2013 Kenya Trip Diary

June 13, 2013 - Fly from Chicago to Amsterdam on KLM Flight 612, My third trip to Kenya begins on this KLM Flight leaving O'Hare at 4:10 pm. I arrived in Amsterdam around 6:30 am Amsterdam time. My layover is a bit more than 4 hours and then it is on to Nairobi. I am hoping I do not have the same problem I have had in each of my first two trips where my luggage did not arrive with me. I did eventually get the entire luggage but it creates a lot of complications and headaches!

June 14, 2013 – It is 10:30 pm and I am at Wendy and Martin's home in Nairobi and everything went perfect today!! Even my luggage, which did not arrive on time either of my first two trips (I had to wait a couple of days to get it!), arrived on time! The weather was perfect today but here in Nairobi it is raining! Wendy made me a very nice dinner and soon I will go to sleep. I did sleep a bit on the plane..but not much! We have to be out at 7:30 in the morning to get the bus that will take us to Kitale. Joshua Machinga from Common Ground will pick me up there and take me to his home. It looks like it will be about an 8 hour bus ride to get to Kitale. I am excited at the chance to meet Joshua whom I have been Facebook friends for a couple of year. I have been told he runs one of the best schools in all of Kenya so I look forward to learning a lot from him. I will be in his village til Thursday morning when I will leave for Dago. My understanding is that is about a 3 hour drive.

June 15, 2013 – I was up at 6:30 am and at 7:30 we left towards downtown Nairobi to catch a bus to Nairobi. Thank God this was a real bus and not just a matatu (really a van) which is the Swahili word for bus. It was a pretty nice bus with comfy seats and that was needed because it was an 8 hour ride. We stopped a couple of times for some breaks They took great care of me an all of my luggage.

Joshua met me when we arrived in Kitale along with a guy who works for him and a couple of other volunteers who are working on projects. One is from Calgary and the other New York, We drove about 10 miles to Kiminini where Joshua's Pathfinder Academy is located. I settle into a very nice room and we have pretty much full power and real bathrooms and a shower like the one at Wendy's house. This is like a four star hotel!!

Joshua gave me a tour around the grounds. He has about 500 students from Class 1 – Class 8 (1st thru 8th grades). About half of the students live at the school. Also on the grounds is a real nice guest house (I am in one of the rooms), dorms and classrooms. Joshua's background is in agriculture so they grow most of their own food. He also has a ceramics factory which makes water filters.

We then all had dinner and I was able to talk to Joshua quite a bit. Agriculture is his background but about 16 years ago because he was so frustrated with schools in Kenya, he started his own. He said he would be a horrible teacher but he knows how to run a school. His students do incredibly well on the KCPE (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education) Test that all 8th graders have to take. His average score is far higher than any of the Dago students of the last two years. This determines the kind of high school they are eligible for. It is clear he pushes his teachers and students a lot to work hard each and every day. When I asked him where he gets his teachers he said he gets to view all of the test scores of the Class 8 students and he can see who their teacher was. He then “poaches” (his words, not mine) the teachers whose students have the best test scores. He said he pays his teachers more than they were making before and that his teachers have the second best pay in all of Kenya.

I am really looking forward to getting to know more about Joshua and his school during the next few days. Now it is time to get some sleep!

June 16, 2013 – (11:00 am) This morning I had a “grand tour” from Joshua of everything going on in this compound and it is amazing all of the things he is involved in here. This is so much more than just a primary school of about 500 children with 260 who live here at the school. Joshua has made an amazing investment in the water systems, solar power and farming to help this place become almost totally self-reliant. His background is in Agriculture so it is not surprising he has so much knowledge here. His farming is totally organic and he controls every little detail to make everything very efficient. He also has had to learn a great deal about solar power and water systems.

As he showed me all of this I could not help by think an economist and the important concept of specialization. In my world I don't have to know how power gets to my house, if I want food I go to the grocery store, if I want water I just turn on the tap, and then of course I pay the appropriate bills for each of these. Here, because the government is so inept, inefficient, corrupt, etc. etc. everyone has to reinvent the wheel. Now Joshua has reinvented the wheel far better than anyone else I have met in my times in Kenya, however it is so sad that he has to reinvent things. In the United States schools can almost totally just focus on delivering education to students. Joshua and the others to try to run these schools have to focus on an entire way of life for all of the people involved in the school. As I learn and understand this better, it gives me great examples to use in teaching Economics to my students about the importance of specialization. It is absolutely crucial that to be an advanced society you must have a government that is able to provide infrastructure, regulations, accountability, laws (and their enforcement), etc. etc. I know there will always be arguments and disagreements about exactly how much of all of these things government needs to do versus allowing the free market to handle these issues, but I do think Americans could lean to have much more appreciation for our government by coming to a place like Kenya.

I told Joshua that he is a great marketer. He gets so much money from so many different organizations. He is great about getting on planes and visiting them and about keeping in touch with them via email and Facebook. He clearly has lots of people and organizations who feel very good about what he is doing because they keep giving him money over and over. He is clearly producing great results and is rewarded over and over for that. While I think he has a lot to teach in the areas of agriculture, water supply and solar power, he also has a lot he can teach other Kenyans about marketing and how to raise money.

3:30 pm – Joshua took me for a drive to the site where he is going to start a high school for girls. We drove about 6-7 kilometers from Pathfinder to the site. Some of this land (about 2 acres) he is using now for his farming. He took me through the 2 acres explaining about each of the different crops and how he works to maximize the return on everything he plants. This led to more discussion on the advantages of organic farming. Needless to say he is very much in favor of organic both for the farmer and for the consumer.

Then we began the discussion on his new high school for girls which he will open in January of 2014. A big part of what is driving him to open this school is all of the costs he has now for children he is helping to get a high school education. I shared with him my frustration about the way one has to pay fees for a high school education and how you get a bill in January that supposedly is for the entire year but you know it is not. The school then will charge you more money a number of times during the year for extra charges. He, like me, would prefer one bill upfront. He explained that the reason the schools do it this way is about what they want the government to “officially” know about and what they don't want the government to know. I told him I will be bringing this up in my visits to the five high schools and asked him how he thinks they will respond. He said he thinks they will be polite and listen but then tell me how they do not control all of their costs and just do not know what their costs will be at the beginning of the year and thus, must do business this way. He said to some extent this is true because they are constantly having costs added on to them by the government and do not know upfront what these will be. I will make my case about how in the United States we always know exactly what the costs will be upfront and a lack of them doing this makes it difficult on the people who want to help the children of Kenya. Another part of my case is how to the sponsor, it can give you some worry as to whether or not someone is taking advantage of the situation, although I know everyone, including parents who are paying their own children. We shall see what happens when I get to Dago and begin these visits.

Anyway we then went on to a further discussion about the girl’s high school he will be starting. The name he has chosen for the school (Lenana) is the same as a local boy’s high school that has a very good reputation. He said this fact that people feel so positive about this school will help in terms of getting people to want to send their child to this school. As I keep telling him he is a great marketer!!

He wants to start the first year with 25 Standard One (Freshmen) students. He wants to start small to create great success right up front. He will hire three teachers and a principal to work the first year. He will have the very low ratio of students to staff to make sure each of the 25 students gets a great education. He said then as word spreads about how well these students are doing that more and more parents will send their girls to this school. He wants to be able to include some students from his Pathfinder Primary school, however he said his top priority will be students who score well on the KCPE and have great character.

We then got into a discussion about his philosophy of what a school should be. He is a big believer that not only must schools be great at teaching students each of the subject areas, but they also must do a great job in preparing them for the realities of the world and the fact they will need practical skills in order to make a living. He said he will only accept students who are willing to “get their hands dirty:” meaning that they will learn all of the things they know about how to be successful and efficient farmers. The way I said this back to him is that he wants his high school to combine the best of both an academic education and career education. And from what I have seen in my short time here, I have a feeling he will be very successful at this.

He “pushes” both his teachers and students a great deal. Education here is basically a 7 day a week operation and each of the Monday thru Friday school days are very long. Then also, as with other schools in Kenya, the children go to school pretty much all year round. Clearly education is taken very seriously here and I know that those of us in education in the United States could learn a lot from them. I learned today that a former student of his will begin his freshmen year at Stanford University this fall.

I then asked a number of questions about high school in general throughout Kenya. I asked if he thought the number of children actually attending high school in Kenya has been improving in recent years. He was not sure about that but then he told me that, while he does not have exact numbers, his gut tells him that only about one-third about the children in Kenya who are in the age category of high school, are actually going to high school.

Joshua told me that many, many people approach him to ask him about how he is so successful so they can try to model what he does. I then had a discussion about his success and the fact it is a private school. I told him how in the United States the private schools have an advantage because they can choose who they want to be in their school. They can also be “pickier” about who stays in their school. It seems from this discussion that a private school like his (and Emmanuel's) where I went in 2011, do have this kind of an advantage although it seems as though it is not as much of an advantage as we might think.

On a different topic, we saw many people today on their way to and from church so this led into a discussion about the various religions in this area and how everyone gets along. Joshua and his family are Seventh Day Adventists (like the people in Dago) and thus go to church on Saturday. He has services right here at the school for all of the children and adults who live on this compound that is run by a Youth Minister who is on his staff. Obviously the people going to and from church today are other Christians including Catholics and various other Protestant groups. He said also there is a Muslim community in this area and some of his current students are Muslim. I told him about my work with the Children of Abraham Coalition bringing Jewish, Christian and Muslim students together to promote learning about people of different religions and create a world of patience and understanding between the various groups. He then told me his church and others have groups that doing something similar by bringing together Muslim and Christians in a similar manner to what we do with the COAC.

Also today as Joshua gave me his tour around his property we had a discussion about the violence that occurred in some parts of Kenya, including this area, in 2007 as a result of the anger that was created about the election results for President of Kenya. Much of the anger was against the Kikuyu tribe, which is the largest of all of the Kenyan tribes and are the controlling tribe in Kenyan politics and were the “winners” of this election. Before today it has been my understanding that the violence in 2007 was between the Kikuyu and the Luo Tribe. (The people of Dago are Luos and that is the third largest tribe. The Luo candidate came in second in the election and many non Kikuyu's do not think the election was fair.