They set out to probe the reasons for a rise in school dropouts, and found a community lacking an appreciation—and sufficient funding— for education.
They set out to find out why, “despite being the backbone” of their local economy, small-scale tea farmers were unable to get ahead economically.
EaSEP’s Class of 2017 reunited recently in Kapsabet, an agricultural town of 87,000 in the lush highlands of the Rift Valley. The class broke into teams of three to implement the strategic assessment and problem-solving skills they’d learned during their five months with EaSEP. Each group researched and summarized a problem facing Kapsabet, identified and interviewed stakeholders, examined and analyzed root causes, and proposed strategies to address the problem. Research results were shared with stakeholders such as school and agricultural officials, and social workers.
Here is a summary of the EaSEP teams’ findings and conclusions:
Street Children (Naomi Maranga, Jaafar Abdulkadir and Kenalpha Kipyegon)
The team found Kapsabet’s street children to be “intellectually mature as they have been hardened by street life,” and to be “extremely protective of their own, even taking their fellows to hospital when ill.” The youth rely on begging for money to buy food, clothing—and drugs.
Domestic violence, loss of family, unwanted teen pregnancies, collapse of family structure and lack of options were all part of the picture. Overcrowding in homes —more than parental abandonment—was also a major factor in children finding themselves on the street.
Government interventions are generally short-lived and NGOs try to pick up the slack. Corruption and misappropriation of funds continue to hamper efforts. Lack of government support “derailed efforts to build a rescue center for the children and county legislators argued that the street kids were from neighboring counties and therefore not entitled to their help,” the team reported.
The team concluded that the most feasible solution for the street kids “would be to build a rescue center to curb the menace and cater for the collective needs of the children. Providing that the government allocates funds to build this rescue center, it would comprise of an educational system including a vocational education center.” They cautioned that their solution assumed “that no misappropriation of funds will occur” but also highlighted the work of a local supermarket in feeding street children as a starting point.
Rising school drop-out rates (Lynn Choge, Kevin Rono and Collins Too)
This team focused on children as well, addressing rising school dropout rates that include street kids, employed children and illiterate children. Less than half of the Kapsabet primary students are advancing to high school or to one of the county’s 12 vocational training centers that average 60 students each.
Interviews in Kapsabet’s education sector suggested that the excellence and success of the Kapsabet Boys’ High School “has drawn attention away from other public schools that struggle to compete nationally.” Those under-resourced, less visible high schools are tasked with attracting the support of families who struggle to pay for school fees and ultimately must focus on basic needs before education.
“The importance of education in Kapsabet has been widely unappreciated since most residents have not been educated and this has heightened the illiteracy levels in the town, inhabited primarily by the Nandi, a community that takes immense pride in its traditions,” noted the EaSEP students. “Boys who undergo the traditional rites of passage end up neglecting education to do ‘manly’ jobs, like farming.” Some girls are denied the opportunity to pursue an education (some “getting married off”), but that issue has been reduced in recent years.
Free primary school draws increasing numbers, but not increasing resources. As a result, the team wrote, “school dropouts increase and students are not able to live up to their full potential. Furthermore, teachers lose pride and motivation in their work, leading to underperformance (on national exams).”
The team concluded that allocation of more funds to the education sector from both local governments and NGOs is necessary to provide resources to nurture students who will continue their education after primary school. They also suggested that parents make their voices heard with relevant authorities and audit the activities of corrupt administrators.
Struggling tea farmers (Tracy Wambui, Kenneth Kiprotich, Sandrah Bosire)
Kapsabet is an agricultural community and tea is a major driver of the economy. Yet a combination of challenges prevents many small-scale tea farmers from ever getting ahead. The EaSEP team learned that tea brokers take “advantage of farmers’ emergency needs (i.e. school fees, hospital bills) to buy cheaply from farmers and sell at higher rates to factories.
“However, the farmers’ impatience makes them vulnerable to this exploitation. Most of those who sell their tea to brokers usually cannot wait for their end-month pay, which is usually more generous than the pay from middle persons.” A broker might buy from small-scale farmers at 7 Kshs per kilo of tea instead of the end-of-the-month rate of 20 Kshs.
The team also found that when factories dump tea that does not meet their strict criteria, farmers are not paid for their efforts. With only two agricultural extension officers in Kapsabet (and one about to retire) tea farmers lack advice about insuring their crop; only 0.5% are willing to pay the premiums for unforeseen risks. Farmers also suffer when weighing scales are “deliberately corrupted” to reduce the weight of their kilos of tea.
The EaSEP team recommended that “Kapsabet tea production stakeholders should agree on the minimum buying rate per kilo of tea to avoid exploitation by brokers” and that the county governments should deploy more agricultural extension agents to Kapsabet town. They also called for greater transparency in weighing of the tea, allowing farmers to see the actual kilos of their tea on the scales.
Many thanks to EaSEP alums Gloria Kurere, Cornellius Metto, and Michelle Kemei for overseeing the Kapsabet trip, to EaSEP founder Lillian Boit for stakeholder connections, and Erik Heinonen for creating a manual to guide the students in their assessments and problem-solving. Photos by Michelle Kemei.