On Saturday 11th May, KTN News channel, during their 9 PM news broadcast, aired a story of a student in Bungoma County who is on the verge of dropping out of school because of lack of school fees. The boy, according to the news, spends most of his time at home making mats in a bid to save money for school fees. The family is poor and cannot afford to pay his school fees.
Bright and needy
Apart from weaving mats, the boy also his mother to bake and sell sim sim balls. Despite all these hurdles, his academic performance is impressive. Records from the school he attends show that he is a bright student. The story ended with a rallying call for well-wishers to step in and salvage the sad situation.
The story irked me to rethink the roles of alumni associations. When former students (of secondary school, college, and University) come together to form an association, what do they intend to achieve? What do they do during their monthly or annual meet-ups? What entails their agenda? Is it just networking? Old boys meeting again to exchange contacts and share experiences while enjoying a warm cup of coffee or a cold beer? Is it just all about letting each other know about new job openings and business opportunities one can engage in? Is it a show-off gathering where those in high-paying jobs or lucrative business ventures talk endlessly about their expensive cars and how they have made it in life? Is it a meeting where former students get to reminisce about the various mischiefs they involved themselves in and have a hearty laugh for old times’ sake?
As much as an alumni association should take care of the interest of the alumni, they should also remember the students. They should assist the students to successfully transit from the school or institution to the outside world. One of the ways they can do this is through offering financial assistance/scholarships to the students. The alumni association, working closely with the school principal, can identify bright and needy students who can be enrolled on the scholarship program financed by the alumni. Also, they can donate books, newspapers, magazines, pens, laboratory chemical and apparatus, and even school uniforms to the school. If the alumni associations are strong and well-endowed financially, they can also pull off more significant projects like buying a school bus and/or constructing a dormitory, a classroom, or an office block.
Another way through which alumni can assist the students is through mentorship programs. They can organize to have periodical visits to the school and have mentorship sessions with the students. This can allow the students to hear real-life stories from former students and prepare them for the after-school life. This will also encourage and inspire them to make the right career choices. In this hard economic times, it is time we strengthen student-alumni ties.
WhatsApp chat groups
The advancement in technology has led to the rise of social media chat groups. Because it is becoming increasingly hard to plan for physical meet-ups, many people are resorting to online channels like WhatsApp groups. While this is an excellent idea as it enables group members to chat regularly, it tends to make members talk more and act less. An alumni association which has long threads of WhatsApp chats but less or zero action on the ground is as good as dead. The members of the association can be likened to the dignitaries attending a seminar in Jared Angira’s poem,” At the Labour college.” They are busy discussing theories on the “ecological patterns and behavioral parallels (of water hyacinth)” while at the shores of Victoria Nyanza,” dry cassava mouths of hunger-stricken beings yawn their despair into the sleepless nights.”