As 2019 draws to its close and we reach the end of the 2010s, we’ve taken a moment to review the decade – our first full calendar decade as a charity – and to reflect on some of the highs and lows, challenges and frustrations, successes and failures, that the last 10 years have delivered.
In this latest blog post we’ve picked out ten key and defining moments from the decade. No one is more important than another but, in our opinion, they have all contributed in some way to the charity being where it is today.
3G network arrives in Kasigau
It was not until the start of the decade that the first parts of Kasigau were connected to the mains electricity grid and to a basic mobile network. Until then, our small office had relied on power from a single solar panel and car battery, and we faced a round trip of 120km to send emails or make a phone call! In the years since the grid electricity and mobile network has been extended to cover our entire project area, and for the last couple of years that has included a 3G mobile network, which has transformed the way we are able to work, including WhatsApp groups for communicating with headteachers and cloud computing for our staff both in the UK and Kenya! You might also have noticed this in terms of the information, photos/videos and updates that we are now able to bring you from our partner schools. Frankly, when we really think about it, we are sometimes amazed we managed to get anything done in the days before there was a mobile network or mains electricity in Kasigau!
Launch of ‘Feeding Minds’ lunch programme
In September 2013 we launched our lunch programme in one of our original cluster of partner schools, Jora Primary. We had long been asked by headteachers to consider financing such a programme as the support they received from the government was virtually non-existent but until then we had felt that the burden of feeding the circa 1,800 children across our then five partner schools would be beyond our means given our limited and unpredictable resources. After launching the programme on a small-scale in Jora in 2013, we were slowly able to expand the programme school-by-school as our income grew, and as others saw the value and impact of providing a daily lunchtime meal to children who would otherwise go without, and since May 2015 we have provided a daily lunchtime meal to all children across our partner schools, now numbering between 2,300 and 2,500 at any one time. In all we have provided food for in excess of 2.5 million meals in the six years that the programme has been running and it is now a programme that we prioritise above all others.
1 millionth pound raised
It may have taken more than 8 years to get there but in early 2016 we were very proud that our cumulative income since we were registered in January 2008 reached the £1million milestone! This is a huge achievement for any small charity but for one that for all of that time did not have a full-time fundraiser it is even more so. To date we have raised around £1.7million and we are on course to raise our second million towards the end of 2021 (or hopefully before!).
Ngambenyi Primary declared a model school
Soon after completion of our two-year, £110,000 upgrade project, our seventh partner school at Ngambenyi Primary was declared a model school by the county government in recognition of the standard of work undertaken there. The new school has set a benchmark not only for our own future school redevelopments, including our latest at Mkamenyi Primary, but also for other organisations working in the region. It is one of our key strategic objectives to become a leading and respected school-development charity and this was evidence that we are on the way to achieving that ambitious goal.
Kiteghe Primary pupils reach national finals…twice!
This is not so much one of our achievements as that of one of our partner schools’ – Kiteghe Primary – but we are justifiably proud nevertheless! On three occasions in the last five years we have provided financial support for groups of selected pupils from Kiteghe to compete in nationwide school competitions: twice in drama, in 2015 and 2016, and once in music, earlier this year. In two of those years, this year and in 2016, these groups reached the national level finals of the respective competitions – having progressed through local, county and regional qualifiers – and ultimately finished fifth and third respectively; an incredible achievement for disadvantaged pupils from a rural school who would normally be excluded from such opportunities owing to a lack of resources (both of the school and of parents).
Old school collapses at Kisimenyi Primary
It is not often that our work is the difference between life and death, but it perhaps might have been in September 2013 when parts of the old school at Kisimenyi Primary collapsed in high winds, just days after the opening of a new school following our two-year rebuilding project. As metallic roofs caved in at a time when children would otherwise have been sitting in those classrooms, it was a stark, but thankfully not tragic, reminder of the importance of our work and that its impact should not only be measured by improvements to attendance, academic performance and attainment.
Kisimenyi Primary declared most child-friendly school in county
One of our main objectives is to create the most child-friendly schools that we possibly can. This means not just ensuring that schools are safe and that they can meet children’s basic needs (i.e. by providing access to clean water, food and hygienic sanitation) but also that they are inspiring environments in which to learn and provide facilities (such as playgrounds) that encourage development of key life and learning skills. In many respects this is a never-ending goal as the goalposts can, and indeed should, always be moved, and sometimes work is needed just to stand still, but it was a huge endorsement of our work that Kisimenyi Primary was declared the most child-friendly school in the county just a few years after the near tragic events described above. Ideally, we want all our partner schools to be competing for this accolade – and not just in the county, but further afield too!
Inaugural Christmas Carol Service held
An event which has quickly become a highlight of our calendar year was first held in December 2016 when almost 300 friends, supporters and members of the public packed out St. Giles-in-the-Fields Church in London for our inaugural Christmas Carol Service and, indeed, our first ever public fundraising event. In the four years that we have now hosted the event we estimate that at least 500 different people have attended on at least one occasion, helping to raise a grand total of almost £30,000. In addition, we have been honoured to have the company of a host of stars from stage and screen including Brian Blessed OBE, Sheila Hancock CBE, Felicity Kendal CBE, and Penny Lancaster and Sir Rod Stewart, who have helped add a touch of glitz and glamour to the proceedings.
BigGive Christmas Challenge raises £40,000+ in just 1 week
Our BigGive Christmas Challenge campaign in late 2018 represented perhaps our best and most successful week of fundraising in the life of the charity to date. Thanks to the support of 50 existing supporters and first-time donors we were able to raise an incredible £20,000 in donations in just seven days, every penny of which was matched by an anonymous donor and the Coles-Medlock Foundation, giving a grand total of £40,000 (excluding Gift Aid). These funds, together with a £50,000 legacy donation, have helped us to begin work on our planned £250,000 redevelopment of an eighth partner school at Mkamenyi Primary.
Suzanne Payne establishes contact with the charity
One of the most defining moments for us of the last decade was the establishment of a relationship with Suzanne Payne, who first made contact with us after hearing about our work during a visit to Kasigau over Christmas and New Year 2013/14. Since then, Suzanne has become a key figure at the charity, having helped to raise tens of thousands of pounds from friends, family and strangers through her Baskets4Bread initiative and also establishing relationships for the charity that have provided us with pro-bono support on design projects and the development of our current website. Suzanne was subsequently appointed the first of our current three Charity Ambassadors in April 2015 in recognition of her efforts. There is absolutely no doubt that the charity would be a lot worse off today were it not for Suzanne’s tireless efforts and we are eternally grateful to her for her love, support and compassion.
So, there we have it, our top ten defining moments from the 2010s – or at least the top ten of those we can still remember!
We are excited to see what the next decade has in store for the charity and our partner schools and look forward to keeping you updated every step of the way as we continue on our journey! In the meantime, we wish you a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year 2020!