Got skills?

The wonderful Priyanka deSouza took me to Kibera today. Calm down, everyone, I’ve been there before. We went to Kibera Girls’ Soccer Academy (KGSA) in Makina Village to pitch Raspberry Pis (if you’ve met Priyanka, you know she’s Pi-mad) to the kids. While there, we learnt a lot about the genesis of the school, the kids it educates, and all the things they get up to.

The KGSA high school has skills training on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in a bid to equip the girls with tools for life after school. They train them in art, tech, photography, journalism, catering, martial arts, drama and much more besides.

Here’s where you come in: They would love to have more skilled people volunteer their time and skills to the groups they have (form new ones, even!) and it might be a fantastic opportunity for people with a wide variety of skills to pass them on.

These kids are brilliant; they shoot films, learn how to code, make money from photography that supports the school, draw, paint, make meals, box, act, you name it. If you have these skills, or skills you’re itching to share, get in touch with KGSA online or drop me a note – cmutanyi@gmail.com – so we can do great things.

Education, Musings

My vision of education

I am a firm believer in the capacity of public goods to supply our needs. In that regard, I push for more, and better, public hospitals and schools.

My birthday is tomorrow and I am not yet at the point at which one writes a personal manifesto so this is the closest thing as I grow older.

As regular readers may have noticed, I am passionate about education and I identify as a feminist. My feminist stance affects how I feel about education and it’s this: We need free, quality, accessible, basic education for all children.

We especially need it for girls and young women because the way the patriarchy is set up, boys will be chosen over girls when resources are scarce. It needs to be free for this reason; so that no one person denies their child an education because they do not have funds.

It needs to be a quality education because otherwise it’s just a checklist item being ticked off. It needs to be the sort of education that enables children to navigate the world they live in and equips them to deal with one not yet seen. One that gives them room to try out a variety of things and to find what they love. One that imagines all children as capable of more than the things that capitalism ascribes with value: money, possessions, political influence.

Education needs to be accessible. When I think of all the solutions that are envisioned for education, I see the children left behind: Those who live far from school, those with special needs, those who have come into contact with the carceral state, those who are separated from their parents. If education does not answer the needs of these children, something still needs to be done.

It’s easy to sound like a wet blanket when I say these things but I have seen what a difference believing in them makes in the life of children. If one believes-like I do-in these matters, they will attend those long, tedious parents’ meetings at school. And when they do, they’ll demand certain things: rebuild that wall, make sure the sanitary facilities are up to par, why is the school’s performance so bad? And then you will stick around to see change come to pass and after that, keep those in charge accountable.

One day I shall talk about how I square this desire to see certain goods in the public domain with wanting to see the children I care for succeed. Before then, I leave you with this manifesto; one I feel challenged by every time I read.

Happy birthday tomorrow, Nyambura.





Watching Women

I signed a pledge to watch 52 films made by women over a year: a film a week. I am excited about it and especially because I have at least one partner with whom I can talk about the films.

Kenyan films have quite a number of women in their credits; an accident of time and place I have heard it said. However, it sometimes feels like once they’re shown in theatres, they’ll disappear into film ether. I’d love to re-watch them for this challenge and I’d be glad to be directed to them.

Join the ride by signing up here and tweet me so I know we’re in this together.


Time and feminism

I’ve talked about my feminism before and I was having this conversation with someone recently. It feeds into my thoughts on feminism in the real world.

This article was what got me having that conversation. The idea that time is a feminist issue; that the question is whose time it is is also an issue for me. The author has a passing comment about it but I feel it’s very relevant in this context.

If one identifies as a feminist, then they probably know the conversations about how solidarity is for white women. I sometimes say that the People of Colour in this country are poor people and this idea made me wonder how this figures in Kenya.

In the case of a lot of women of a certain class: Is your feminism for your househelp? Do you give her a fair wage, an enabling work environment, time off?

If time is a feminist issue, how does one live their feminism?


Gearing up

Laila and I are excited it’s January because it means #Ed10Chat is coming up. Previously called #Ed10Reads, it’s been renamed to reflect all the different ways we talk about education; including reading about it. The hashtag is a nifty way for us to tweet about education-related matters in a way that leaves crumbs for those who share the passion or are interested.

This month’s #Ed10Chat meeting centres on how to foster dialogue between those in the education sector (teachers, administrators, policymakers) and those who seek to innovate for education. We know that it can sometimes become an echo chamber on both ends and firmly believe that we can do great things together.

We’ll be sending out details of the location of the event soon. Before then, mark your calendars for the 28th of this month and tweet using #Ed10Chat when you want to signpost cool education stuff.

See you then!


I’m so happy

My mom and I called the father of a child I taught in 2009 when he was in Class 2 to enquire about his KCPE results. I was in university then and I was teaching English skills. In 2012, after my last exam, I taught that class again and enjoyed seeing how much they’d grown.

When I started teaching his class, most of them were functionally illiterate. I loved taking them through ‘Sound and Read’ and taking them out of the lot the Uwezo Report speaks of.

He was one of the star pupils and it gave me great pleasure to find out he had scored 356 marks our of a possible 500. He was top of the class and his highest mark was 82% in English.

I spent many afternoons reading to and with that class. For English to be his top subject was such a pleasure and some vindication for those moments.

There’s hope for education in this country. I am looking forward this year to working towards making fun, transformative education available to all children. This was a wonderful way to start the year.


Mums with fight

Almost 11 months. That’s how long the mothers of political prisoners demonstrated for the release of their sons from detention by Moi’s government.

In 1991, Section 2a of the constitution had been repealed and now the mothers of Kenyan political prisoners had a point to make: if their sons had been imprisoned for pushing for multi-party democracy, then they should be free. On February 28, 1992 they congregated at Uhuru Park to make their demands known by means of a hunger strike after they unsuccessfully petitioned the AG Amos Wako for their release.

Among these mothers were Monica Wangu Wamwere, Gladys Thiitu wa Kariuki, Milka Wanjiku Kinuthia, Ruth Wangari Thungu, Leah Wanjiru Mungai and Priscilla Mwara Kariuki. Wangari Maathai was part of the group that made it possible to keep up the pressure and she demonstrated alongside them. These were not women with college degrees and fancy words but they were keenly aware of the injustice at hand.

The Moi government was under pressure from Western aid donors who had put a moratorium on aid until there were democratic reforms and they might have been on edge. I don’t quite know what explains their actions on March 3, 1992 when they beat up the prisoners’ mothers and disbanded the protest. Some of the women stripped, an ominous thing in African culture, and the violence was remarkable.

The Moi government, faced with the backlash from local and international voices, was quick to point out the criminality of the men who the mothers were defending. Tellingly, Maendeleo Ya Wanawake had been so co-opted into the edifice that was KANU that its chair, Wilkista Onsando, publicly castigated the women’s strippping.

Yet there were allies: Archbishop Manasses Kuria of the Anglican Church (then called Church of the Province of Kenya – CPK) offered the mothers refuge at the All Saints Cathedral. While they were there, they spoke to the friends of the cause, their supporters, people who were curious about what it was they were up to. In April, after the police had tried to raid the area they were holed up in, he was quick to mention that it was “…a sanctuary for the mothers of the political prisoners.”

By April 1, 1993 when the police raided the Cathedral grounds, the mothers had resumed eating from around March 21 and were continuing to agitate for the release of their sons. On April 2, a lawyer named Martha Njoka sought to see the mothers and was assaulted by the police; you’ve probably heard of her: Martha Karua. It was not a great time to be a woman standing up for democracy.

Kuria kicked them off the premises on April 12 by which point the mothers had began the process of putting out leaflets to let people know what the issues their sons stood for were. Over the next 11 months, the mothers held daily meetings outside the cathedral to speak with their growing numbers of supporters. They held open forums and spoke about democratic procedures and citizens’ rights. This wasn’t just about freeing their children, it was about making a difference in the country.

On June 24, 1992, four of the political prisoners were released. The mothers held on to the hope of being reunited even as the country geared up for the 1992 election. As you can imagine, there were more pressing issues in the national imagination but they stayed on till January 19, 1993 when they were all reunited with their sons.

I am amazed by how encompassing their work was, how tireless and fearless they were. Care and reform can be of a kind, they so clearly showed; what a valuable lesson.

**Here are a few places to read up: Stepping Forward: Black Women in Africa and the Americas by Catherine Higgs, Kenyan mothers win release of political prisoners and press for democratic reform, 1992-1993, and
Mamas Fighting for Freedom in Kenya by Alexandra Tibbetts in Africa Today
Vol. 41, No. 4, Kenyan Politics: What Role for Civil Society? (4th Qtr., 1994), pp. 27-48

Note: This post is part of #CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at readability.com/cuminwrites/

Questions, comments, suggestions or stories about women in history to share? Send them to cuminwrites@gmail.com








Jingle (sustainable) bells

I come from a family that doesn’t take Christmas seriously enough by most people’s standards. Every so often, though, the Yuletide spirit comes upon us.

This year is one of those. We have a family Christmas picnic (at the same place as we had the Jamhuri Day picnic) and Yours Truly even has gifts wrapped.

This time, the concern is how to make the celebrations & gift-giving a) inexpensive b) sustainable. The first is an ongoing issue, the second has risen in prominence under the influence of Roo (who even started a Green Living group on Facebook) and it’s made for interesting choices.

This year I have:

* Been allowed to use wrapping paper by a friend who had a lot. No need to buy more.
*Used brown paper (what we’d use to cover exercise books when I was younger) to wrap gifts and then drawn on it to make it special. It makes for a unique gift wrap and it can be re-used.
*Used cloth ribbon sans wrapping paper. At Ksh 20/- per metre at Atul’s on Biashara Street, it costs more I’d spend at Walibhai Karim (12/- for the sort you’d see on cake) but you can re-use it for a host of things (or to wrap a gift!).
*These thoughts on food: the goal this year is to make simple, low-stress meals with fruits featuring prominently in the offering so we spend less time slaving over stoves cooking and more enjoying time with each other.

As with Jamhuri Day, the location is free and we’ll generate very little by way of trash. What we will leave behind will be biodegradable (peels, essentially) and all the dishes used will go home.

I hope you have a restful, enjoyable, and hopefully sustainable, Christmas. I’ll give you an update in the new year about how all these plans pan out.

[Some context: On my way to town today, Larry Asego was talking about gift giving over Christmas and before then my Mum and I had been talking about simple living.]

#CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at readability.com/cuminwrites/

Questions, comments, suggestions or Christmas tales? Send them to cuminwrites@gmail.com


When I grow up

I want to be a ___. Too old (or established in your career) to fill it in?

Well, children are not and we’re doing the vast majority a disservice by not giving them an idea about what the work entails.

Story: When I was 15, I wanted to be an architect for a bit. My uncle had me shadow his friend to get a taste of the architectural life. It turned me off architecture though, because of the way the universe works, one of my best friends went on to study architecture. But I digress.

I read this piece with a lot of recognition and rebuked by this knowledge: I was able to eliminate architecture because I had the chance to see what it entails. In the same way my brother knows a bit of what some fields demand in ‘the real world’ because he has encountered these professionals in their work settings.

Slate has a podcast called ‘Working’ in which people talk about their jobs. I especially liked this episode because we’re generally not hearing kids looking to go down that path and it’s intriguing how layered the work is.

Do you think this is a possibility in Kenya? It would bypass the hurdle that is privilege. Who knows, some kids may flock to each other’s homes to listen to it like I once listened to Muthoni Bwika’s show with one of my primary school friends.

Coincidental, but true: she now hosts Chanuka Dada on 89.5 Ghetto Radio.

#CuminWrites366, my year-long attempt to write a post a day. Find the rest over at readability.com/cuminwrites/

Questions, comments, suggestions or career tales? Send them to cuminwrites@gmail.com