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.