Nairobi, Kenya: Extra-curricular activities in schools have traditionally revolved around games and clubs, with athletics, football, rugby and netball giving academics a run as viable openings for future careers.
But the terrain is fast changing, thanks to the Leap Hubs model taking root in some schools and the Character and Creativity Initiative (CCI) aimed at nurturing innovation in young minds, their academic abilities notwithstanding.
Leap Hubs are incubator spaces in schools for small groups of talented students to be exposed to entrepreneurship and leadership.
To get a glimpse into the practical aspects of Leap Hubs, we visited Moi Forces Academy in Nairobi, where a model leap hubs incubator has crystallised into tangible entrepreneurial ventures.
The school has set aside a room equipped with tables, a black board and four computer lap tops, donated by the Manu Chandaria Foundation. The room serves as an incubator space that already is too small for the large number of students attracted to Leap Hub activities.
On hand to take us through the novel initiative that started in 2010 and has spread to 28 schools across the country was the school’s Leap Hub Chairman, 17-year-old John Kaifa and Leap-hub Master Boniface Mmbaka. Kaifa is an ICT enthusiast who, together with a group of like-minded colleagues has improvised a gadget to detect crime by remote control.
He says theirs is a CCTV prototype designed to alert individuals wherever they are when their residential houses are in danger.
“All one needs to do is to key in a password. A signal gives a warning beep when something is amiss back home upon which one calls the police,” says Kaifa whose contraption recently won the group comprising five students an award in a national innovative science competition.
“The sky is the limit for us. Our venture requires a lot of research which we are not able to do effectively with a handful of computers and a dearth of Internet connectivity,” he says.
A group of eight students under the banner “Junior Achievement Club” has come up with a gadget that absorbs solar energy and uses the generated power to distil dirty water for use in the laboratory.
Samuel Ndolo, the group’s appointed marketing executive says: “We sell our distilled water at a cheaper price than the market rates, targeting hospitals and schools. Among our customers is the Aga Khan Hospital, Nairobi, our own school and the neighbouring Ndururuno Secondary School across the fence. We recently earned Sh8, 000 from 30 litres sold out.”
Besides distilled water, the group has created T-Shirts under the banner, Original, Reliable, Ideal, Vibrant and Elegant (Orive) that they claim enhances the African way of dressing. The T-shirts according to Ndolo have attracted interest from Safaricom. “We expect the giant firm’s order any time,” enthuses Ndolo, referring to Safaricom.
The Patron of Global Peace Foundation (GPF) Africa Dr Manu Chandaria recently donated 25 laptops through his Foundation to nine pioneer Leap Hubs secondary schools. The nine are Moi Forces Academy, Buru Buru Girls Secondary School, Mary Leakey Girls High School, Mang’u High School, Kenya High School, Our Lady of Fatima Secondary, Maina Wanjigi High School, Embakasi Girls’ Secondary School and Kariobangi North Girls Secondary School.
GPF Kenya chapter in 2010 launched CCI initially piloted in nine secondary schools to change school culture from focusing solely on academics. “The aim was to include other key competencies that help students succeed in life, family and work,” says the CEO Daniel Juma.
Prof Leah Marangu, Vice Chancellor of the Africa Nazarene University that has been synonymous with CCI since inception chaired the initiative until recently when she passed the baton to Prof Olive Mugenda, Vice Chancellor of Kenyatta University.
It is this homegrown initiative that has since spread to 10 countries in Africa and Asia that gave rise to Leap Hubs, incubator spaces in schools equipped with white boards, small tables, computers and other tools suitable for students to work or brainstorm in groups via skype, with teachers giving guidance.
Back to Moi Forces Academy. The group that has created a Facebook page for its products engages street children to collect empty bottles at a fee, creating employment in the process. The bottles are washed, sterilised and their stickers removed before they are filled with distilled water.
Besides the marketing manager, the group has a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and managers in charge of human resource, production and finance to reflect the image of a true commercial enterprise. All of them are in Form Three.
Says the group CEO Kevin Mwiti: “We are entrepreneurs in the making, hence the importance of inculcating into our members the true image of a properly structured industry.
As the CEO, I ensure officers below me are carrying out their duties efficiently. I convene and chair meetings where we strategise and evaluate our progress.”
Finance Manager Jared Zano says the group will liquidate the company in December as they transit into Form Four where they will require more time to prepare for examinations as another group of Form three students comes in.
Francis Mwambili, a son to TV comedian Davis Mwambili popularly known as Inspector Mwala and Geoffrey Njenga are chairmen of fledgling dog and rabbit farms respectively.
Mwambili and his group of four that he chairs with Mwangi as his deputy have gone out of their way to retrieve puppies from stray dogs, wash, treat and feed them until they are big and attractive enough to sell to teachers and interested security firms.
Mbaka says the school will soon secure pedigree breeds for Mwambili and his group in recognition of their determination to make the dog farm a viable income generating reality.
He says the proposed rabbit farm under Geoffrey Njenga’s chairmanship and Mwambili as his deputy has received a shot in the arm of Sh18,000 from the school management to purchase three pedigrees does each costing Sh5,000 and a buck costing Sh2,500.
“The school’s gesture came after students donated Sh100 each towards the project that will see them sell the much sought after rabbit meat to institutions, starting with the Moi Air Base,” says Mbaka.
The students were not left behind when quails, the birds believed to lay healer eggs took the country by storm. The quail farm managed by 13 students complete with their chairman, secretary and treasurer is by far the most vibrant Leap Hub activity.
The group chaired by Timothy King’ori takes care of 250 birds and sells eggs worth approximately Sh3,000 every week, mainly to teachers and the Moi Air Base.
Secretary Peter Chege says demand outstrips supply.
“We have no time to idle about in the school because whenever we are not in class or in the field playing games, we are busy tending to the quails,” says King’ori.