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Usueni / Norbury Manor partnership success

Three teachers from Norbury Manor Business and Entreprise College for Girls spent a week at Usueni Secondary School for Girls.  This is their report.

After 2 years in the planning and 24 hours of travel door to door, we finally made it to Usueni School to be greeted by the most amazing welcome from the girls and the staff.  The singing was enough to revive us after the long flight via Amsterdam and the 6 hour road journey and was a real and much needed pick-me-up !

We were delivered to our accommodation and just had time to unpack and freshen up before the first of many great dinners with the staff who quickly became friends.  The hospitality of the Kenyan people is second to none.

The following day we awoke to the sounds of the chickens and cockerels in the school compound which became an integral part of our morning routine.  The girls had already been up for a few hours prior to this and were already in their classrooms and had started their school day, such is the importance of their education to them. 

We quickly followed suit and were ready to begin our first workshop sessions.  The group of 45 girls had volunteered for this new programme and were ready to undertake workshops in jewellery making, textiles and entrepreneurship. 

The thinking behind the programme is to enable the girls to set up small businesses in order to be financially independent and able to make their own choices when they leave Usueni.

The classroom I was teaching in was a blast from the past, chalk, a blackboard and rows of desks awaited and it wasn’t without trepidation that I entered and began to set up for my first entrepreneurship workshop.  The girls arrived and took their places and it wasn’t without nerves that I started to teach in an environment that I had last encountered back in the 1980s when I began my teaching career.

The girls were very quiet and an expectant hush fell as I began the first of the sessions I was to run.  We looked at their ambitions for the future, where they saw themselves in their adult life and their hopes and aspirations.  Normally this session is one that evokes a lot of discussion but the girls were quiet...... almost too quiet !  It became clear that the teaching methodologies we would employ were quite different to what the girls were used to experiencing but they were starting to open up so it was worthwhile persisting and this discussion eventually opened up a lively conversation and the shyness of the girls began to wear off very quickly and this set the scene for the future sessions.

So, I need not have worried as teenaged girls have proven to be the same the world over !

The students then were allocated to groups of 5 based on their shared skill sets so they could complement each other when it came to setting up and running their jewellery/textiles businesses. 

Once set up in teams of 5 the subsequent sessions then began to look at the practicalities of running a business. 

Day 2 saw us proceeding with sessions to work out the finances of running their businesses.  We needed to know how to cost to produce each item of jewellery or textiles and also then to price these items fairly ready to be sold to the tourists in the game lodges or to their friends and family.

Much mental maths was undertaken (very effectively by the girls) and a “cost plus” pricing system was established.  In line with young entrepreneurs I work with in the UK, it is always their own skills/expertise and time that students do not account for and this makes pricing of items unrealistic.  This was overcome with some examples of products the girls had made in their jewellery workshops and the comparison proved to be an effective way to teach this concept.

Final sessions in entrepreneurship involved looking at effective ways to market the products that the girls had made.  We looked at labelling and how we can use the girls and their own stories to market their items to the tourist trade in particular.

We developed logos for each company, company names, USPs and straplines all of which can be replicated easily using a PC and a printer.

In the textiles workshop, Sally overcame the challenges of the treddle sewing machines to cover techniques such as appliqué, reverse appliqué, plastic binding and “big bobbin” to show the students various methods of surface decoration that can be added to many types of textile product.  The students completed sample books of each technique and have these to refer to when they return after Christmas and begin to make their own textile items such as bags etc.  Sally also spent a lot of time wit the sewing teacher and she received a lot of input on the use of the machines and the techniques which she wil be bale to build upon after the girls return for the new academic year.

In the jewellery making sessions, Rob led the girls in a range of new techniques and also specialised in using “found” items in order to make jewellery.  This had the impact of lowering the cost of manufacturing and in turn increasing the potential profits that were possible.  Aluminium cans and plastic bags were just some of the items that were upcycled into both jewellery and textiles. The new hand tools we brought over and left at Usueni will speed up the jewellery making processes and also increase the range of items it is possible to make. 

We have left behind 45 girls organised into 9 student companies at Usueni with enhanced practical skills in jewellery making and textiles that can become small businesses and could possibly pay for individual’s school fees hopefully reducing the umbers of girls who are forced out of school.

We have also brought home a quantity of the girls’ jewellery which can be sold in the UK and the income repatriated to Usueni to cover the costs of the girls’ materials and to buy more stock to make the businesses sustainable in the long term.

Many times during our visit we heard the girls being told they were privileged to have us come and teach them – the privilege was entirely ours. 

Asante Usueni !