Lives in Kenya Through Education
Three Smith alumnae write
about their Project for Peace in Nairobi, Kenya.
What do a three alumnae with different interests—a former
president of Smith Republicans from New Hampshire, an aspiring
medical doctor from Kenya, and a California girl raised on
a hippie commune in San Francisco—all have in common?
A mentoring center in Baba Dogo, a slum outside Nairobi,
Kenya, and 42 primary school students.
Elena Farrar ’10 (center) and her charges.
Margaret Mumbi Mongare
’10 (on right) gives a presentation while Marguerite
Davenport awaits her turn to present.
Recent graduates Elena
Farrar, Marguerite Davenport and Margaret Mumbi Mongare,
all members of the Class of 2010, teamed up during the summer
to establish a mentoring center in Baba Dogo to help gifted
children realize their goals for higher education. The work
was funded through Projects for Peace, a philanthropic organization
that awards $10,000 to selected student projects from the
top 50 American colleges and universities.
While their interests
and backgrounds may be vastly different, the three alumnae
share a common bond in their high regard for education. Marguerite’s
and Elena’s mothers are teachers. For Mumbi, education was
the ticket out of Baba Dogo, her hometown, in which many
live on less than a dollar a day.
Building a mentoring center
in a slum meant connecting the most motivated students in
a school of 1,700 youngsters with mentors that they could
look to not only for academic help, but also career advice.
It would also improve the chances for children from low-income
families to attend high school. For Mumbi, the keys to fighting
poverty and bringing change in her community are through
education—mentoring young children and introducing them to
role models. “The way out of poverty is to empower those
in it to challenge the status quo then provide them the opportunities
to acquire problem-solving tools,” she said.
The three women
arrived in Kenya in May following their graduation from Smith,
and began constructing the center, working with painters
and carpenters to refurbish an old single-classroom building.
With the support of the school’s head teacher, they identified
the top students from each class in grades 4 through 8 to
participate in the mentoring program. They then met with
teachers to compile a list of lessons and storybooks for
the new library in the center.
Each week throughout the summer,
the alumnae met with about 20 mentors to develop the program
curriculum. The teachers agreed to run the program for two
hours after school each day, during which student participants
could do homework, take books from the library and receive
tutoring. On the weekends, university students who were alumnae
of Baba Dogo primary school would tutor the students and
run enrichment programs related to leadership, community,
culture, health, environment, hygiene, and careers.
events included a bus trip to the National Museum, and a
speaker on the importance of environmental protection. The
trip to the museum resulted in students planting and tending
trees, one of the first opportunities they had to learn about
their impact on the environment.
One of the most dramatic
changes in students was visible in a 5th-grade student named
Faustine. While she excelled at schoolwork, Faustine had
very little confidence and would often cover her face with
her hands and lower her eyes when asked a question. One of
the early program units was on public speaking, and the importance
of leadership through speech. Elena worked with Faustine
to write a brief speech about the negative effects of drugs
on a community. When she delivered the speech in front of
the group, Faustine spoke for the first time without covering
her face. A couple of weeks later, Faustine volunteered to
be an emcee for the grand opening ceremony for the center.
After the opening ceremony the
children and mentors decided to name the center the Masomo
Mashiniani Bidi foundation (Kiswahili for Education at the
It is now being run by a group
of elected mentors that serve on the executive committee,
which oversees the tutoring sessions and planned activities.
Mentors and teachers hope to
improve the students’ national
test scores and place them in scholarship programs sponsored
by U.S. and Kenyan organizations that will pay for their
high school tuition.