Dreams to bridge education gap in Mathare by providing books, space

Monday, January 13th, 2020 00:00 |
Hellen Wafula displays books available at the centre. Photo/PD/Rodger Ndegwa

One of HELLEN WAFULA’s dreams was to bridge the education gap in Mathare, and she’s doing just that by providing books and space for children to learn

A scream is heard on the other side of the room and Hellen Wafula quickly rushes to check if everything is well with the children playing outside.

Fortunately, it seems like it’s just part of the game they are playing as they wait for lunch. Before leaving, she cautions them to shun “rough games” and take care of each other.

This is part of the many duties she has been undertaking since she founded her organisation, Arise Hellen Wafula.

As she looks at a shelf, partially filled with books as she reminisces how she started the community-based organisation that helps children in Mathare Centre with books for revision, thanks to the few coins she made from boxing.

“I saw the need for coming up with an organisation that would help children from the area that gave me a home when I first came to Nairobi.

Although I didn’t have enough money, I made sure to first become good at boxing: that was enough to bring in funds to help the children,” she says. 

Leap of faith

When she was 17, she dropped out of high school because her parents couldn’t afford her school fees. With no alternative, she decided to search for work to earn money for tuition.

When a few of her neighbours came to the village for their holidays, they told her about working in Nairobi. She took a leap of faith and came to the city to work as a househelp.

Hellen Wafula with some children at the centre. Photo/PD/Rodger Ndegwa

“When I got here, I decided to work extra hard and save enough money to help me acquire professional skills,” she explains.

Within six months, Wafula was able to save about Sh55,000, part of which she used to register for boxing classes.

The training didn’t take long and before she knew it she was able to attend competitions that paid off. 

“This was a very big step for me because I was beginning to see the fruits of my work.

I didn’t stop at that; I also realised I had to help the children of Mathare to achieve their dreams,” she adds.

Of the many solutions she had in mind, she wanted something that would keep children busy and help them keep off temptations of getting involved in crime. To her, this had to be through the use of their talent or books.

Being a professional, boxing didn’t come in as an option, as she didn’t want the children to engage in fighting, so she opted to engage them in self-defence and fitness.

However, with time, she was able to come up with a better idea: education. Being a professional, she opted to train the children in boxing, however not for fighting but for self defence and fitness.

With time, she decided to better her idea and infuse the education aspect to it.

Huge demand

“You know education in Mathare is growing, which we really thank God for, but what people don’t talk about is the fact that children here don’t have books.

In schools, they are forced to share books, making studying difficult, especially when they have to revise for their examination,” she says.

The only way out is to ensure enough textbooks and story books recommended by the Ministry of Education are stocked to promote education.

Hellen Wafula showcases some trophies she won as a boxer. Photo/PD/Rodger Ndegwa

 The best part about growing a reading culture she is trying to create is that children get to go home with the books as long as they register their names in the lending book. 

“You know at times, reading is never enough, so I have to make sure I try as much as I can to satisfy their reading culture. This can only be done through making the books available to them,” she says.

Since Mathare is an informal settlement, not so many people can afford adequate lighting, meaning children don’t have the luxury of studying late into the night. The centre hopes to change this. 

“The light isn’t enough for them to study at home; you might find many children in one household depending on only one source of light, therefore, the centre acts as a good place for the children to do their revision,” Wafula explains. 

At the beginning, keeping up with the demand for books for Mathare’s children proved difficult.

The books were not enough. Eventually, she was able to get a helping hand from well-wishers from Netherlands, where she had visited on one of her boxing trips.

Despite this, Wafula still encounters challenges from locals who not only do not feel the need to assist, but also go ahead to stop children from coming to the centre. 

Additionally, children tend to bring in their personal and family problems that most of the time she in unable to assist. 

However, with that, she has been having individual talks with the children on how they can be able to deal with family problems at home. 

“Talking to them is very important because it helps in so many ways,” she says.

Other than the Arise Hellen Wafula CBO, she also has a programme that runs over the holidays, teaching life skills to young children and teenagers. It also offers sex education.

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