Community has always been at the heart of what we do at Artisans & Adventurers. Supporting the small communities of artisans that we work with is a vital part of our business and something that we are very proud of. That is why we have partnered with African Promise and will now be donating 2% of our retail sales from every Kenyan product to the charity. African Promise are an incredible charity that support primary schools in Kenya, a country that we work in extensively and hold very dear to our hearts. The charity works to improve the lives of children in rural communities today and give them the chance of a brighter future tomorrow. African Promise creates child-friendly 'model' schools by building safe infrastructure, providing food for a daily lunchtime meal and equipping schools with resources including desks, books and teachers. We were lucky enough to talk with Charles, the charity's Founder and CEO, to find out more about this incredible charity and just what life is like for children in Kenya. Our stunning Kiondo Baskets come from the same area that African Promise works in so on our numerous buying trips we have also had the privilege of seeing the schools and witnessing first hand how Charles and his team work to uplift the lives of the children that attend them.
A group of pupils learning maths
We know your volunteer work in 2003 ultimately led to you creating African Promise. What was it about your time volunteering that made you so passionate to make a difference?
The saying goes that ‘Africa gets under your skin and then into your blood’ and it is absolutely true of my experiences. Kasigau, the community in Kenya where I volunteered and where African Promise now works, very quickly became a second home and a place that I knew would hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my life. I was very fortunate to be in a position to do more than I had been able to do as ‘wet behind the ears’ 18-year-old volunteer and having seen there was an opportunity to do something (initially in a single school) I decided to give something back to a community that had given me so much during my time there.
Children walking into a new school built by African Promise
Can you tell us a little bit about what an average day would look like for a primary school pupil in Kenya without support from African Promise?
For pupils in your typical government primary school in rural Kenya, life is tough. Classrooms are overcrowded and congested, with on average 60 children per class, but class sizes in excess of 100 not unheard of. Where you’re extremely ‘lucky’ you might have your own desk or own half-desk but more likely you’ll share a twin-desk with three or four fellow pupils, or perhaps not have one altogether and instead be seated on a dusty pot-holed floor. Textbooks might be even fewer and further between. You’ll be unlikely to have access to adequate clean drinking water, unless you’ve brought it with you from home, and for the most part you’ll go through the school day without being fed a nutritious wholesome meal and may possibly get sent home at lunchtime instead to see if you can find anything there. Toilets can be unsanitary and dangerous, without any privacy (especially vital for girls), and there may be nowhere to wash your hands after you’ve used them.
Unfortunately, there are features of a pupil’s day that we cannot do anything about: the long walk to school that many of them face, for example. But we *can* work to make sure that walk to school is a worthwhile one by ensuring that they are not faced with the scenario described above when they get there.
The walk to school for many children in Kenya is often a long and difficult one
How much has covid impacted schools, education and the children in Kenya?
The closure of schools in March last year for the best part of 9 months (for most pupils) has caused huge disruption to school activities and to children’s learning.
Schools were suddenly unable to collect fees from parents that would normally be used to pay salaries of school-employed (rather than government-employed) teachers and support staff; without the financial support of African Promise, and in the absence of any furlough scheme in Kenya, these 70+ staff would have gone largely unpaid.
For most children in our schools, without access to electricity or internet-connected devices or even a tv or radio at home, and with parents who themselves might be poorly educated, remote learning or home-schooling was not possible. The government attempted to initiate community-based learning but the remoteness of communities and large catchment areas for schools, together with a lack of funding and poor planning and communication, presented huge obstacles. With children out of school, those in our partner schools were also not able to benefit from the lunchtime meal they would otherwise have received - we were able to distribute some food to parents to cook at home, but financial pressures and logistical challenges meant we could not sustain this throughout the duration of school closures.
We are working hard to help schools recover and to get leaning back on track. The guarantee of a lunchtime meal at school has been a huge factor in attendances returning to 100% so quickly after school reopening and, together with other partners, we’ve done whatever we feasibly can to make schools as Covid-safe as possible by providing essential cleaning equipment and PPE and installing extra hand-washing facilities.
Children playing on their new playground equipment
Which project or programme are you the most proud of?
Tough question! I’d have to say that our most recently completed school redevelopment (of Ngambenyi Primary School) must rank as the project I’m most proud of. It has set new standards for how primary schools in rural settings can be imagined and built, something that was recognised by the local county government who declared Ngambenyi as a ‘model school’ shortly after its completion in 2016. But at African Promise we constantly aim to raise the bar and our on-going redevelopment of Mkamenyi Primary School (our eighth partner school) is already being likened to a college or private school so ask me that question in a year or so and I may have a different answer!
A pupil enjoying lunch in the school dining hall
We know you have welfare programmes set up to improve the overall quality of life of students, can you tell us a bit more about your school lunch programme and why you decided to set it up?
This was a close second in the programme/project that I’m most proud of so thank you for asking!
Hunger is one of the major barriers to education anywhere in the world and feeding programmes are therefore an essential mechanism in ensuring children’s enrolment and attendance at school, especially in areas with high levels of poverty and economic deprivation. There can be no effective learning on an empty stomach and that is the overriding reason for us supporting this critical, life-changing programme. It is an absolute no-brainer.
Our support of a lunch programme has been on-going in some shape or form since September 2013; to date we have provided food for approximately 3m meals and we currently provide food for a daily term-time meal for about 2,300 children of all ages. This normally consists of a serving of rice or maize and some sort of protein-packed bean or pulse, all cooked on-site in wood-burning (but energy-efficient) stoves. It costs on average just 8p for the raw ingredients for each meal and about £12-15 to provide one child with a daily meal for an entire year.
Kisimenyi Primary School is the largest partner school that the charity works with
What do you think are the most important factors for a good education for children?
Clearly, the state of the learning environment is a critical factor in being able to deliver a quality education for children. What message does it send – to children, their parents and the wider community – about the value and importance of education if schools (like the majority in rural Kenya are) are neglected and dilapidated, and when this state of affairs becomes accepted and expected because it has always been that way? African Promise aims to change that.
Schools can only be as good as those running them and teaching in them, of course, but similarly teachers can only do so much with the tools at their disposal, which is why we work to make sure that schools have the capacity to deliver an education worth having: whether that’s by ensuring class numbers are low and manageable, by building facilities and providing essential resources and equipment, or just by making sure that children are in a conducive physical state for learning.
A teacher at one of the charity's partner schools
Since beginning African Promise, you have helped 6000 children, built over 200 facilities and work with 7 partner schools which is an enormous achievement. How do you plan to expand further into the future?
With 25,000+ primary schools in Kenya there is no shortage of schools and communities that could benefit from our support and expertise, but our ambitions remain focused on and very local to our existing network. Our interest is on maintaining and building on-going partnerships that deliver sustainable change over the long-term more than it is on the number of schools we support; indeed, our model of first initiating a whole scale redevelopment of school infrastructure before supporting on-going activities does not lend itself to huge expansion!! For now, the extent of our ambition is restricted to a geographical area in which there are around another 7 or 8 schools that we have earmarked to bring into our network at some stage in the future. But having taken 12+ years to reach 8 schools that is clearly not going to happen overnight!
A pupil enjoying a book in the school library
It is International Children’s Day on 1st June, how can people help improve the lives of children in Africa?
You’re in the right place to do that! Small businesses like Artisans & Adventurers, working with and supporting independent craftspeople in places like Kenya, help families to put food on the table for their children and to pay school fees. Small organisations like African Promise work directly with schools and their pupils to bring about wholesale change. Your purchase of any Kenyan-sourced items from A&A will see 2% donated to African Promise in support of our programmes. A £20 purchase would raise enough to pay for lunch for one child for a week. You can find out more about supporting us directly at www.africanpromise.org.uk.
A huge thank you to Charles for taking the time to speak with us. We hope that our customers are just as excited about our new charity partnership as we are. You can shop our Kenyan Baskets, Kenyan Olive Wood Collection and Kenyan Soapstone online and in store now. 2% from every purchase will go straight to African Promise and help support their amazing work.