Education Beyond Borders

Mbita, Kenya 2009

Mbita is located on the banks of Lake Victoria. Rural residents of Mbita mainly depend on agriculture and fishing as their main source of food and income. We were able to visit schools on the mainland and on a few of the islands. These visits were absolutely invaluable in providing the team with deep insights into the issues and challenges facing the education system in the Mbita area and in Kenya in general. We were also able to make face-to-face connections with teachers who later came to the week of workshops. This helped us truly appreciate the working and living conditions and social issues that burden teachers in this region. Though there are many development initiatives in the area, poverty is still a major challenge. Most families live on less than a dollar a day.

I still remember vividly taking a boat to the small, disputedisland of Remba lying on the border of Kenya and Uganda in Lake Victoria. We stepped off into a blizzard of fish flies and made our way through the narrow paths of the only shantytown that was home to hundreds of migrant fishing workers and their families. Finally we made it to a clearing where the only school on the island was located. The island was all but void of vegetation and the schoolyard consisted of rocks and dirt. There was noticeable surprise and joy on the faces of the children (and many adults) as the last thing they expected were visitors to their inhospitable part of the world. After talking with the three teachers, touring the tin “rooms” and chatting with the students, we headed back to our boat. We, however, had to make a political detour, as we would be remiss if we did not pay a visit with the Beach Management Unit (BMU). We sat in a storeroom and waited for the leader to appear. A large man finally appeared along with a couple of others and then came a great deal of posturing on their part. The apparent futility and frustration that filled the room for the last twenty minutes was all swept away when the leader asked the ultimate question through a translator, “How do we convince these migrant fishing people that education is important?” And with that we knew that they understood.

The following week was spent working with fifty teachers—teachers that have had no professional development since whatever formal training they may have originally had—supporting them with workshops on various methodology strategies and resources. Though the regional coordinator wanted to provide workshops that focused on ICT use, it was apparent that most teachers had little access to computers and were very beginner users of computer technology. It was also apparent that the teachers faced grave challenges of basic resources and access to professional development opportunities. We therefore thought it best to provide a good deal of methodology and teaching strategies that they could incorporate into their teaching practices with or without ICT tools.

The venue, the SUBA Resource Centre, was a small resource centre that had 12 working computers and some books. Knowing the needs of this community ahead of time and with the money granted to us by the Ontario Secondary Schools Teacher Federation, we purchased a terabyte drive that was filled with numerous vetted resources (many with African content) called the e-Granary (, a wireless router and 12 USB wireless adapters to connect the computers to the router. We then turned that little resource centre into a wireless lab with access to an offline Internet with browse/search capabilities. The teachers were ecstatic and we were so proud and humbled at the same time. By having the workshops here, we recognized the accomplishments of those volunteers who had worked so hard to create and maintain the centre. The choice of venue did not go unnoticed by the District Education Officer (DEO) who felt a school would be far more appropriate. The success of the workshops in an establishment outside of the reach of the ministry of education underscored to the ministry the need to become more involved in this initiative.

To see more photos of our work in Mbita, click here: Part 1, Part 2


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