A well sharpened pencil navigates the white sheet of paper, shading parts of the drawing. With utmost caution, firm fingers hold the pencil firm and add dark strokes to the horizon. The final drawing is alluring and captivating to the eye. He holds the beautiful piece of art in admiration and satisfaction, delighted and proud of himself he flashes a gentle smile. 15-year-old Samuel Aswani loves drawing and is truly intrigued by beautifully-drawn images and paintings. He is indeed a talented artist committed to improving this abilities day by day. I caught up with the class eight pupil, a few days before he took his 2017 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations. He explains that many were the times when he did not have a comfortable surface to press his sheet of paper to draw on. When he was out of paper and art supplies, he often scratched images on his wooden desk in school or on the margins of his exercise books: “I love drawing. I can draw anything, be it animals, cars, people, food and military aircrafts,” he adds. “I want to become an army officer in the Kenya Defence Forces. I find myself imagining and drawing military troops on a mission or soldiers in a battlefield.” Samuel speaks with great enthusiasm in his voice. He was ecstatic when he recently received a drawing book, pencils and colours from the Women Education Researchers of Kenya (WERK). “It was like a prayer answered,” he smiles. Aswani lives in City Cotton, an informal settlement 40 minutes away on foot from Ofafa Jericho Primary School. Both he and his elder brother were raised by their mother who is a casual labourer. His brother dropped out of school and it was not long before he joined one of the dangerous neighbourhood gangs, ending up hooked to drugs and alcohol. He rarely comes home. Times are often tough for Aswani and his mother. “She struggles,” he says, “My mother has no fixed job and earns very little money even when she gets some work to do.”
In 2016 when he was in class seven, he missed out on school for the entire second term because his mother was unable to raise his school fees. He managed to get to class eight in 2017, but he still missed a week of school early in the year before he was called back and given the chance to continue with his education. “It wasn’t only that Samuel Aswani, (Photo credit Robert Kariuki) I did not have the school fees, but I also lacked school books and stationary. I did not even have a proper school bag,” he recalls. Then there was the time when it rained heavily, soaking through his clothes and the flimsy paper bag holding his school work. “I had to dry them in the sun the following day,” he adds with a sad look in his eyes. Aswani recently received two A4-size exercise books, a drawing book, pencils, colours and an attractive UNICEF-branded backpack. With his hands wrapped protectively around the backpack, he speaks passionately about the stationary items that other privileged children often take for granted. His classmate, 14-year-old Victor Owino, is the youngest child in a family of five. Victor, like Samuel, has encountered major challenges trying to stay in school until WERK came to his rescue through the UNICEF-funded Operation Come to School (OCTS). As a total orphan, he is particularly vulnerable. A few months into the intervention, Owino says it has made a big difference for him. He is able to concentrate better in class and focus on his studies. Previously he carried his school books in paper bags, and it was a cumbersome exercise as they often snapped when the weight was too much to bear. “I live with my elder sister and her children. She can barely afford to buy me school items in addition to feeding and clothing me,” he adds. That is why when he received the UNICEF school bag and kit, he was thrilled. “It made me feel really proud and appreciated.” Owino, looks forward to raising his school performance and excelling in science, his favourite subject, to enable him progress to a reputable high school for his secondary education.
The headmistress at Ofafa Jericho Primary School, Mrs Elizabeth Ochieng- Kokwach states that the items donated by WERK have benefited a number of pupils, most of them girls. She however hopes that the donations will be increased to reach a large number of beneficiaries: “UNICEF through WERK supplied us with kits mostly for girls. They also donated sports and games materials for the entire school. We appreciate the backpacks, books, pens, pencils and sport kits,” she says. Girls received additional sanitary towels including underwear, soap and body cream, while boys received body cream and soap in their school kits. The kits have so far been received by 290 vulnerable children and there are still many more deserving children waiting to get their packs. Mrs Kokwach smiles as she narrates the smiles that spread on the children’s faces upon receiving the items. The impact was almost instant with a major improvement in the general performance of the school following the timely intervention by WERK and UNICEF. “After providing children with learning materials and sports kits, we have seen an improvement in the children’s output and the performance records prove it. The school’s zonal position has also climbed up a few notches. “We used to trail behind in the last position, but we are in a better place,” says Mrs Kokwach. The class threes clinched position 3, while the class eights moved up from position 13 to position 8. Samuel Aswani bends his head slightly, jotting down notes near the margins of his book where the sketches and drawings come alive before his eyes. He glances at the chalkboard then steals a look outside the window. His final examination is quickly approaching and his ambition to join Starehe Boys’ High school is as clear as the blue sky. Like a soldier on the march, Samuel is counting on the commitment and determination he has invested in his studies to reach his goals of success and prosperity.
*The Operation Come to School (OCTS) is a project funded by UNICEF with the support of Educate a Child to enrol out of school children in selected counties in Kenya. In Nairobi County, the OCTS project is being implemented in 8 target sub-counties by WERK in partnership with the Ministry of Education, the National Government Administrative Office, other relevant partners and government ministries.
To achieve the above stated goals, WERK has been working with in partnership with likeminded organizations with a view to having a vibrant and community of practice. The core team is made up of the following organizations: