× Business BUSINESS MOTORING SHIPPING & LOGISTICS DR PESA FINANCIAL STANDARD Digital News Videos Health & Science Lifestyle Opinion Education Columnists Moi Cabinets Arts & Culture Fact Check Podcasts E-Paper Lifestyle & Entertainment Nairobian Entertainment Eve Woman Travelog TV Stations KTN Home KTN News BTV KTN Farmers TV Radio Stations Radio Maisha Spice FM Vybez Radio Enterprise VAS E-Learning Digger Classified Jobs Games Crosswords Sudoku The Standard Group Corporate Contact Us Rate Card Vacancies DCX O.M Portal Corporate Email RMS

The simple dream that launched five schools

By Mona Ombogo | May 30th 2018
By Mona Ombogo | May 30th 2018
Elijah Musili, the managing director of Mekaela Academies, with some of his students.


“After 22 years, it still thrills me when I meet a former student on the streets who thanks me for the education they received at our schools,” says Elijah Musili.

He’s the managing director of Mekaela Academies, which runs five schools in Diani, Ukunda.

“To think that I’ve impacted that particular life is more fulfilling than any amount of money. It’s the reason I got into this profession.”

When Elijah got together with three founders to start the school project, they only had four structures and a store room. But like with all successful journeys, the 52-year-old had to first encounter his share of challenge and difficulties. He speaks to Hustle about it.

In your opinion, what makes a school successful?

Most people think that it’s based on how well your students do. While that’s partly true, the thing is you can’t get good results without first building a strong foundation.

We started our first school, Manuel Alexander, in 1996. We had an intake of just 70 students for the classes that were operating, which were Standards 1 to 3.

We weren’t trying to make a lot of noise about the school. Our main aim was to provide quality education for the locals. We started small and built our base over time.

Was the school your brainchild?

No. I’d been working as a teacher in the Word of Life Academy, which was the only private school in the area then.

Because of my reputation, I was approached by the founders of Manuel Alexander. Frank Muether, and Micki and Stefan Wentzel explained their vision to me and I liked it. There wasn’t much on the site so I knew it would be a challenge.

What challenges did you face?

The one I laugh about today is that we opened the school before we completed the toilets. The structures were there, but there was no drainage.

We made a make-shift toilet for the children to use, but teachers had to use the bushes. We would jokingly say the bushes on the left were for the men and the right for the ladies.

You left a good school to come to Manuel Alexander – did you ever question your choice?

Everyone has moments of doubt. I had a five-month-old baby, so yes, there were times I got nervous. But we had a purpose. The area was deprived of good education options so parents were more than ready to send their children to us.

By the end of third term, we had 90 students. In four years, we had eight classes from Standard 1 to Standard 8. Our first KCSE class was in 1999.

We did exceptionally well for a small school in the village, with three of our students scoring more than 400 points.

Apart from the initial hiccups, was it a smooth run?

Absolutely not. In the first few years particularly, we lived on a very tight budget. We were being supported by the founders who got donations from abroad. Most of this went into construction.

I remember when we were building the Standard 7 and 8 classrooms, the constructors vanished before completing the roof. It was November and we needed these rooms finished for the January intake.

I went to a hardware supplier who was my friend and explained our situation.

I convinced him to give us materials on credit, promising to pay him when schools opened in January. I also convinced the foreman to work on deferred payment. I used my salary to pay the casual workers. Thankfully, we finished the construction on time.

What makes Mekaela Academies stand out?

I think all establishments have something unique to them, which they’re exceptionally good at.

For us, we focus on well-rounded education. I’ve never believed that a child is simply what they learn from a textbook. Different children have different gifts.

When the new 2-6-6-3 curriculum came out, I was pleased because it mirrors what we’ve been driving at in our schools. We believe in a competence-based curriculum. There’s that saying; you can’t judge all animals by their ability to swim.

You went from one school to five – how did you do that?

Quality and demand. Our first school was full to capacity and yet parents were still asking for their children to be placed. So in 2001, we started a second school.

Let me put things in perspective. When the founders were building the first school, they got funded an initial Sh1 million. But, funnily enough, they’d forgotten to include the cost of buying land.

They ended up spending Sh650,000 to buy the land and were left with just Sh350,000 for the construction. That’s why we had to build one structure at a time over four years.

For the second school, Likunda Academy, we got enough money to put the infrastructure up in one go. The total cost was Sh16 million.

The opening of this school was a particularly good moment for me because I became a director with 20 per cent shareholding in Mekaela.

Later, we opened Lulu High School, first as a mixed school and then we split it into two separate schools for boys and girls. Our last school is Ratinga Primary School, which we opened three years ago.

What is your fee structure?

When we started, we wanted to charge school fees low enough to encourage parents, particularly from the surrounding areas, to educate their children.

We charged Sh4,500 per term for day school and Sh25,000 for boarding in the beginning. Today, we charge Sh16,000 for day school and Sh32,500 for boarding per term. This is at primary level and for tuition only. Other costs like transportation are added on.

For Ratinga, however, which is in the deep village, we charge Sh7,000.

What’s the situation like for girl child education in the area?

It has improved vastly over the years. Of course there’s still work to be done, especially in high school.

A lot of this is brought on by a lack of funds so parents opt to educate their boys instead of the girls.

To encourage parents to keep sending their girls to school, we have made the girls’ high school cheaper than the boys’ one. We charge the girls Sh33,000 per term and the boys Sh44,000.

How many students do you have all together?

Collectively, 1,200. At least a third of these are on scholarship. Our founders have been very hands-on in ensuring financially disadvantaged children can also get a good education. It was a big part of the vision for the schools.

Most of our scholarships come from Germany and England, though we also have a few from Switzerland and the US. We also work closely with a few children’s homes where we offer them a 50 per cent discount on fees.

What’s your greatest success story?

There are many. When our students go on to become doctors, lawyers, accountants and so on, it’s a badge of honour for us. One young lady we sponsored through school studied in Turkey and came back as a gynaecologist.

We take pride in the fact that our schools have not only changed her life, but will indirectly change the lives of the patients she sees.

It is what I’d like to be remembered for, what I’d like the schools remembered for; that we were instrumental in turning lives around.

That’s what education should be about, not the bottom line in a bank account.  

[email protected]    

Share this story
Foreign tech investors put Kenya back on top
Africa’s first software testing centre opened its doors in Nairobi. And while it generated little fanfare, it was a major achievement for Kenya’s ICT
CS Najib Balala summoned over stalled project
There have been reports of cut-throat competition between agencies under the Ministry of Tourism.