Starehe Girls Centre at 18: When will philanthropy really blossom in Kenya?

Monument at Starehe Girls' Centre. [XN Iraki]

Starehe Girls' Centre is now 18. An interesting landmark; 18 marks the age of consent, when one can now do lots of things after childhood.

You can smoke, drink and marry. Yet it's the most delicate age, complicated by transition from childhood to adulthood. Why does 18 allow you "bad" things? Why not good things like being creative, entrepreneurial, or innovative?

Some of life's most regrettable decisions are made at 18, when one does not know what to do with newly found freedom, cross-pollinated with idealism.

I was invited for the big day. From the car park to the tent, I was escorted by two girls. First was Mwende, a Form Three student who wants to be a marketer and study in one of the private universities. Next was Nyambura, who showed me my seat. We spent too little time for her to share her ambition.

One of the highlights of the ceremony was to honour the founding trustees; Dr Geoffrey Griffins, Prof Eddah Gachukia, Mrs Eunice Mathu, Mrs Margery Kabuya, Mrs Honorine Kiplagat, and Dr Manu Chandaria. The guest of honour was Chief Justice Martha Koome, a good choice in a girls School.

Each trustee got a token of appreciation given by either the alumni or the current students. The most poignant part was 95-year old Manu Chandaria getting his token of appreciation, accompanied by his wife.

The trustees' ultimate honour was having their names and photos inscribed at the bottom of a new monument unveiled that day. This occasion sent me thinking. Let me share a few thoughts.

One, the market for philanthropy is big in Kenya, but the supply is low compared with demand. Think of 1959, when Starehe Boys' Centre was established, the population of Kenya was 7.5 million. Today it's about 55 million. It has grown 7.3 times. Starehe has grown two times; Starehe girls' and boys' centres.

Why has this model not been replicated, yet it has been working? Should we not be having such centres in every county? Or better, why can't the Starehe brand be leased or franchised? If we can replicate KFC or McDonalds, why not nobler ideas such as schools that educate the less fortunate members of the society?

Two, the two centres are recognsied for the values they impact on their alumni. Values matter more than exam grades in the long run. The Chief Justice alluded to the old values now under relentless assault by modernism. Shall we recover the values through CBC?

Three, the long shadow of Geoffrey Griffins still hangs over Starehe centres. That is best indicated by the pride of the alumni. "I was personally interviewed by Griffins," one told me. And photos of Griffins hang in many Starehe alumni homes. Any Alliance High School alumni who has kept a photo of Carey Francis?

Four, from the history of the two schools, I wondered how many boys and girls have fallen through the cracks because no one took care of them as it's done at Starehe. How seriously is philanthropy taken in Kenya beyond tithe and offering in churches and other places of worship?

I doubt if school bursaries are a form of philanthropy. Though we imported the US political system with governors and senators into our 2010 Constitution, we are yet to import their philanthropy and protestant work ethic.

Five, we should honour those who go beyond the call of duty. And when they are alive. I recall meeting Mrs Margaret Wanjohi, the former headmistress of Kenya High School and founding headmistress of Starehe Girl's Centre. She showed me her hands and an ailment from overwork. She was honored on that day.

Truth be told, most of us do just the minimum to keep their job and rarely are those who go beyond the call of duty thanked.

Six, schools are the conveyor belts of national values and dreams. At Starehe, such dreams and values are easily transmitted. The environment is enabling, from the physical infrastructure to inspiration from the past. That is why the founder Griffins (and his cat) still lingers in Starehe. Who inherited his cat?

Who inspires boys and girls in other schools? The calibre of guests that day were an inspiration.

Seven, there are too many forces allied against the school. Society expects a lot from the school but gives it little support. Schools attract curious interest and interference from Ministry of Education, politicians, churches, parents and other stakeholders. How much freedom did Griffins enjoy in running the school? Which headmaster today enjoys such freedom?

Eight, one of the soft underbellies of our schools is that teaching is now a job, not a mission. We should not pick anyone for a Bachelor of Education degree if it was not a first choice! Uninspired teachers can't inspire the students.

Nine, we must settle our schools. There is too much flux; from A level to 8-4-4 and now CBC in one generation. The focus should be on the content, what children learn, including character, not the number of years they spend in each level. And often forgotten, the inspiration they get.

Starehe Girls' Centre is 18, and will soon grow into a young adult and hopefully not suffer from mid-life crisis or old age. It must be taken care of by all stakeholders. This institution will outlive us. It should be replicated throughout the country.

Which county does not have needy students and affluent Kenyans? Philanthropy, not corruption should be dominating our headlines.