informal settlement in Africa where nearly 1 million individuals live on less than a dollar a day, according to UNICEF. The delivered supplies included 26,000 bars of soap and 100 disinfectant sprayers for the Nairobi City Government’s use in public spaces. Aid like this keeps Kenyans safe and should later create safer conditions for schools in Kenya.

School closures in Kenya have created countless problems and concerns for its citizens. With delayed schooling, lack of necessary technology and the potential of increased teenage pregnancies, the effects of school closures in Kenya may persist for years to come. However, organizations like UNICEF are working to provide compulsory resources, like proper education.

– Anna Hoban
Photo: Pixabay


Kenya, a country in East Africa, has made strides in battling poverty by reforming childhood education. In 2003 Kenya established a free primary school education program meant to ensure that young children receive a basic education. However, the Kenyan school system still has challenges to overcome. Teachers often lack proper training and support, and students often do not have enough school supplies. These obstacles ultimately contribute to low learning outcomes for students. Tusome, which means “let’s read” in Kiswahili, is a national literacy program powering childhood learning in Kenya that attempts to address these education shortfalls.

Origins of The Tusome National Literacy Program

Despite previous efforts to improve childhood learning outcomes by the Kenyan government, assessments from the years 2010-2014 showed no significant change in literacy and 40% of primary grade students could not understand their reading material. Tusome was built on this prior research and “was one of the first experiences of taking a piloted literacy program to national scale through government systems.” Tusome is funded by both the Kenyan government’s Ministry of Education and the USAID organization. The program was implemented in January of 2015 and will run until 2020 with a goal of improving reading for 6.7 million students.

Training and Support of Faculty

Two of Tusome’s key goals are to address the need for faculty training and support in the Kenyan school system. Tusome educates teachers, administrators, coaches, and support staff on the Ministry of Education’s expected learning outcomes. The program also provides Curriculum Support Officers that regularly visit schools to coach and monitor teachers in learning outcomes, though these are not professionals trained in general classroom instruction. Youth associations are also working to help to tutor children and develop a reading culture in their area.

School Supplies and Integration of Technology

One of the Tusome program’s notable achievements is that is has provided 26 million textbooks and supplementary materials for primary school students, ensuring that each student has a textbook of their own. Tusome also offers its students tablets with digitized learning materials, which can also provide feedback and progress monitoring for teachers. The performance of each student is uploaded to a cloud-based network system which is meant to promote greater responsibility within the school system.

Conclusion

Tusome has been able to improve teacher support, training and availability of school materials in Kenyan primary schools. This is, in part, due to the integration of technology in the form of digital materials, tablets and cloud-based technology. Learning outcomes have been promising, even in the early pilot phase. In 1,384 schools, children who reached the Tusome standard for an understanding of the English language increased from 8.6% to 43.7%. Overall, Tusome is considered a successful example of large-scale governmental implementation of a national program that can power childhood learning in Kenya, and serve as a model to education systems around the world.


– Joseph Maria
Photo: Flickr

Hydroponics Fight Hunger
In the past 40 years, droughts have impacted more of the world’s population than any other natural disaster. Their intensity and occurrence have increased, and the developing world bears the brunt of consequences including hunger, environmental damage and economic and social instability. Agriculture, in particular, a sector that supports 40% of the world population’s primary livelihoods, suffers from worsening droughts. In Eastern and Central Africa water scarcity and population growth dually affect food security to an increasing degree. The CEO and founder of Hydroponics Africa LLC, Peter Chege, is helping introduce the innovative and cost-effective method of hydroponic farming in Africa to help improve food security.

How Hydroponic Farming Fights Hunger

Hydroponic systems rely on dissolved nutrient additives to grow food in contained water structures rather than soil. These systems use water 90% more efficiently than traditional agricultural production methods because the closed systems recycle water. Using this method of production, farmers can precisely control pH and nutrient levels in the water to optimize plant growth. Furthermore, vertically stacked hydroponic systems can increase crop growth density and production rates.

Hydroponic systems support crop growth in drought-stricken areas with poor soil conditions that would typically prohibit productive farming. The potential for greater crop output means hydroponics fight hunger by combatting food-insecurity and improve the livelihoods of low-income farmers.

Introducing Hydroponics to African Countries

Chege, a chemist out of the University of Nairobi, founded Hydroponics Kenya in 2012 to market hydroponic systems to Kenyan farmers as an affordable alternative to purchasing livestock feed. His company was the first to market hydroponics in East Africa. Since its foundation, his company expanded into Hydroponics Africa LLC and began to produce and install crop-and fodder-growing hydroponic systems in Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. Additionally, there has been growing governmental support to increase the overall use of hydroponic farming in Africa.

Hydroponics Africa partners with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It receives support from Kenya’s Water Resource Management Authority (WARMA) and the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture. The Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC)—an organization that aims to improve the productivity of small farms and promote water management technologies—has also issued Hydroponics Africa a “proof of concept grant” to help hydroponics fight hunger in Kenya.

Hydroponics Africa has sold more than 365 greenhouse units and 700 fodder units, which have helped to save 500 million liters of water and support 6,000 tons of crop yields. The company has also trained over 20,000 people on hydroponic farming techniques.

The Benefit to Low-Income Farmers

Hydroponics Africa LLC creates customizable hydroponic systems using local materials and markets them toward small- and mid-size farms. The systems require no previous user experience, no thermostat nor electricity and minimal user input. The system prices currently range from $100 to $4,800. Additionally, the company is working with local banks to make these systems accessible to low-income farmers through loans. For example, payment options include 0-20% upfront costs and a monthly payment plan per system. The costs are justified by the increased crop yields for subsistence and sale that the hydroponic method promises.

Hydroponic farming helps fight hunger in areas poorly suited to traditional agriculture. Companies like Hydroponics Africa LLC have the potential to revolutionize agriculture for low-income farmers in drought-stricken countries. The emergence of hydroponic technology may be a life-changing solution to food insecurity exacerbated by population growth and drought.

– Avery Saklad
Photo: Flickr