A New Year. A New Hamomi.
Hamomi Grows Up.
A year ago, aspects of our development weren’t coming along. Timelines were ambitious, but goals weren’t met. Infrastructure was built, but guidelines weren’t followed. Many small red flags, none of which felt singularly important, but they were dragging behind us like an anchor slowing this ship down. We dug into solving issues, peeled back layers, and it led us straight to the painful core: corruption. All the way up to our founder and Hamomi-Kenya director. Manipulation of parents and guardians to secretly charge school fees and corporal punishment to keep it quiet. Suddenly we could see that anchor that was holding us back for exactly what it was.
We spent a month and a half conducting an investigation into the allegations. Ample irrefutable evidence gathered to understand the scope of it. We were greatly relieved to learn that our operations as paid for in our budget had been functioning with only slight violations around the edges. Hamomi was still the primary school, feeding program, medical program, scholarship program and staff that we were fighting for. The heart of the scandal was in Nairobi: charging fees in addition to what Hamomi-USA was already paying for. Communication barriers designed to keep parents, students, teachers and foreigners from communicating. All were directed to behave a specific way when visitors were there versus when they were gone.
As the issues were unpacked, shocking as they were to this American and I imagine all of you, they are very standard issues all across Kenya from top government officials to poor school teachers in slums like Kangemi. This is the difficult environment we’ve chosen to work in. This is exactly why we’re here. The sad part is that I had believed I was working with a team who could join us in building beyond the status quo.
When change comes at you hard, you’re left with two choices: run away with your fingers in your ears or look it in the eye and turn it into an opportunity. We chose the latter.
Let’s jump forward to the opportunity this afforded us. The coup was dramatic, to say the least, but it put Hamomi on a trajectory that makes this work more exciting and possible than it has ever been. There are some very distinct reasons for that:
First: the help of so many mentors and peers who swooped in to explain to me exactly what I was supposed to do in this situation. I did not speak to a single nonprofit professional who had not been through some version of this story. It was comforting (and slightly disillusioning) to learn just how standard these issues are, and that there are tried and true industry ways to handle this situation.
Second: we own land. That land investment is completely secure – owned and protected as the Hamomi Trust, which no individual can compromise. Our additional investments as Hamomi are secure within that: our computer lab, medical clinic, classroom supplies. They’re all within our gates, which are now guarded by 24-hour security.
Third: our new Executive Director. The old team was being let go and we needed a leader; someone with the education and experience to take Hamomi to the next level. As urgent as the situation was, we knew finding the right person took precedence. We found Joy Nafungo in November. Joy has her Masters in Project Planning and Management and her Bachelors in Early Childhood Development. She brings in nine years of experience in project planning, implementation and management. She’s worked for a wide range of international NGO’s from CARE to Bridge International. Joy represents Hamomi’s next phase: sustainability. In her second interview we asked her, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Joy responded, “I want to be a household name in education.”
I asked Joy to make a list of some of the work she has implemented since school opened on January 11. Here is her reply:
The book:learner ratio is now 1:1. Learners have increased access to textbooks and workbooks with a variety of activities. Teachers have schemes of work that have been developed according to Kenyan syllabus. This makes it easier for them to spend more time with the children rather than in the office preparing for lessons.
The reading library is up and running with rich resources and learning materials. Children and teachers have been enjoying the quiet and calm of reading in the room. Pre-unit is having quiet story time in the library before nap time.
We have new school uniforms. Children were shown a sample and they liked the bright colors. They are very excited. Hamomi badges will be printed on the sweaters and tracksuits.
We have new teachers with very good training and experience, many with their Masters in teaching. We have two special needs teachers who are also very proactive in identifying learning needs of specific children and coming out with ways to address individual needs of these children. In the past one week, one of the teachers realized that there is a child who had been made to repeat class 4 multiple times because he was “failing”. The teacher advised that the child has special needs and making him repeat class is not an alternative for him. We are currently working on an individualized plan to ensure his needs are met while at Hamomi.
As children came back from holiday, some had infections and diseases that needed treatment. With our on-site, well-equipped Hamomi Medical Clinic, children’s health needs have been a priority. For instance, we had a child who had an asthma attack last week. The doctor attended to the child. On speaking to the mum, she said she had no idea that the child’s condition was chronic. The doctor advised her on how best to take care of the child whenever he has the attacks. An inhaler was given to the child and he is better now.
As you all know, the center focuses on the holistic development of each child. To achieve this, we have set up ‘families’ in the center. What are these? These are groups of 10 children drawn from across all the classes. Each group is led by a teacher who basically acts like a parent to the child in school. The teacher’s role in the ‘family’ is to guide and continually talk to the children about issues that could be affecting them. It is an opportunity for coaching, mentorship and peer learning. The ‘families’ have opportunities to discuss about issues that affect them and support each other to come up with solutions.
There is so much that we hope to achieve. Hamomi is going places!
We have very specific goals we intend to accomplish by the end of 2016:
- We will offset our reliance on donations by 10% via partnerships – a specialty Joy brings in her background working with county governments and community resource organizations. Some of these partnerships she has already secured.
- We will finalize a design for our new facilities to develop a sustainable Hamomi Primary School and Hamomi Medical Clinic.
- We will no longer run two teams (Hamomi-Kenya & Hamomi-USA). Joy brings the skills to do the full job of one Executive Director, so we no longer need two! I will become a volunteer board member once again and and we will continue fundraising in the US under the umbrella of our sponsor Lift Up Africa.
It is an amazing feeling to finally be ready for Joy’s leadership. A sad situation pushed us into this stage, which makes me oddly grateful for the chaos and betrayal. I am more confident than ever in Hamomi’s future. These difficulties are what it means to run an organization in a devastatingly poor part of the world. I hope your resolve to support Hamomi is as energized as mine is, and I hope you will join us on February 27, remotely or in person, to keep Joy in her position, to keep 24-hour security at the gate, and to build a sustainable future for our kids. There will be a very special guest at the fundraiser – Joy Nafungo – but I don’t want to jinx her visa appointment by announcing that here. Either way she will be Skyped in and it will be an opportunity to meet her.
Due to what the last few months called for, I am significantly behind in organizing our annual fundraiser. If this story inspires you to get involved, please find a way you can help. Sign up for the fundraiser, spread the word and reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to get involved! Visit Event Page here.