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After a delayed start due to COVID, our D.I.G. Entrepreneurship program launched with three teams consisting of SYEF alumni and other youth community members. The D.I.G. program provides approximately six months of training and mentoring to the teams to develop their ideas and business plans, with the caveat that businesses must not only demonstrate potential for profitability, but address a social need or issue as well. The budding entrepreneurs are taught the fundamentals of business management and entrepreneurism, then lined up with a local businessperson for mentoring and support as they develop their business ideas. Once finalized, the plans are implemented with a grant from SYEF for the necessary start-up costs to get the businesses off the ground, and the teams receiving ongoing support and mentoring during their first full year of operation.

As of January 2021, the first ever juice parlor is now open for business in Samburu, with a focus not only on selling juice, but educating customers about the benefits of specific fruits and vegetables, which are not a significant part of a traditional Samburu diet. Also launched is a new “kinyozi” barbershop, with a focus on serving youth who will get their haircuts in a barbershop environment that reinforces the value of education through conversation and décor. Finally, a new bead shop will provide a reliable source of beads for use in making traditional Indigenous beadwork. We look forward to seeing their success, and the example they can provide to other individuals in the region!

Although the world isn’t out of the weeds yet with COVID, there are some steps toward restoring familiar routines and activities in Kenya, including schools resuming in-person learning for the 2021 school year. Students in primary and secondary schools have been out of school since March, so the return to learning and routine is welcome.

With the return to school, our scholarship program also returns. For a number of years now, our total number of scholarship recipients in a given year has remained steady around 45-50, and we will support a similar number of students this year. We also usually deliver leadership and life skills programming during the school breaks; we intend to do that again this year, though the school calendar for 2021 will look a lot different as the national government sorts out how to adjust the calendar to make up for the time missed in 2020. Once the calendar settles, we will deliver some version of our leadership and life skills programming.

Arguably the biggest impact to our SYEF community during COVID has been on the women beadwork artisans with whom we work. With essentially no tourism in Kenya since COVID emerged, and the realities that safari-based tourism is a high-end tourism product that visitors often plan 12+ months in advance, we expect it will be awhile before our women see a return of normal tourism levels. In addition, our online sales are a bit hamstrung by low inventory, as we are periodically hamstrung by a shipping industry for small shipments out of Kenya that has become unstable and unreliable as a result of COVID economic impacts. So, in response to these challenges, we are supporting the women with a weekly stipend that is based on an amount tied to ensuring food security for their families.

Although we were delayed in launching our new DIG Entrepreneurship program, it was eventually kicked off with three teams of SYEF alumni, who participated in a series of business development and planning workshops in the latter half of 2020, and then launched their businesses with SYEF start-up support in January 2021. Included among them is the first-ever juice parlor in the region, as well as a barber shop and bead store. They will continue to be supported via mentoring throughout 2021, and new teams of entrepreneurs will also be added.

All in all, 2021 has some elements of familiarity in terms of programming, and by now we’re all used to adapting often and without skipping a beat, which we know will be a 2021 reality as well.

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The era of COVID has of course required a lot of adaptability and constant conversation among our staff and community board about a role for SYEF in supporting our youth, their families, and the broader community. Our usual programming and activities were largely put on hold in order to be part of the needed measures to help mitigate the spread of disease — physical distancing, no large gatherings, among others – as well as recognizing that many of our youth had household responsibilities to support during the crisis.

Our Samburu staff recognized a number of needs which were generally in need of quick attention, and organized a role for the organization in the community. This included:

  • Supporting high-risk individuals with basic needs, with a focus on older members of the community. We focused on food security and distributing disease-prevention supplies such as sanitizer and gloves.
  • We went household to household to provide accurate information about disease spread and recommended measures to mitigate risk.
  • We provided start-up funds to two women to launch a small enterprise of sewing and selling masks
  • We provided free educational study materials to our students for independent study, to keep them in a habit of learning and studying
  • We have provided a weekly basic income to our 25 beadwork artisan partners, since tourism has come to a halt in Kenya and there are no opportunities for beadwork sales to tourists. In addition, we promoted online sales of beadwork to support the women.

All of our efforts were in partnership and approval by local chiefs and elders, an important collaboration in the Samburu culture. COVID continues to remind us of the value of adaptability and an ability to make decisions in environments of uncertainty and change. This crisis has showcased the leadership of our staff, who have been out front on these activities and recognized as leaders in the community in providing support to people during this crisis. We even received recognition from a representative of Kenya’s president, thanking us for our efforts in Samburu!

The 13 students that comprise our sixth cohort of students completed high school in November 2019. They join our other 64 alumni to be among a small percentage of individuals in their community to complete a high school education. Following receipt of their national exam results early in 2020, they will be equipped to pursue post-secondary education, employment, as well as other necessities for transitioning to adulthood, such as a national identification card and similar country requirements.

Our students attended schools throughout Kenya, and as a result, experienced people and places that were novel, eye-opening and broadened their horizons. Some of our students had never traveled further than a few kilometers from their home community before attending high school hundreds of kilometers away, in areas with different climates, tribes and customs. While unfamiliar environments can initially feel unnerving, they also facilitate personal growth, adaptability and the value of diversity.

We have high hopes for our new alumni as they determine their next steps and face a new set of opportunities and challenges while pursuing their life goals. Congratulations to this group!

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SYEF was hugely fortunate to have an evaluator, Alex McHenry, donate time to the organization this year, to assess the impact of our programming and scholarships on our alumni. Over the course of multiple months, Alex conducted interviews with nearly every one of our 60+ alumni, and from her transcribed notes of interviews, she established a framework of inputs, outputs, outcomes and impacts of our programs. Using a method labeled Most Significant Change, each alumni’s story was compiled, and then reviewed by the Samburu-based SYEF board, from which the most compelling stories were selected, and to be shared with other members of the community to illustrate the impact of SYEF’s work.
Alex’s work showed that scholarships, mentoring and helping students navigate school policies as among the most valuable activities by the organization. Since most of our alumni completed high school prior to the launch of programming we do today, those programs were not represented in the stories, but we expect they will ‘show up’ when we replicate an evaluation later down the road.

In terms of outcomes, the results are inspiring and promising. Our students gain confidence in pursuing their goals, broaden their perspectives and worldviews as they gain exposure to other people and parts of the country during high school, and acquire problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Overall, Alex’ evaluation confirmed that much of what we hope for in terms of our impact is coming to fruition, while also revealing areas we can strengthen. This information will help fine-tune our programs and efforts, and result in a better, stronger organization as a result.

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We recently completed our annual IRS reporting paperwork, which always catalyzes some thinking and reflecting about our achievements of the past year. 

We are in our ninth year of existence as one of the only organizations in Samburu focused exclusively on supporting youth through educational scholarships and supplementary training.  Supporting education is repeatedly shown in research to be the single greatest action for addressing poverty in the developing world, and all of the related challenges that come with it.

We keep an active tally of what our graduates are up to since finishing high school.  Consider these numbers:

  • 60 graduates since we started in December 2010: 31 young women and 29 young men.
  • 22 of our graduates are in a position to support other family members for their education, resulting in an additional 30 youth attending school from the support of our graduates.
  • As of this writing, 24 of our graduates are employed and 27 are either enrolled or completed post-secondary training.  SYEF does not provide support for post-secondary; these graduates have the ambition and problem-solving skills to seek and arrange funding for additional education.
  • Of our 60 graduates, 11 have children of their own  That is a remarkable number considering that in this part of the world most young people have at least one child prior to the age of most of our graduates.  Even more remarkable is that included in those 11 are a few young women who had children prior to even starting high school from forced marriage circumstances or similarly troubling situations. 
  • Our expense allocations are solid: 93% to programs, 6% to fundraising, and 1% to administration.

We definitely feel satisfied with these numeric outcomes, though we also are curious how formal education and our trainings influence these decisions, which is on our horizon for future evaluation work.

 

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In December 2018, five SYEF graduates joined our local board chair for a trip to the Lake Bunyonyi region of southern Uganda for a young women’s leadership summit.  They joined other young women from Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo for three days of discussion, community-building, laughter and visioning about how they can each achieve the life of their dreams, and the potential of women to lead East Africa into an era of prosperity.  In partnership with the U.S.-based Global Livingstone Institute (GLI), the summit was held at GLI’s lakeside retreat center, which provides a peaceful and beautiful setting where this group of young African women shared their challenges, successes and hopes.

Thank you to the SYEF donors who enabled our participants to make the journey to Uganda (including their first-ever experiences on a plane!), and giving these young women a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with their peers and elevate their awareness for just how important women’s voices are in leading East Africa. 

Our 9th cohort of youth leaders were selected at the end of 2018, a few weeks in advance of the beginning of the new school year in January 2019. These seven boys and five girls join 16 other boys and 22 girls currently supported, and 64 alumni, to-date. Our selection criteria is based on demonstrated leadership and academic performance in primary school, and circumstances of the individuals that place them at great risk of failing to realize their potential as change-maker recognized by their teachers and community leaders. In other words, these are young women and men who could do great things, and simply need the opportunity. It is exciting to consider this group of young people, and who among them are future teachers, doctors, business owners, activists and other jobs that will bring positive change to their community!

Our 8th annual Harambee Fundraiser is on deck for Thursday, November 8 in Fort Collins, Colorado. Food, drinks, beadwork sales, art auction and more. Most importantly, we love gathering a community of people who value education, empowerment and doing good for others. Join us!

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In April we launched our Samburu Achieving with Aspirations (SAWA) program, a year-long social change program focused on identifying and prioritizing community issues, understanding root causes of the issues, and developing innovative and creative solutions. Our third- and fourth-year students work in teams of 6-8 to apply the program at a scale of one village within their community. In April, students acquire the basic understanding of how to go about social change. In August, they work with members of the community to identify high priority issues, and develop innovative solutions to one of those issues. In November, they implement the proposed solution, and evaluate for outcomes over the ensuing months. Our aim with SAWA is for our students to think differently about persistent challenges in their community, to ditch interventions that fail to address root causes, and feel confident in taking risks to develop new ideas. It’s an exciting proposition that we hope leads to long-term change as they become leaders in the community.

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