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How quest to keep teacher's legacy alive led to birth of Fesbeth Academy

FEATURES

RUTH NJERI MINISH, the proprietor of Fesbeth Academy in Kakamega, tells NATHAN OCHUNGE how she has managed to steer the school to greater heights amidst stiff competition.

Briefly tell us about yourself...

I am the director of Fesbeth Academy in Kakamega town. I went to Butere Girls High School. In Form Four, I scored a strong second division and proceeded for my A-level education where in Form six scored 9 points in the Kenya Advanced Certificate of Education (KACE). I missed an opportunity to join to the university by a whisker.

After failing to join the university, did you pursue any other course in a tertiary institution?

We started a nursery school and after three months of operation, we started experiencing some challenges that threatened its existence.  I wanted my ECDE teachers to be creative and innovative in the delivery of content but they would always dismiss me on flimsy grounds. I decided to go to an ECDE college and enrolled at Marchris ECDE College. I wanted to see what the teachers had learnt that I didn’t know. I didn’t want them to challenge me.

Tell us about your college experience

I was mixed with class eight and form four leavers who understood nothing. I had to reduce myself to their level to be able to learn. After two years, I graduated with a certificate in ECDE and was the best student in that college and by the time it closed its doors a few years later, no other student had broken my record.

Back to Fesbeth Academy, how was the idea of starting the school conceptualised?

Fesbeth Academy was started in memory of the parents of former long-serving Kakamega and Nanyuki School principal Oliver Minish, who is my husband. Festo Minish and his wife Elizabeth died in January and September 1999 respectively. Festo was a primary school head teacher for 35 years and revered for his love for education. He ensured that a good number of his children became teachers. The name Fesbeth was coined from Festo and Elizabeth.

When did the school start its operations?

The school opened its doors in 2002 at a family house that was located at Site and Service in Kakamega Municipality. It started as a daycare with three children for a whole term. It had a teacher and a secretary only. The secretary doubled up as an accountant and a cook. The first utensils we used at the daycare belonged to my mother- in-law. After a few years, the numbers started growing and to sustain the school, my husband would use his salary to pay the teachers for around five consecutive years.

Were there any challenges you faced in running the school in the early years after its establishment and how did you overcome them?

When we started, parents didn’t have confidence in us. They were not paying tuition fees and paying teachers became a problem. That’s why my husband had to save the situation using his salary. They then transferred the pupils to already-established schools. To sustain the smooth running of the school, I used to run a canteen at Kakamega School and I used the profit to buy food, stationery and furniture. I used to plant vegetables at home and sell them to the teachers. The maize from our farm also came in handy. 

When did you make the decision to start a primary school as opposed to just an ECDE centre?

Between 2002 and 2003, I would help parents enroll their children in local primary schools but in 2004, they compelled us to start a primary school so that they don’t take their children to other schools. We had never thought of starting a primary school.  We had to deal with another challenge of getting a piece of land to put up the school since the ECDE was located in a purely residential area with limited space. We approached one of our friends who agreed to sell us his land and paid deposit and the rest we agreed to clear in instalments. He also processed the land title deed for us. This is where the primary section is currently located. We put up two classrooms made of iron sheets after banks declined our many loan application requests.

With banks having declined to give you a loan, how did you manage to operate without proper infrastructure and a conducive environment? 

In December 2004, the school account had a paltry Sh48,000 with 5,000 bricks at the compound. With faith, we approached a friend of ours, an Asian who was running a hardware and shared with him our challenge. We gave him the logbook of a ramshackle car we had as security. He gave us 120 bags of cement and iron sheets enough to roof two classes on credit.

 A lady friend of mine supplied murrum, sand and hard-core to the school on credit with a bursar of a local school who had a welding workshop, supplied doors and windows - also on credit. In January 2005, we enrolled 18 pupils to class one.

What was the perception from the local community?

When on parade, locals would pass by and mock us saying; ‘Is this really a school?” owing to the low number of pupils we had at that time. We were forced to close the ECDE centre and transfer all the 60 kids to the new premises just to create the perception that we had the requisite numbers a school should have to run smoothly. Numbers started increasing, enabling us to clear the debts we had and started realising some profits around 2006.

How did you manage to become a centre of academic excellence?

We presented our first pioneer class of 30 pupils for the KCPE examinations in 2012. They posted a sterling performance recording a mean score of 378 and all of them transitioned to National and extra-county schools (then provincial schools). Listening to Prof Sam Ongeri, then Education minister releasing the 2012 KCPE results, there was tension in the staff room. Our competitors had written us off. But at the mention of Natali Kayleigh’s name by the minister, there was spontaneous relief and jubilation. Natali had scored 422 marks and was among the top five best candidates nationally. She would later join Alliance Girls High School. The 2012 KCPE results was their breakthrough and since then, we have never looked back. The only drop was in 2013 when we posted a mean score of 360.

How have you managed to remain top of your competitors?

We are the undisputed academic giants in the Western region. We always put a lot of emphasis in ECDE which he is the foundation of the sterling performance they have been posting over the years.

We put God first in everything we do and the good work from our teachers. To maintain this good foundation, we have Fesbeth Junior Secondary with the primary section and Fesbeth High School.

 

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