This year, African Promise celebrates 10 years as a charity; the 13th January marked the anniversary of our formal registration and in September it will be a decade since we started our first school upgrade project. As part of our 10th anniversary celebrations, our founder and director has taken a few moments to look at what has changed (and what hasn’t) for the charity on the ground, and elsewhere, over the last 10 years:
“In some ways it feels like only yesterday that we were starting out – I can distinctly remember our first official day of operations – but it is easy to forget how different things were for the charity back then. A power supply from a small car battery, a 120km and 4-hour round trip (on a good day!) to make a phone call or use the dial-up Internet connection, and a reliance on bicycles and unreliable and infrequent local public transport to get around were just some of the everyday challenges that Denis (our long-serving Project Manager) and I faced, and which made for a steep learning curve for us both!
Fast forward to today and, whilst we remain a small team (our ‘team’ of two has become one of three), thankfully our everyday working lives are now a little easier! We finally have an office which is larger than a broom cupboard, a high speed 3G internet connection allows us to communicate with each other and with our schools via WhatsApp and Skype even when we are separated by thousands of miles, and purchases of a vehicle and motorbike mean we spend far less time waiting around for public transport (and, thankfully, no time at all on mountain bikes!).
Yet, despite all those everyday improvements, which have enabled us to become a much more effective and efficient organisation, so much about the charity remains the same and true to its roots.
We are still focused solely on the area – Kasigau – where we have always worked. We continue to favour building close, meaningful and long-term relationships with our partner schools and the community (which have become ever stronger over the years), rather than opting for dropping in with ‘quick-fix’ solutions then disappearing never to be seen again. And we continue to rely on local knowledge and expertise, from our full-time project team to the builders and labourers we employ on our projects.
Of course, we have learnt an incredible amount since we started our first school upgrade project, thanks in equal measure to experience and trial-and-error. Our most recent partner school, Ngambenyi Primary, and arguably to a lesser extent the one before that, Kisimenyi Primary, stand as testament to that; both are considered amongst the most child-friendly primary schools in the region and are the envy of others (including our original cluster of partner schools!). Our expertise and experience, and the quality of our work, is now recognised and respected not just in our community but in those further afield as well – we receive many requests for support and partnership from schools and local organisations across Kenya and the wider East Africa region – and we have a hard-earned reputation for delivering on our promises (unlike so many that have been made by governments and by organisations that came before us).
But we pride ourselves on continuing to raise the bar and set the standards, not just for our own future projects but for other school building charities and organisations too. Each new school development presents a fresh opportunity for learning, innovation and improvement and we are confident that the redevelopment of our next, eighth partner school (which we will launch later this year) will once again reach new heights.
To speak only of our work on the ground in Kenya would be to forget how the charity has grown and developed in other areas over the last 10 years. The difficult days of being reliant on a small handful of donors and supporters and of living a largely ‘hand-to-mouth’ existence are, thankfully, behind us and whilst we appreciate the important role those donors played in the early days of the charity, we are grateful to be in a position now with an increasingly diverse income stream, a growing profile beyond our immediate networks, and the luxury of reserves. That we are in this position is testament to a lot of hard work over the years but also to the faith and belief that an increasing number of people and organisations show in us. It is a trust that we have worked hard to establish and one that we know we must work even harder every day not to lose!
As I draw this moment of reflection to a close, I look back over the last 10 years with an overwhelming sense of pride at where the charity has reached and, more importantly, how it has got there, and with gratitude for all the people and organisations who have helped us along the way. But, more than anything, I look to the future with confidence that the charity’s best years are still ahead of it!”