Partnering with the Nambale Magnet School in Western Kenya

By Dr. Susan Trostle Brand, International Ambassador and United Nations NGO Representative for KDP

In 2018, two chapters of Kappa Delta Pi, the Fitchburg State University and the University of Rhode Island, collaborated to form a very fruitful international partnership. This two-chapter partnership was initiated with a magnet school in Western Kenya. This school, the Nambale Magnet School (NMS), provides housing and instruction for grades PK-8. Approximately half of the students at this school are orphans affected by the AIDS pandemic. All 465 students reside in dormitories at this 10-year-old school, which serves as a model school for the community and region.

Fitchburg State University (FSU) and University of Rhode Island (URI) chapters of Kappa Delta Pi recognized the potential for an international collaborative during a 2017 I-Lead Conference. Martine Nolletti, NMS representative and major NMS sponsor representing the Stonington, Connecticut-based Cornerstone Project, helped us to realize this potential. When Martine Nolletti spoke at our I-Lead Conference at the University of Rhode Island, she described the school, its founder, its teachers, and its students. Martine invited us, as chapter leaders and members, to become involved in supporting the school. She suggested possible means of involvement including monthly or annual donations from our chapters, student and faculty travel to visit the school, initiating teachers and administration into Kappa Delta Pi membership, inviting school leaders to attend and present at KDP Convocations, and communicating virtually with school administrators regularly to exchange teaching and technology ideas.

Since Martine’s visit to our I-Lead Conference in December 2017, our two New England chapters have played active roles in supporting the NMS. For example, the chapters met and agreed to support the school with annual donations of $200-300 each. Two chapter officers from the University of Rhode Island traveled to the NMS in May 2018. While there, these student leaders lodged at the Caribou House on the NMS campus and actively interacted with the teachers and students. These travelers delivered many school supplies to the students that they collected via Go Fund Me and Facebook fund raisers. Our URI chapter subsidized some of the travel expenses and donated supplies for these travelers. These two chapter leaders taught daily lessons to the students, demonstrated outdoor games, and initiated all of the school’s 22 teachers into KDP. Upon their return, these chapter leaders provided slide shows at local KDP Conferences, encouraging students from other universities to travel to the NMS.

In May 2019, one administrator and two chapter officers from the Fitchburg University KDP chapter and one chapter officer from the URI KDP chapter traveled to the NMS for one month. They delivered several iPads and other school supplies to the students, initiated additional KDP teacher members, taught demonstration lessons to the PK-8 students, and initiated new outdoor games, including Frisbee, for the students. Finally, our most recent visit to the NMS transpired over two weeks in January 2020, at which time three faculty members (including this author) and two student chapter leaders from the University of Rhode Island taught demonstration lessons on ecology to the teachers and students, conducted professional development workshops for the teachers and administrators, and donated several iPads and many school supplies to the NMS. 

Results

With great enthusiasm and hospitality, the teachers and administrators of the NMS welcome our ongoing visits, engagement, and educational and financial support of the NMS. The school appreciates the new teaching approaches our KDP chapter visitors have introduced. For example, Martine Nolletti reports that the grade 4-6 teachers are implementing many of the literacy teaching approaches demonstrated by the KDP chapter visitors. Although quantitative data was not collected regarding student achievement results of our visits to the school, the school founder and director, Evalyn Wakhusama, has commended our two-chapter KDP outreach efforts. Evalyn extends special gratitude for the donations of iPads, which enhance the state-of-the-art technological skills of the student population at the NMS.

In turn, Evalyn offers KDP a plethora of knowledge and wisdom regarding the needs of children in Kenya and the specific needs of the school. For example, Evalyn was an invited guest speaker at the 2019 Kappa Delta Pi Convocation, serving on a panel of Fitchburg State University and University of Rhode Island student leaders, professors, and administrators. Likewise, the KDP International Committee plans to invite Evalyn to return to serve on an International Panel at the upcoming 2021 Convocation.

Members, chapter leaders, and faculty members/administrators have discovered that support of this school and its population is mutually rewarding and, indeed, life-changing. We U.S. visitors toured several schools and indigenous homes in the region and witnessed, firsthand, the impoverished conditions and severe paucity of food, clothing, shelter, and education. In comparison, the Nambale Magnet School offers a safe haven for over 400 regional children, whereby their food, clothing, lodging, and education needs are consistently met with great care and nurturing. Creating and supporting more schools such as the NMS is one answer to meeting the needs of this western Kenya population. Collectively, our visits and support can enable regional schools to flourish and new schools to open.

We visitors learned that our support, donations, and visits exert a tremendous difference; the response of this population to our donations and support is overflowing with gratitude. We visitors learned the value of cultural pluralism in action and the intrinsic rewards of collaborating with others to improve the living conditions and education of an African population. Our ongoing international partnership has proven educational, enlightening, and inspiring for us KDP members, as well as for the NMS population. KDP travelers have found that sharing our international experiences through conferences presentations, writing, fund-raising, and round table events upon our return serve to “light the fire” of traveling, learning, supporting, giving, and sustaining impoverished schools and populations for many of our colleagues and friends.

Next Steps/Future

The Nambale Magnet School, as well as all of the schools in Kenya, were severely affected by the pandemic. All students needed to quarantine with friends or relatives from March until October 2020. All students are now repeating the grade in which they were enrolled at the onset of the pandemic. As a result of this interruption of learning, the students and the school are particularly in need of additional resources and support. Martine and Evalyn urge interested KDP chapter leaders and faculty leaders to visit the school, donate educational supplies, become monthly donors, and work with the teachers and students as they acquire the latest technological skills. Plans are continuing to initiate into KDP every new teacher at the NMS and to continue our two-chapter support of this school through monetary donations, visits to the school, and virtual and in-person programming. Eventually, the school will feature an artisan program to provide education and training in specified career paths including agriculture and light industry. The school is a prototype for other related projects including foster homes, self-sustaining ventures, and the nurturing, education, and empowerment of disenfranchised populations.

Outreach Opportunities/Contact Information

Visitors are urged to consider the NMS future goals and projects, as well as the work that has been accomplished by previous visitors, when selecting themes for their visits. School visits are coordinated by Martine Nolletti in conjunction with Drs. Laurie DeRosa and Nancy Murray (Fitchburg State University) and Dr. Susan Trostle Brand (University of Rhode Island). Chapter leaders and faculty member visits are reviewed and approved by the committee members, listed above. Please provide your KDP affiliation and role in your chapter, number of travelers, year and dates you would like to visit the school, and the theme you would like to introduce to the school and students. Themes or topic areas include sustainability, career-related skills, science, literacy, physical education, mathematics, technology, and international relations.

For additional information, Interested chapter leaders and professors may contact Dr. Susan Trostle Brand (susant@uri.edu), Dr. Nancy Murray (nmurray5@fitchburgstate.edu) or Dr. Laurie DeRosa (lderosa@fitchburgstate.edu).

To apply to travel to the NMS, visitors may contact Martine Nolletti at the Cornerstone Project, Inc. 100 Cove Street, Stonington, CT. 06378; phone: 203-525-6220; or email: info@cornerstoneproject.org.

Summary

According to the mission statement of the Cornerstone Project, “We believe that in order for people to enjoy safe, productive lives they must possess a sovereign ability to care for themselves and to have the educational tools that will assure them a respected place in today’s global society.” Cultural pluralism and higher standards of living for oppressed populations are fostered when KDP chapter leaders collaborate to provide funding for educational supplies and technology for the school, educational programming for the teachers and students, and visits to the school to interact with the students and teachers, exchanging teaching approaches and ideas. In the past three years, we have made substantial advances in these funding and programming ventures. Our outreach work has just begun, however, and the NMS and the student and teacher population in Western Kenya, in general, remain a very thirsty and deserving population for knowledge, skills, and support.

COVID-19 and Disparities in Higher Education

In March of this year the world shifted in a way that we’ve never experienced.

A global pandemic unlike any other would change the world in so many ways.

Many Americans shrugged off the warnings to self-quarantine and limit their movement to essential needs only. After all, America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, right?

To suggest an immediate lifestyle of isolation to a country of people who are accustomed to doing as they pleased proved difficult. Shortly thereafter, the nation’s education system moved into immediate lockdown and campus evacuations.

This meant that all students, both domestic and international, had to return home. This action would cause a series of concerns not previously considered to surface.

Global Pandemic and Campus Life

According to Goldrick-Rab and colleagues (2019), 18% of their survey participants at 2-year colleges and 14% of participants at 4-year colleges are housing insecure. Many of these students rely heavily on university housing for food and lodging. Universities began evacuating and, in some cases, providing students only 48–72 hours to vacate the premises.

What would become of the students who were housing and food insecure? Universities often provide campus pantries for these students. What is not publicly known is if universities also provide emergency housing in instances such as COVID-19.

Also, what happens to international students who are in the United States on student visas? As campuses evacuated and residence halls closed, international students were left without many options and had to return home. International students remain uncertain if they will be able to return to campus this fall. What will this mean for enrollment? How will this pandemic affect university budgets, considering that many international students are full-pay students?

International students immediately had to scramble to make flights in or out of the country before they were cancelled. These students also have indicated that they have not been successful in their attempts to contact U.S. embassies (Federis, 2020). As the likelihood of suspended services at embassies increases, the American Council on Education predicts a 15% drop in enrollment and a 25% drop in international enrollment for fall 2020 (Federis, 2020).

COVID-19 Exposed Educational Biases and Assumptions

The world as we knew it will never be the same. As an African American male in higher education, I am completely at peace with this.

Higher education, as proven by the creation of the hashtag #BlackInTheIvory by doctoral student Joy Melody Woods and Dr. Sharde Davis, has always been unkind to individuals who look like us. This pandemic allowed inside access for the world to also view how marginalized students, staff, and faculty are treated. It has allowed us to see the gaps that exist in the system of education and how universities make sweeping assumptions about their students. For example, an emerging issue in both the K–12 and higher education sectors is the assumption that all students have access to laptops and personal mobile devices to do their work.

It was also assumed that all students had access to Wi-Fi services. I learned from some of my own undergraduate students that they were writing course papers on cellular phones, borrowing Internet from neighbors, or having to log on at a church to complete their work.

A few of my students discussed how the pandemic forced them back into intolerable living circumstances that tested their already-fragile mental health. Other students were thrust back into the role of familial caregiver to aging grandparents while juggling 19 credit hours. What this pandemic also showed us is where institutions place their values. Faculty and staff members were furloughed or asked to reduce working hours to reduce their pay but remain employed (Nietzel, 2020).

These reductions are imbalanced from an ethical perspective and are felt mostly by employees with lower salaries (Nietzel, 2020). As an educator who has previously been on the wrong side of a budget cut, the people who take the greatest hit are often those closer in proximity to the average student. It’s my opinion that athletic coaches and university presidents who make upwards of a million dollars or more in salary should always take the greatest hit in these instances. The rationale for this is that the loss of income would not have as great of an impact on their living circumstances. However, the employee who is a single parent making considerably less and furloughed will now have to acquire other resources simply to survive. Where is the middle ground?

A Demand for Action Because A Call Just Won’t Do!

Racial tensions in the world are at an all-time high. Police brutality and racist occurrences are happening in plain sight, and ignoring them or playing obtuse are no longer acceptable practices.

The system of education may encounter a rude awakening as well as the forced overhaul of whitewashed educational practices. As we consider how we will now envision education, it is time that the voices of the marginalized be placed in course syllabi, guest lectures, university announcements, and in the classroom. For far too long we have allowed the privilege of whiteness to be the barometer for how we measure all things related and pertaining to education.

We have witnessed our peers who are Black women be ignored, talked over, and disregarded. We have watched our disabled peers be overlooked by ableism. Many of us have experienced the unfavorable denial of tenure based on unfair, biased student evaluations that negatively impact professors of color. We are taking a stand and saying “no more!” We will no longer be pushed aside, disregarded, labored without pay or for low wages, and abused. The time is up for the reign of privilege, White supremacy, White manning, and White fragility.

Institutions and institutional leadership will acknowledge these harmful practices and move to rectify them. We will no longer accept empty promises, carefully worded memos, or text messages from our fragile “allies.” Which side of history will you be remembered for standing on, and will you be able to reconcile within yourself if you make the wrong choice? The choice belongs to all of us.

Frederick Engram Jr.Dr. Frederick Engram, Jr. is an expert of graduate enrollment and diversity, equity, and inclusion. He is a qualitative researcher who grounds his research in critical race theory. He held faculty appointments at American University and Radford University and is now Assistant Professor of Practice Department of Criminology and Center for African American Studies at University of Texas-Arlington. He focuses his research on the lived experience of African American graduate students enrolled at PWIs (predominately white institutions). He is a published scholar and a contributing author of the book No Ways Tired: The Journey For Professionals of Color in Student Affairs: Vol II (2019), and the article “An Act of Courage: Providing Space for African American Graduate Students to Express Their Feelings of Disconnectedness” (2020). He has published several other articles for Blavity and Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

References

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