Flying Kites, an organization co-founded by Leila de Bruyne, seeks to improve education in Kenya by focusing on the needs of individual students. The emphasis on individual students stems from de Bruyne’s experience teaching in Nairobi
Poverty, Hunger and Education in Kenya
The World Poverty Clock estimates that 11 million Kenyans are living below the poverty line, which is defined as less than $1.90 per day. To provide additional financial support for their families, many Kenyan children forgo education. Of those who do attend school, many are eventually forced to drop out due to financial instability. Only around 40% of children make it through primary school and are enrolled in secondary school.
Gender discrimination is another factor affecting school attendance. A Menstrual Health report found that “one in ten 15-year-old girls are having sex to get money to pay for sanitary ware,” and dropping out of school due to pregnancies or lack of sanitary supplies is common.
Nutrition also impacts attendance. Many students don’t have access to food at home, let alone enough to bring to school for lunch. The Borgen Project spoke with Katie Quinn, the U.S. Director of Operations for Flying Kites, who said, “In Kenya, one in four children suffer from stunting due to chronic undernutrition. Stunting is associated with an underdeveloped brain, causing long-lasting harmful consequences including diminished mental ability and learning capacity.”
With 90% of Kenyan teachers citing hunger as the primary obstacle to student learning, Flying Kites understands that “without access to food at school, hungry students cannot learn.” The organization has since implemented a program that works with families, teachers and schools to provide meals to students across the country in order to encourage health and education in Kenya.
According to Quinn, Flying Kites aims “to ensure that more vulnerable students in rural Kenya come to school, stay in school, and thrive in school.” It isn’t enough to have students simply attend school. Instead, by upskilling teachers and investing in girls, Flying Kites creates an atmosphere in which they can excel.
- Upskilling Teachers: The Teacher Training Center and Academy seeks to provide teachers with the support and the skills necessary to increase learning among students. Its programs include year-round ICT training and a digital learning curriculum to encourage the use of technology as a learning tool. The Center and Academy work throughout a network of schools assembled alongside Kenya’s Ministry of Education to spread the wealth of highly trained, capable teachers across schools and communities.
- Investing in Girls: Girls United is a Flying Kites program designed to support girls and train female teachers to be “advocates for gender equality and agents of change.” G.I.R.L.S. (Guidance, Information, Resources, Leadership and Skill-building) focuses on the whole individual, her needs and her rights within the community. The program supports vulnerable girls, especially those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides them with essential resources such as sanitary pads, allowing them opportunities to discuss important information within their communities and teaching them basic life skills.
Challenges and Successes
The COVID-19 pandemic “illuminated the technology divide” limiting educational opportunities in Kenya and elsewhere. Faced with virtual education and school closures, Flying Kites realized that technology was crucial to equitable student learning outcomes. To mitigate this divide, the organization implemented the KitKit program, a digital and tablet-based early learning solution to bring more students into virtual classrooms.
Yet, in-person education is Flying Kites’ primary goal. In particular, girls mentioned feeling unsafe at home and struggling with being out of school during the pandemic. Additionally, students who were provided with meals at school weren’t receiving the same nourishment at home. Today, Flying Kites is bringing students back for in-person classes after many were forced to return to work to help supplement their families’ incomes during the pandemic.
Transforming “18 schools into food distribution centers to support 6,449 students and their families,” turning a school bus into a library and mobilizing a network of teachers to launch a Remote Learning Program: These are Flying Kites’ major pandemic successes. But their most major success, Quinn says proudly, is getting students back in school and improving education in Kenya.
Partners and Next Steps
Flying Kites recognizes that there is more to be done to ensure that education is a path out of poverty. The organization partners with several organizations to help spread the word and seek student-centric solutions. Quinn cites two in particular:
- ZanaAfrica Foundation: This ZanaAfrica Foundation is an “innovative rights-based menstrual and sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) education curriculum” that supports women and girls. Flying Kites joined the foundation amid COVID-19 closures to ensure the health and safety of its female students. Together, they provide resources to women and girls, educate them and train teachers on the SRHR aspects of the curriculum.
- Ujamaa (No Means No Worldwide): Ujamaa provides workshops to address sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) in Kenya and across the globe. Flying Kites hopes to continue providing workshops to students, especially those in grades 5-8 since the pandemic resulted in numerous incidents of SGBV.
Flying Kites aspires to promote change with the knowledge that “systemic change requires a holistic, grassroots approach.” By building from the ground up, training teachers, supporting partner organizations and, above all, ensuring the safety and success of the students, Flying Kites works to ensures that education is a path out of poverty by implementing individualized solutions.
– Grace Manning