We’ve been getting a lot of questions about our new proposed project that we are raising funds for through our #silentscreamchallenge campaign. Most of them have been centered on the question: “you don’t work with schools anymore?”

To answer that simply, of course we still work with and desire to work with schools. But how we work with them has always been something we’ve wrestled with.

Up til now, our programs model has been based on incentives for directors and teachers. We wanted to measure the effectiveness of our service-learning curriculum, so we provided market-based stipends to the teachers and directors who successfully implemented our curriculum. Initially, this built a lot of excitement amongst the slum schools, and we achieved a lot of buy-in.

However, as the years went by, we began to notice a disheartening trend: some of the schools were more motivated by the attached money, than on the program itself. We couldn’t keep flooding in more money, especially as our network of schools grew exponentially, knowing that this was the trend.

In addition, measuring success became challenging as our network grew. We had a team of two on the ground scrambling around trying to monitor every school’s activities and collect the data reports from the teachers.  We weren’t able answer vital research questions with so much fluctuation in our data collection.

Our initial thought was to “revert” back to working in one school to better prove the effectiveness of our programs. But good intentions often can not overcome “the system.”  But then, after much contemplation, we came to a conclusion that we had to work within the system, not try to circumvent it — for the sake of the students. What that meant was, we knew that these students still needed to prepare for the standards exams, and were paying tuition to do that, so that they could pass and attend college. The supplementary nature of our programs, even though widely popular and very effective amongst the youth, would take precious class time away from the students’ preparations.

We still believe service-learning and civic education is necessary in all classrooms in Nairobi, whether government schools, low-cost private schools, and private schools.  But, to do this in scale and sustainably, we’re realizing we need to work with the government and the appropriate ministries to formally incorporate these types of curricula into the current offerings. We have now pledged to make this a short-term priority (3-5 year project).

In the meantime, we still do want to give our beneficiaries (especially students) every opportunity to continue with some of the exciting projects that they have done through our SLUMS Curriculum (research, awareness projects, service projects, and advocacy)…but even on a bigger scale and something that we can monitor and effectively run.

This is where the community youth center comes in. We’re thinking of incorporating a library (with a lot of books on civics, law, society), a media lab (where students can film stuff, create their own newspaper, and tell their story), a computer lab (where students can use tools such as social media to get their voice heard), and also have the center be a hub for service and volunteerism.  We want ideas to overflow out of this community center and for students to have their voices heard.

Even as we write this, the elections in Kenya are ramping up. The slums and the slum dwellers, once again, will have their voices silenced during this process — no land, no rights, no citizenship. But there are stories after stories of slum youth doing their part to amplify these voices with small actions. Whether we had a role in that or not is secondary to this apparent and growing movement of global youth action.  We think a youth center (and hopefully more) could create significantly more action and inspire more youth to get involved.

We’re still miles away from our $50,000 goal, but we’re hopeful that we can make this ambitious project a real possibility. You can help us get there.

Visit our campaign page and give your support to this community center