From the looks of Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya—and the second largest in Africa—it’s easy to imagine how the slum’s young children could fall through the cracks of the country’s education system. However, Givology partner, the Turning Point Trust, is looking to defy those odds.
In this interview, Emily Smith, a volunteer field worker for Turning Point Trust, speaks with Givology to discuss how her organization is rehabilitating former Kibera street children (and other vulnerable youth) so that they can return to primary school and continue their education. In addition, Smith talks about the Turning Point Trust’s innovation e-book program and how it’s intended to help increase literacy in the classroom.
(Above: Emily Smith with Turning Point Trust student)
Interview by Genna Weiss
Genna Weiss: Please tell us about how Turning Point Trust was founded. What is its overall mission?
Emily Smith: Turning Point was founded in 2003 when three Kibera residents invited a British couple to work with them to help the children in their area of Kibera whose parents could not afford to send them to school. Our aim is to enable families in Kibera to build a positive future for their kids.
GW: What services does Turning Point Trust provide for the children? What would their lives be like without these services?
ES: We run a feeding program which provides breakfast and lunch each day. Without this, many of the children would eat only one meal a day, or some would only take black tea. With their tummies full, we prepare children to go to primary school by catching up on the schooling that they have missed. When they are ready, we pay for their uniform, books and school lunches and send them to government-run primary schools.
If a child gets sick, we pay for treatment and offer regular health checks and de-worming treatment to all the kids in the project. Without these services, the children would be out of school, just sitting at home wasting their potential. Some out of boredom or hunger would go to the streets to beg or steal. There are many risks involved in this, as street children are vulnerable to abuse and likely to start sniffing glue.
GW: Your organization also caters to the families of these children. What programs does the Turning Point Trust offer these families?
ES: We run a microfinance scheme for parents in the community, enabling them to start small businesses. The income from these businesses brings a more consistent income to the household. Mothers in this scheme report that since starting their business, they have not had to send their kids to bed hungry; other are now able to pay school fees for their children and can afford medicine when a family member gets sick.
GW: Can you give us an example of one of the children or families who have been impacted by the Turning Point Trust’s programs?
ES: Peter joined the program in 2007; he had reached standard 2 in primary school and had to drop out due to lack of school fees. First, he joined the transition class to catch up on the schooling he had missed. He had become accustomed to the freedom of being out of school, and being boisterous by nature, it took him some time to focus again on his studies.
After a year in transition class, he returned to school and is now completing his final year of primary. He works off his energy after school in the Turning Point football club as star goalkeeper. Today, his younger brother and sister are also being sent to school by Turning Point, and his mother runs a small business using capital from a Turning Point loan.
GW: The Turning Point Trust is currently raising money for two projects. Please tell us about these projects and how people can help support them.
ES: One project is the transition class, mentioned above which Peter attended. We have between 30 and 60 children coming through this class every year preparing to return to primary school. We need funding to supply the teachers, books, pens and pencils for these kids and to provide breakfast and lunch each day.
The other project is still in the pipeline, but it will see Turning Point kids writing their own stories and sharing them through the internet with kids from around the world. This will boost their literacy skills, fuel their imaginations and expose them to the world beyond Kenya's borders. It may even uncover some hidden literary talent!
GW: What challenges will these children continue to face as they transition from the streets to school? Does the Turning Point Trust continue to support these children through the time they reach young adulthood?
ES: The children come from varying home backgrounds; some have very supportive parents, while others may have alcoholic mothers, absent fathers or no parents at all. For some kids, the situations they go home to after school are not conducive to their positive development; even getting homework done can be difficult when the family only has one small paraffin lamp to light their home. So it takes the kids a lot of hard work and perseverance to get through school. If they pass with a high enough grade Turning Point will continue to support them to secondary school and then on to college or university.
We now have our first student who has got the grades to go to university, and he is currently preparing to start studying commerce later this year. For the less academic, we offer vocational training in a skill they can use to get work. We have a few young men doing apprenticeships in mechanics and young ladies running small hair salons in Kibera.
GW: What is the Turning Point Trust hoping to accomplish over the next few years?
ES: We are currently preparing to open a third center in Kibera in September this year with another Transition class, [with the intent of] increasing the number of children we send back to primary school. Our vision is to open several similar centers over the next five years as we identify areas of Kibera with high numbers of children out of school. We will continue to open offices for the microfinance program at each center for parents in the area. So we have lots of work to do!
To support the transition school: Rehabilitating Former Street Children
To support the e-Book project: Advocacy Development Ebook Project
For more information about this organization: Turning Point Trust
Genna Weiss's Blog
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