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Don’t tell people about change. Show them change.

Mary Mutinda (holding a certificate of appreciation) and Luis Borallo, Director, Community Service Centre, with students and teachers from Lesirwo Secondary School during a visit to Strathmore University.

The late Prof. Wangari Maathai is quoted as saying that it’s the little things citizens do that make the difference. Mary Mutinda’s “little thing” is running a mentorship programme for Lesirwo High School students. This little thing that has left a mark on hundreds of students began in 2013, when she and her husband were invited for the school’s annual prize giving ceremony as guests.

“We got the invitation from the head teacher through my mother-in-law. So at first we were there to fulfil an obligation,” she begins.

The head teacher, she says, foresaw the impact that wenyeji (locals) – in this case her husband – who have left the village, would have on the students. While Mary was sitting through the ceremony, two key points struck her.

Teenage pregnancies derailing education prospects

“There was an inherent idea that for one to succeed, one had to be in a national school; therefore the students were not obliged to aim as high as their counterparts in these prestigious schools. Incidents of teenage pregnancies also derailed the education prospects of girls. To add insult to injury, this problem was perpetuated by people well known in the area.”

The issue of teenage pregnancies was new to Mary, having attended a school where teenage pregnancy was unheard of.  The question that lingered in her mind after the ceremony was, “What can I do?” She then began a drive to provide sanitary towels to the female students. After a while, she realised that this would not solve the core problem.

“From a foreigner’s perspective, it seems to solve the problem. But a foreigner may never understand the root cause. Every time we took the sanitary towels, there would be a ceremony that would cost more than the towels did; there was a disconnect. We then tried a different approach. Each student now had to pay 40% of the total cost, unless the student was destitute.” This translated to Kshs. 15 a month, a figure that the majority of the students could comfortably pay.

Donations from staff meal cards

In addition to this, yearly mentoring trips became part of her schedule. Every May, to celebrate her birthday and that of a close friend, they interact with the students during a one-day visit. The topics covered include dating and relationships. “We have informal sessions with the students and answer pertinent questions that perhaps they may not be comfortable discussing with their elders. Last year students visiting  the Strathmore Institute of Mathematical Sciences (SIMS) from the US accompanied us.  For the students in Lesirwo, discovering the simple fact that the US students also do chores opened up their minds.”

To fund this trip, Mary gets donations from staff meal cards. The amount collected is able to provide lunch for a group of 20 – 30 staff and students pooled from SIMS, Bachelor of Business in Information Technology and the School of Tourism and Hospitality.

“Once a year, we have an auction conducted on Whatsapp. The mothers bring in various commodities: maize, beans etc which are then sold on Whatsapp. Why do we do it this way? A woman has more access to supplies than to hard cash; she can easily come with maize but not with money.” For two years in a row this auction has brought in more money than needed, which has allowed more than 40 students to get school fees. “It is the same community funding itself using a different approach.”

Maiden trip to Strathmore for Lesirwo students

This year, the top students and student leaders were chosen to take the maiden trip to Strathmore University. Fenuel Kalulu, from the marketing department, planted the idea. “He said: ‘Don’t tell people about change. Show them change.’ The majority of the students have never travelled beyond Naivasha so for them this trip showed them another world to which they are not accustomed but can aspire to.”

Mary says that despite the challenges she encounters in raising money for the project, she wouldn’t be happy if she didn’t do it. “I have grown as a person: I am solving a real problem, learning how to communicate hard truths and knowing how to ask the right questions. It’s a process of nudging change whose fruits can be hard to see. However, for the last three years we have seen a near 100% completion for both male and female students. Pregnancy cases are still there.”

Mary Mutinda is a lecturer at SIMS and is a mother of two.


This article was written by Wambui Gachari.

If you have a story, kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu