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NGO Trains Teachers, Leaders in Nairobi Slums

  • Jill Craig

The Nairobi slum of Mathare is home to more than half a million people, but it has only three government schools. Low-cost community schools attempt to fill the gap. But most of these educators are inadequately trained -- so one organization is now teaching the teachers.

More than 18,000 children attend one of the 75 schools in Nairobi’s Mathare Valley slum -- operating without government support, trained teachers, or funding -- according to an organization called Dignitas Project.

To help, Dignitas provides professional development training to teachers and school administrators.

Charles Mutibo, Head Teacher at Hope Compassion Center, says the program has helped him deal with the many challenges his students face.

“One is the resources for learning. Resources in most of the schools in Mathare are not there," he said. "And also the security aspect is a concern. We also have a problem with water, food.”

Tiffany Cheng Nyaggah, one of the founders of Dignitas, first came to Kenya in 2007
as a Harvard University researcher. She decided to start Dignitas after women in Mathare told her how important their children’s education was to them -- and she learned how untrained the teachers were.

“They have had zero exposure to child development, educational practices; they don’t really understand what quality education looks like," Nyaggah explained. "And so, our hope was that by training the teachers and developing leaders in this community, that we could really transform an entire community for education.”

Lillian Etemesi, Deputy Head Teacher at the MCO Joy primary school, says Dignitas gave her teaching skills she never learned in college.

“You know, reinforcing the children, enhancing the good relationship with the children, motivating them - ‘Good job,’ ‘Well done,’ ‘You can do better,’ you know, setting targets for the children. And just encouraging them that they can, they can make it,” she said.

Nyaggah says teachers in Mathare earn an average salary of only $40 per month -- so the training also helps them to feel more pride in the importance of their profession.

"So, one of the ways that we motivate teachers is to treat them as professionals and also to motivate them with the skills that genuinely make their work easier,” she said.

Since 2009, Dignitas has worked with 25 schools and trained more than 270 school directors, teachers and community members.