Grace Otiende,45, is the co-founder and director of Colours & Crayons Early Learning Centre on Kiambu Road, she shares her journey with Christine Odeph.
I had been a teacher for 21 years. I began as an assistant teacher, rising the ranks up to senior management. In my previous school, I was a support teacher handling children with specific learning difficulties who needed assistance to cope with the curriculum. I also headed the school’s pastoral care, a department that assisted children with behaviour management and emotional challenges.
All was well until I lost my job, after an anonymous malicious e-mail was sent to the school’s management. Four teachers including myself were shown the door without any investigations and no concrete proof was ever produced. This was one of the most difficult periods of my life. For 21 years, I had woken up early every day to go and impart knowledge and suddenly I had nothing to do but gaze at my walls for hours. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t provide for my family.
I tried to get a job out of the country, so after a successful Skype interview, l landed a job at Gulf English School in Kuwait. This gave me fresh hope. I went through the approval by the Ministry of Education and started my plan to relocate but the job was again cancelled the last minute. I was slowly sinking into depression but my colleagues kept calling and checking up on me to reassure me, and I remain indebted to them for this moral support. I was called for shadow teaching jobs, trainings for schools just to make ends meet. I tried my hand in selling cosmetics and chocolates to put food on the table. I even tried property management, but everything failed.
I had pondered on the idea of education before as it was all that I am wired to do, but I didn’t think the timing was right and didn’t have the finances to proceed. This was until one Sunday morning l was in a supermarket, I bumped into a familiar face. She told me of a place where I could start off my dream of setting up a school. Unfortunately, the owner got a better offer from someone else and I lost this bet once again. l was broken. I went back to my shell and for a week I stayed indoors saying nothing and nobody heard from me.
I was later hooked up with an agent who got me a place on Kiambu road that was ready for lease by my little brother and that’s how Colours & Crayons Early Learning Centre was birthed.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT:
I called on my friend who is an accountant. From her projections, we needed Sh6.4 million to set up but we only had Sh2 million. That was when our families and friends came in to support us. We got huge donations of some necessary resources. The computers and music room equipment were part of this support. It took us about three months to set up and to date I still have friends from all over who keep sending us resources to ensure the school is the best foundation centre around.
RUNNING A START UP:
It is difficult to earn trust when you are starting out especially where children are involved. My experience as a teacher has however helped us cover some distance. We now have 17 children with 14 more enrollments already signed up for next term. We are sticking to our policy of 15 children per class with a teacher and an assistant.
I am the curriculum coordinator so my role involves ensuring the schemes and lesson plans are ready before the day starts, and that all requisitions and photocopies are ready to ensure smooth running of the day’s activities. I am the one with the most experience, so l like having meetings on Friday afternoons to evaluate the week, discuss the success and challenges and plan on how to tackle them.
WHERE I AM NOW:
In the beginning, we lost quite a number of prospective pupils who wanted us to provide transport but we have been able to deal with that. We currently we serve Runda, Garden Estate, Thome, Muthaiga North, Fourways, Edenville and Thindigua areas, and our plan is to expand our network and double in the next 36 months to meet the growing demand and appetite for child-centric early learning experience.
We are projecting to be at full capacity in three years.
You can be down but not out. You are only out if you allow yourself to be and you should appreciate that lesson in everything.
Launched: December 2017
Start up capital: Sh6.4 million