Elimu: Canadian non-profit positively impacting children’s futures in Malindi through education, entrepreneurship

Elimu president with students ERC main doorElimu is a Canadian charitable organization whose name means education in Swahili. It began with a small gesture—paying school fees for two boys to be able to go to kindergarten. Founder, Nina Chung, initially covered project expenses from her personal finances to keep fifteen children and their grandmother from homelessness and to make sure the kids stayed in school. Twelve years later, Nina is still hands on in Kenya. She has invested startup capital at various junctures and continues to cover the charity’s administrative costs in Canada so that all donor dollars go directly into projects.

Born in Guyana (South America), Nina’s roots are multi-cultural including some African heritage, from a slave whose country of origin is unknown. She stems from a strong faith-based family which she credits for directing her to volunteer in Canada with vulnerable groups such as disabled adults and refugees. In 2004, she left behind a successful marketing consulting business to embark on a two-year volunteer posting in Kenya. It was during that time that the seeds for Elimu were planted.

Today, Elimu is officially registered as a charitable organization in both Canada and the U.S.A. and serves hundreds of children and youth by enhancing access to education. The organization draws on the help of volunteers of various professional and expertise levels, in Kenya, Canada, the U.S., England and Mexico.

In 2016, Elimu opened the first-of-its-kind education resource centre in Malindi. It was a one-room facility with a capacity for about 80 users. The demand was so great that the centre moved in February 2018 to a much larger facility with its own private compound. The new Elimu Resource Centre was officially opened in June by the Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya Sara Hradecky and the Governor of Kilifi County, Amason Kingi.

Elimu has developed organically, in phases, led by the needs they have identified within the community. To-date the organization has helped 50 young women to start their sewing businesses and kept more than 70 children from dropping out of school. Of these, 15 have graduated high school and joined college. Elimu Resource Centre grew from receiving around 8,000 student visits per year in 2016 and 2017, to 4,000 student visits in April alone – reaching a daily capacity of 300 in the busy school holidays. Though The Elimu team is proud and honoured to be able to play a part in making futures brighter for children in Malindi, they are nonetheless looking forward to making even greater impact in the community by expanding their programming.

Explosive need for a resource centre
“… Elimu’s expansion is timely. It opens up the opportunity for young people to imagine and dream of a new and different path for themselves.” – Her Excellency, the Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya, Sara Hradecky, in her speech at the Grand Opening of Elimu’s new digital education resource centre.

Elimu Resource Centre houses a variety of programs for learners of all kinds, but especially vulnerable children and youth in the severely under-resourced public school system. A key focus of the Centre is the digital library for primary and secondary school students. The library uses mainly digital technology to provide educational resources like textbooks which many children lack in their classrooms. The Centre also serves college and university students and assists adults such as local “boda boda” motorcycle taxi drivers with digital proficiency, showing them how to use the Internet to complete registrations and license renewals in the new government e-portals. Elimu staff encourage children, youth and adults to be more self-directed in their learning.

On weekdays, when school children cannot come to the Centre, Elimu staff take their digital resources to schools. Elimu’s digital reading program delivers literacy building and course content to students in their classrooms. The key digital tools are Kindles, loaded with all the textbooks needed from Grade 4 through high school, and tablets which connect to a Wifi device which contains a variety of educational software including Khan Academy, math and science tutorials; Africa Storybook Project, stories for readers of various levels of proficiency; and, Wikipedia, digital encyclopedia.

Elimu staff

Listening led the way
Mentorship is a key component of their engagement with children and youth. Elimu staff extend a listening ear such that a lot of direction has come from listening to the beneficiaries of their programs. Programs for mentorship in career planning and entrepreneurship have been piloted at the Centre. Local community members from various businesses and professions are enlisted to lead seminars and talks for high school students.

For more on Elimu projects and to donate, visit their website Elimu.ca

The young women of Elimu’s Sewing Project meet at the Centre weekly for a digital fashion design program which trains them in computer and business skills to enhance and modernize their approach to business. The area of entrepreneurship and employability training is one that Elimu plans to expand in future to better serve the needs of youth after they graduate from high school. A highly sensitive time for young adults, the transition from high school is even more difficult in Kenya and especially in Malindi.

Access to the educational resources at Elimu Resource Centre increases the potential of students to succeed at school. Access to digital resources promotes digital proficiency which is critical for success in the modern working world. Completing high school boosts the self-esteem and respectability of young people in Elimu programs. It makes prospects for work more possible and opens the way for proceeding to post-secondary studies.

Not many options available
Recent terror attacks across the country have decimated the previously thriving tourism industry, leaving a depressed economy and limited job prospects. The people of Malindi are looking for new options for income and employment. There is a greater understanding of the need to succeed at high school and aim for post-secondary studies. Entrepreneurship is a solution, but training in business development is practically non-existent.

Elimu’s founder, Nina Chung, says, “With a dedicated team on the ground and the benefit of years of experience and local collaboration, the opportunity to do more in a lasting and effective way has become a reality. Education can change the future and that is where Elimu is well placed to make the difference.”

The existing educational projects will integrate into the expanded future direction. Stay in School Project will continue keeping kids in school who are at risk of dropping out and high school graduates from the project will benefit from the entrepreneurship and employability training. Kenyan-run Heri Sewing Project will continue providing vocational training and income generating skills for girls with otherwise limited options for furthering their education. Beneficiaries from these projects will all benefit from digital literacy and access to educational resources relevant to their level of studies.

Elimu’s founding project, Nyumbani Kwetu Sponsored Home for Children, was Nina’s answer to providing for a small group of abandoned children related through one grandmother. The name means “Our Place” in Swahili. The motivation was to provide these children with a solid education to break the chain of poverty which leads so often to bad life choices. Providing for the daily living and educational needs of these children has saved them from the ravages of sex tourism, drug abuse and alcoholism that is rampant among vulnerable youth in Malindi.

A touch of faith
The Elimu team is a group of professionals from different cultural and faith backgrounds united by an authentic passion for improving lives by facilitating self-directed learning for children and adults, especially those from vulnerable situations. Elimu means education and Elimu, the organization, is about learning for life.

~By WaKenyaCanada Essie Wambui with Nina Chung.

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