Leah Ngini, Founder & Director, St. Christopher’s Kindergarten, Preparatory and Secondary
Words of Wisdom: “Have a vision as to the sort of family you want. My mother swore that all her children, both boys and girls, would be educated and treated equally in everything. She had 5 boys and 5 girls. ” – Leah Ngini
Interview with Leah Ngini, the Founder and Director of St. Christopher’s Kindergarten and Preparatory Secondary School in Niarobi, Kenya
Leah Ngini is the Founder and Director of St. Christopher’s Kindergarten and Preparatory Secondary School
Building this school over the years from the ground up, she has been an inspiration to her community, and an influence in education for women.
- Served as the first woman Board Member of Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST) and later as a member of the Governing Council of Africa International University (AIU).
- Served as a Board Member of Emerging Young Leaders (EYL) – a mentoring program for young people.
- Made a Deacon in the Anglican Church of Kenya, All Saints Cathedral Diocese.
- Has spoken at many international conferences.
- Director of PJP Holdings Ltd.
- Director of St. Christopher’s Holdings Ltd.
- Director of Kenya Properties Ltd
All our schools are together now; the Kindergarten, Preparatory and Secondary Schools in spacious ground of 17 acres of land.
Amongst her accomplishments Leah has a heart as big as Kenya and an influence well beyond.
Website: St. Christopher’s School – (www scslearning dot com)
Leah Ngini, Founder & Director, St. Christopher’s Kindergarten, Preparatory and Secondary
Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the audio and video version. We welcome comments on the Wisdom Exchange TV website.
What was the catalyst for you to start St. Christopher School?
I wanted a school where children would be excited to be in school. I didn’t want children to feel sad or to feel forced to go to school. I want them to be happy.
What do you do at your school that makes children happy to come to school?
We love them. We show them that we love them and that they are valued. We show them that each one is special. We talk to them. We smile. We don’t beat them; we care for them and of course teach them.
Showing a child that they are valued I would imagine is a really important part of the education system and often gets ignored. How does St. Christopher School demonstrate that they are valued and that their voices are actually being heard?
As they come into the school they are welcomed. We greet them. We shake hands. We ask how are you today? How is home? Are you happy to be here?
You can see them build their confidence as they are walking. Some may not have wanted to leave their Mommy, as she just dropped them off. We make the kids feel settled.
Some kindergarten kids, the first time may cry, but we make them feel comfortable.
It is not like the old days, when you would see a teacher and want to walk the other way. The kids approach us and talk to us.
What are some of the biggest challenges in starting a school and how did you overcome them?
When we started we did not have money for the school nor the services. So we had to borrow money. Borrowing money means paying back. We have been blessed because we have never failed to repay our loans.
Is there a strategy you can provide us to ensure that loans are paid back in a timely fashion?
Yes, be committed. Once I am committed to pay a loan, I will. That is how we moved from strength to strength. We know when the loan is due. If we have any problems with the payment we talk to the bank and tell them the challenge. As long as you communicate and put them in the picture and let them know what is going on, they would worked with us.
So what you are saying is, sometimes it can be difficult to make that payment, but if you communicate with the bank, keep them informed they will give you a little more leniency. Communicating what you are doing to get the money will build trust? Good advice for any businessperson.
Keep your bank informed, look at them as friends. Don’t look at them as someone who wants to sell to you, who want you to fail, but rather walk along side you.
You are using the word ‘we,’ it is my understanding that when you husband was alive he was very much involved in the process. Do you think having your husband involved in the process had any bearings on you getting the loans?
I think so. There were times when women could not get loans on their own. No bank would trust a married woman especially, to get a loan without the support of a husband. They didn’t think a woman could actually service the loans the way they should. This was the case; today this is changed as the banks are seeing women do things they didn’t expect. My husband was with me all along. He would be with me to sign the loans. He would leave me to run the business. I am the educationist. He has his business and I had mine. We never failed.
We get the money by the fees we charge to go to the school. We make sure we charge enough to service the loans and keep up with the business.
I would like to take the opportunity to talk about your husbands support. Was it your vision to start the school?
How did you discuss starting a school?
I am very luck to have been married to a man who was brought up by his mother, a man who believed in women. If it was not for his mother he wouldn’t even had gone to school. When he was ten years old he went to work for European settlers who had taken over some land from our area in Kenya. He was looking after their cows. His mother went to the farm, took him home and insisted that he go to school. The mother had the vision. She also wanted to go to school, but was not allowed. She knew that education is what would help her son.
My husband’s father died when he was barely one year old, it was the responsibility of the mother to bring him up. His mother was the third wife of the husband and she was the youngest. Her husband died to early, before her own children had grown up.
I don’t know where my husband’s mother understood that education was going to be so important, but she did. My husband had a lot of praise for his mother.
My husband believed in the power of women to do things and improve situations, so he had no problem supporting me.
In a lot of cases the woman brings up the sons and daughters. Somewhere along the way something was instilled in your husband to recognize that when a woman has a vision to support the vision.
When you said you wanted to start this school what was it about your husband that he could accept that? Did he always just believe in you? Was he a confident man? What was it that made him say: “it is ok for my wife to succeed without me and beside me?”
My husband and I have a long history. We were in the same primary school when I started at the age of six in 1951. He was in senior classes. We walked the same way home to the same village. We have known each other all these years.
Of course I was young, so it didn’t mean anything to me. But my husband said he knew all along that I was going to be his partner. I loved you from the beginning, and I was going to marry you. I don’t know if I believed him or not, but that is what he use to tell me.
He was a very kind person, a loving person. He wanted everyone to succeed.
When he was in school he went through a very difficult time, not having fees and being expelled. The Principal of the school actually went home with him to ascertain if he had any money to pay. The Head Master raised some money through Missionaries to help with his education. He went through a very difficult time. But he was determined to have his family to never suffer the way he did.
He married me. He loved me very much. He loved his family. I am not exaggerating. He did everything for his family.
Lots of good messages there, particularly that he did spend time with your family.
Do you think you would be the success you are today if you didn’t have the support of your husband?
No I don’t’ think so. He encouraged me a lot. He would say: “you can do it.” For example, when I went to get my drivers license, I called him to pick me up, he said: “Didn’t you just pass your driving test? You can drive yourself.”
He would encourage me. I was 10 years younger than him and I think he felt he needed to help me along. We got married when I was twenty-one years old; he was a lot older.
I remember my mother telling him: “She doesn’t even know how to cook properly, so please have patience with her.” He was my best friend all along.
Thank you for sharing that with us. Wisdom Exchange TV really focuses on the power of a woman, but the reality is we can be powerful on our own, but with a partner we can be that much more of a force to be reckoned with.
It is my understanding that you are very pro-girl child. You wanted to focus on girls when you started St. Christopher’s. What I have heard from you before is without investing in boys, whom are the girls going to marry?
Please share some of your philosophies that you instill about educating both boys and girls at St. Christopher’s?
- I wanted girls to have the confidence that they can do even better then what boys can do.
- I was teaching geography and mathematics at a girl school. When I am teaching geography all f them wanted to answer questions. When I was teaching math, none of them wanted to answer. At first I thought it was me, but then I asked them why they were withdrawing in math class? They said math is for boys. They were taken through primary school believing that women can’t do math like boys. I told them that I am a woman like you, and I do math and I enjoy it. When I went to school I was always in girls schools. I was never brought up to believe that there are things I cannot do and boys can. A lot of these girls felt that had limitations.
- I wanted a school where there were boys and girls so girls could compete with those boys and know they can do as much as those boys. They have succeeded with St. Christopher’s schools.
So specifically what are you doing at St. Christopher’s School to help girls feel capable in maths or in any subject?
I have got teachers who are well trained always talking to students.
Sometimes teachers will talk to girls as girls and boys as boys.
We invite parents to come talk to the boys and mentor them and teach them how to be men.
We invite mothers to come and talk to the girls to teach them how to be mothers and how to stand on their own in life.
A lot of what you are saying is putting the emphasis on the message from a parent. How do you know that the messages from the parent are the messages that you want to teach your students? For example, where did the girls learn not to like math? Did they learn it from a girl at school? A teacher? A parent? How do you know that the parents who are mentoring the girls in your school are going to give the message you want the girls to hear?
I talk a lot to the teachers and let them know my views. They understand at the very beginning that I believe that those children are very special and you have to love them. If you don’t love them, than you don’t care and therefore you don’t fit. This is something I emphasis with them when I am interviewing them for the job. You need to love your children as your own.
What are your hiring practices? What are some of the specific characteristics you are looking for with your teachers?
- Firstly, they must be trained. A university degree, a teach training certificate.
- I want to hire people who went into education because they enjoy teaching, not because it was the only career available to them. They love moulding young people. I don’t hire people that are just coming for a job while they wait to go somewhere else. I am able to tell who I am talking to by communicating with them.
What specifically are you looking for?
I watch how they interact with the children, you can see if the rapport is good. If I find the students are scared of the teacher, I watch for it. I don’t want students to be scared of their teachers. I want them to know they are there to help them, work with them and share anything with them.
When I grew up we were scared of our teachers. When we saw them coming we would run away because we use to be beaten with a cane. So I tell teachers we don’t beat them, pinch them and we don’t bring them down by the words that we speak.
Children need to walk with their heads high. Even though they are students they are important. We need them; after all it is a school.
What do you do to motivate your staff, and ensure they instill your philosophies?
Now they have meetings with the Headmaster and the Deputy Heads that are supporting them. I have taken a back row now after so many years. I want these young people to move on with the vision I have.
Every section has a Heads i.e. Humanities, Languages, Sciences and they communicate to Deputy Heads in charge, and the Deputy Heads communicate with the Head Master. Every week there is a meeting with the Heads, the Head Master and the teachers go through what is happening. Bringing issues in that need to be dealt with, and children of concern etc. They also encouraged to communicate in this forum to help the children perform and feel better.
Do you mind me asking how old you are?
I am 70.
You have put in your time and now you oversee the school philosophy.
There is a lot of discussion in the West, and I don’t know if this is relevant here. Many believe that the school system now favours the girls rather than the boys. Do you have any comment on that?
We do believe that the girl child was neglected. For a long time a girl child would only go to school if the boy was already in school. The girl child was responsible for learning the trade of the home and the garden. They were just there to be wives.
This has changed. My own mother was the only daughter of a home full of boys. My mother saw boys playing like boys and made a decision that when she had her family that she would treat the girls the same as boys. My mother had five girls and five boys. We all learnt to wash our cloths, clean the house, cook, work in the garden and all went to school. We were all encouraged. I remember my mother telling us girls that we all have to work very hard to excel in life. We have to work extra hard. The girls have done very well.
There is a lot of focus on the girl child in Africa, and as a result are the boy children having challenges with how they are being educated?
This is something that is worrying us. The girls now are being very well prepared, even for marriage. The boys are not being mentored properly. The men have taken a back seat to mentoring children. Men have not mentored their sons, as they should be. By the time they come to get married these young men don’t know what it means to be the head of the household. They think that sitting down and being served by the wife is what it means to be the head of a home.
They don’t realize the head of the home provides, encourages, and brings everyone in the home together. They grow and go forward together day by day. They have forgotten their roles. We realize our husbands (of my husbands age) have been so busy working hard in their jobs to make money and forgetting their responsibility of the home and the children. The mothers are mentoring the girls, the boys need to be taught and they are not getting that. There is a gap for the boys.
Does St. Christopher’s do anything to help with that gap?
Yes, we have meetings with the fathers, male teachers and the boys in the school. We have several meetings so the fathers learn to encourage the boys. The boys want to be men, but they don’t know how to be. They pick-up what they see their fathers do – sit down and be served all the time. The boys think that is it. All we need to do is finish school, then get married and these girls will look after us. They have forgotten they are the ones to look after the homes if they are going to be the heads of the household.
We see a lot of women today who are the heads of the households because husbands have not taken that roll. They end up parting company because the husband is just occupying space and not helping with the home the way he should be.
At the risk of going down a path that will take us away from where I want to go, I do need to ask the question: does it really matter who is the head of the household? Can it not be both partners?
I know that is what they see in the West, both partners are the same. We have been brought up as Christians and in the Bible it does say that men are the head of the household. We have not seen anything wrong with that, as long as we understand what that means. It means that the man must love his wife as he loves himself- that is in the bible. Once he does that, when he loves his wife as himself, it is so easy for the wife to submit. It is so easy to go along with him because he loves her, he brings her in to any plans he has for the family. Because they sit down together and talk. That is the way my husband and I brought up our children and ran our home. We would discuss things together.
When I told my husband I did not like something that he wanted to do, he actually did not do it. He would wait and introduce it to me in another way and try to persuade me, sometime I would change my mind and say lets do it. But if I just did not agree, he would not do it because he wanted us to do things together. He wanted us to grow together. He would see an old couple holding hands, and my husband would say: “I want us to be that way when we grow up.”
I have heard many schools in Kenya teach to memorize, which stagnates creativity. You need to be creative to be an entrepreneur. What is your philosophy at St. Christopher’s school?
I am glad you asked that. I started the primary school using two curriculum. I had the British System and the Kenyan system. The Kenyan system I found was over crowded. There was so much to be done. The students had to be rushed into it and had to do a lot of homework at night. They had no time to play and just be children. If they don’t do their homework they are in trouble with the teachers. The teachers are keen to finish the syllabus; if they don’t finish they get into trouble with the administration.
The kids don’t do well in the exams. Exams in this country are very very important. If you don’t pass you don’t have an opening to do something better in life. You are kind of left alone. There are many children who have just done their KCP exam after eight years of primary school education, when they fail they feel it is the end of the world. We have heard of many of them committing suicide. Only seven cases that were reported this time, but there are many cases that are not reported. The parents say they did not work hard, and the child doesn’t know what to do. The child is only 14 or 15.
Is the Kenya teaching rely on memorizing?
Yes, because there is a lot the children are taught to learn. There is so much that is crammed in the syllabus, and that was my complaint. When I saw how much the children are being stressed I decided to use the British system instead. They have time to be children, they have time to read beyond just for the exam. This is system will prepare them through the primary school and then the secondary school. They are not going to have an exam at the end of the primary school that will say “you don’t go forward.” They will have an exam to assess where they are at, but it will not dictate if they will be able to go forward.
When they are finished high school they are much older, sixteen or seventeen, some are eighteen. Even if they don’t want to go through formal school any more, they are old enough to be trained in some of those tertiary courses or for a trade. I don’t like when children have to leave school at the age of 14 which happens with the Kenyans system if they don’t pass their exams. They are too young to start or be taught a trade. They need to be more grown up.
Does the British system allow children also to be more creative?
Yes it does. The syllabus is not too crowded and I like it because the children enjoy it.
Now days a lot of children don’t get the chance to play, that is where creativity comes in
At this point of your career, what do you think is the most significant impact you have made in your career?
I feel that many children who have passed through St. Christopher’s who are well prepared for life. They will leave school and they will go into the world and they are ready for the world. How do they view the world? Do they have a positive attitude to life after school? Do they feel they are confident to face life after school? This is what we teach them. They have to be prepared. Lots of students have done well and have come back and said: “If they didn’t go to St. Christopher’s they would not be as prepared for life as they are today.” They walk with their heads high because they have been valued, and as a result they know they are important.
How many students at St. Christopher’s?
Just over 400.
If you had to attribute your success to one thing, what would it be?
I am a person who loves people, if you are a Superintendent or the head of the school, I value them the same. I tell them they are all important. No matter what you are doing, know you are valued and walk with your head high.
What is the most challenging aspect of your career?
Getting people to walk with me and implement my vision and develop with the students. They have the contact with the students all the time.
What I like is that many teachers that have come from other schools who may have been intimidated by the Heads, or the owners, come here and find that I am a friend. They can confide in me. They become personal friends. Even when they have go to a new opportunity, they never stop being a friend.
Do you have any strategies that you can share about how to get people to follow your vision?
I talk. If I feel someone needs help, I talk and I will share my personal life examples. Some see me as their mother. They don’t feel that I’m above them. I ask them about their family, we shake hands. I speak in their language.
So if they are not following, you talk to them on a personal level so they view you as a peer and a friend. Is there anything else you do to get them to see your vision?
Besides talking to them, I give my teachers’ children scholarships to the school so their minds are in the school and not in another school where their children attend. Their children take the school buses, are given lunches; they have the same serves as all the other students.
My teachers stay a long time. Which brings continuity to the school.
Can you share with us a project that you implemented that did not work?
As I mentioned, when I started the Primary schools I was using two syllabuses and I found one did not work for me. It does work in many schools but not for me. I did not want to create stressing children. I did see some of them stressed and even getting ulcers.
I had to make a bold step and write to the parents and tell them that I wasn’t going to discontinue the 8-4-4 systems, which is the Kenyan system. I was going to continue with the British system. I told them in a letter if they wanted to continue with the 8-4-4 system then please look for another school. I made that bold step knowing I was going to loose children and I did. I use to have three streams, and I ended up with one stream. When I was left one stream, I was happy because now the children can be children and there is so much to learn in life. If they do not enjoy being children now, then when will they?
I had a much smaller school then I had before. Of course we are rebuilding the school now. I am comfortable with the number now.
We use to have 600 students when we had the Kenyan system, and now we are just over 400 students.
I have never regretted this decision.
When starting school did you think you would have any obstacles?
Before I started I had no experience in running a school, I was just an ordinary teacher but I had eyes to see what the Heads were doing. I learnt from example how to run a school while I was teaching. So when I started I knew I had a problem that I didn’t have the knowledge on how to run a school. I didn’t know how to pay teachers. I never decided about the fees the where going to be paid. I worked at a Government school, and they decided. Now I was running a private school.
I learn quickly from experience.
What were some of the key things you learnt at the beginning that made you a profitable successful growing school?
It is not easy to do business as a school.
My running the school was not for profit. I was comfortable at home and I could have stayed home, as my husband would have been able to provide for us. I wouldn’t have to go work so hard.
I wanted to provide a service and make a difference in society. I wanted to make an impact in society.
There were times I could not make ends meat and my husband would come in and support me. As long as I was paying the loans and paying the workers, I didn’t really care how much more money I made.
I am not here to make big money to make an investment elsewhere, I am here to enjoy life and make a difference in society.
How did you convince a teacher to join your school, without any track record on how to run a business?
It wasn’t difficult fortunately because there are many people in Kenya who have been trained as teachers but do not have jobs. Or there are some that have jobs that they were not happy, or some who wanted to join a Private School. The Private School will pay a lot better than the Government School.
- Some teachers will go to Private Schools because it pays better.
- Some teachers prefer a Private School because they have a face to talk to rather than someone who they have no contact with in the Ministry.
- Some want to be part of the vision of school.
I tell them that they are working for God. When you are in the class I don’t get to hear what you are saying to the students, neither does the Head Master; there is only one who hears, so fear him. Only fear God.
Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of yourself discovered when you push the edge of your comfort zone). What is something that you are uncomfortable doing, but continue to do, in order to make an impact?
I do not like firing anybody. Once I start working with someone I get to love them, but when I find someone doesn’t get into the philosophy of the school I let them go. I wish there was someone else to do that.
I also don’t like to follow-up on fee defaulters. We tell Parents that school fees need to be paid in the first two weeks. The Parent comes to tell us the challenges they are having with their business and how they can’t pay all the money at one time and ask to pay in installments. If they don’t pay, I have to follow-up.
Sometimes I carry their problems, but I have to run the school so what do I do? Eventually I have to tell them to go to another school that they can actually afford. Sometimes they will plea that their children like this school so I give them a little more time. But if the funding doesn’t come through then I have to let them go. I can’t have children that are being educated completely free because I have a big budget.
What is the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to get to this point?
Providing what the market needs. You hear this school has done this, or that. You try to keep up with what ever is going on. The Parents have the opportunity to choose which school they go to, and I want them to come to my school
We haven’t been able to market the new school we just built. We have to overcome hurdles and a lot of them are finances. We borrowed a lot of money to build this school.
What is success to you?
It is seeing children happy.
How do you keep your teachers motivated?
- We get outside speakers to come in and talk to the teachers sometimes about what they have previously been taught; sometimes they speak about new material.
- We let teachers go for training in a specific area to enhance their knowledge. .
How would you define leadership?
It is to be a servant leader. Being there with the teachers. There is nothing I would ask the teacher to do that I wouldn’t do.
If I want weeds out of the garden, I am there getting the weeds out as we grow food to feed the children. I like to know where the vegetables come from. There is nothing I don’t do. They know I am part of the workforce of this school.
Health has been a bit challenge, but I still work.
If there was three pieces of advice you can give to a woman who lead a project, initiative or a team what would that be?
- Be friends with the people you are working with.
- Let your team know that you are as committed as they are.
- Communicate with them
- Let them know that you are walking along side them. You are in it together.
- Get personal.
- Let them know they can confide in you confidentially.
- Share and talk with them.
- Let them know you care.
When Kenya had a political up rise in January 2010 and many people feared for their lives because of the Tribe they belonged to, I along with them cleaned out the primary school and made room for them. Many stayed there six months before they felt safe to return home.
When I interview people, I make sure they know that I don’t care what Tribe they come from. There are many Tribes in this country. When I interview I tell them “as long as you are a human being made in the image of God. You are like me, and I am like you. Don’t ever think about what Tribe you come from.”
I tell Teachers when they enter the main gate to use the language people understand. Don’t use your own language because people may not know what you are talking about. They may think you are talking about them. Lets work together.
- There are times that I may not agree with someone. I encourage them once we finish talking we move on. I don’t bare a grudge on people. So let move on and work together.
- Have self worth.
If there were one thing you could have done differently in pursuit of your success, what would it be?
Maybe I could have involved my sons more in the school.
What we did as a family is the sons work with their Father and I worked with the girls. There came a time, especially after my husband died, I felt that I should have involved my sons more in my project.
I tried to bring one of my sons to do some building. One of my sons is in on the board, but he is not there most of the time.
I could have involved myself in the work that they are doing now. I could have been there more for them.
What is next for you?
I am going to retire now. I will always be seen and be around because I will want to know what is going on.
I want to enjoy the company of the children. I don’t have to be around to make policies.
Q. What advice would you give to your 10yr. old daughter?
Believe in yourself, you are important. No one should ever bring you down because you are a girl. When I was being brought up, girls only thought they were to serve the man in the home. Today, we know you are as important as anyone else. Work hard. You are able, intelligent, go for it.
I would tell my girls, there are no challenges beyond their abilities. Believe in yourself.
Q. What do you wish you were told at 10 years old?
Life is not all that easy.
My mother did tell us you have to work hard. She would tell us society doesn’t think much of you. You have not been brought up like other girls in the village.
We were not going to be circumcised, my mother refuses. We were not going to be part of village life. So we felt a bit isolated. From school we had to go home, we were not allowed to go to friends’ homes just in case if they were conducting such practices, they may take us also. Our relatives also circumcising the girls, but mother could not see the advantage of what she went through. She saw a women die because of the birth. Those women could not stretch anymore because of the scar. She saw how women bleed to death and children died. My mother was a mid-wife in the hospital.
She told us things that help us all along.
I was able to tell my girls that there was no difference between the boys and girls.
Words of Wisdom for African women
Believe in yourself. Remove the stereotypes of we are here to be seen and not heard. We are here to do things just as much as men are.
Have a vision for your family. This is what saved my mother’s family, our family. She knew what she wanted for her children. She wanted education; she wanted the same treatment for the boys as the girls.
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Additional insights provided by Leah Ngini after the interview:
What makes a Successful School?
1. View school as a family
Each person has a contribution to make however small for the good of the family. We all need each other. I, as the Director, cannot run the school alone. Everybody who plays a part at St. Christopher’s is valuable.
Many team members work in the school for many years because they feel fulfilled and appreciated. Such continuity is necessary in any workplace because people then have a feeling of ownership.
- This is evident many times especially when there is urgent work to be done. The team members check on each other and no one wants to let others down.
- They take their responsibilities seriously and check on their peers about duties and delivery of instruction to the students.
- When the school does well, it is a collective achievement.
- Our school sports teams are well known for teamwork and they win lots of trophies in tournaments with other schools. They also regularly win trophies for the best-behaved team.
- The vision and mission of the school lay great emphasis on family and Christian values.
- We look at each student holistically in terms of health, spiritual gifting and cohesiveness of staff and students. These are emphasized during class devotion and school assemblies.
- Our schools are well known for a friendly atmosphere.
- These are selectively chosen so that we only take those who are qualified and committed.
- They have to be role models for the students they teach and mold and give direction.
- They pray together often and pray for issues that need guidance and perhaps divine intervention.
- Students who need counseling are provided with these services with love and concern.
- To motivate the teachers, praise is given where and when due, staff children are given scholarship, co-operation and concern for each other is freely given.
- When teachers are employed, they are placed according to abilities and capabilities and areas of expertise.
- There is open office policy – teachers can approach me as the Managing Director any time.
- Seminars and professional development sessions are organized to motivate the teachers.
- Time is given to teachers when needed for their own self-development. They also get time to attend professional trainings.
- Feel valued and appreciated when they are regarded as family.
- Many students who have left us come back to us and say there is no place like St. Christopher’s. They value advice about life they are given by teachers who obviously care a lot about them.
- Students are taken out on educational trips locally and abroad.
- Our soccer teams and basketball teams play and compete locally and abroad.
- Students are constantly taught to care for those who do not have as much as they do. The Red Cross, the Good Samaritan club regularly raises money for charity. They support some orphans and provide clothes and toys to children in the local orphanages. The environment club gets involved in cleaning in the neighbourhood.
- Every year the Kindergarten children do a sponsored walk where they raise money for a needy cause e.g. the Children’s Cancer Ward at the Kenyatta National Hospital, the Referral Hospital in Nairobi.
- The students perform very well in the annual international exams.
- St. Christopher’s Schools enjoy a very healthy rapport with parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and children careers. During get togethers and fun days, we all enjoy ourselves as one big family.
- Every end of term a day is chosen when parents and teachers and students meet their subject teachers for reports and discussion on how best to improve performance. Advice and direction are freely given in a friendly atmosphere.
- Parents are free to see the Head teachers and teachers, even the directors as the need arise at a mutually agreed time.
- Parents cooperate beautifully when there is fund raising for a needy cause e.g. serious and expensive sickness, during a national disaster, like famine, floods or fire.
- E-mails have proved very useful for communication with parents and their contribution is appreciated and valued.
How to Overcome Obstacles
1. Stop Gender Discrimination
Women must have equal opportunities to education. The girl child must not be taken to school only after all the boys’ education has been paid for and only if there is excess money. Access to education must be for all. Encourage both girls and boys to achieve.
2. Introduce Policies that are Gender Sensitive
Make policies and programs that will include women and empower them so that they are not left behind. At St. Christopher’s Schools, all education and achievement is open to both genders, and delivery of the service of education is key.
3. Seek the Highest Education Possible
Educate women even to PhD levels so they qualify to sit, argue in and actively influence decision-making fora.
4. Elect more Women Legislators
Encourage educated women of integrity to join politics and to become legislators so they can influence decision making at the highest levels. In my country our Parliament has been heavily male dominated ever since Independence almost 50 years ago. Our new constitution, which was promulgated about 3 years ago, specifies on a minimum of 1 in 3 of all legislators being from the minority gender. Still, today, only 7% of our legislators are women. We must encourage women to enter the fray, and support and help them to remain accountable when they are elected.
5. Don’t Leave Governance to Men Alone
Involve women in governance. Men have led nations, particularly in Africa, since time immemorial. Why is there so much conflict and pain in Africa? When these wars erupt and spread, it is the women and children who suffer most and bear the deepest scars. Women are more peaceful and empathetic, especially where peace and security for their children is involved.
6. Eradicate Gender-Based Stereotyping
Educate men and women and give them equal opportunities. It is only through education that certain myths about women can be eliminated. This will show that intelligence and ability are not gender specific.
7. Do Not Be Intimidated
Women are not only to be seen and not heard. Encourage women to stand tall and engage in discussions and debates with men as equals. Do not be intimidated by men, your opinion is as valid and important as theirs.
8. Share Duties in the Home
Share duties in the home responsibly. Homes belong to husbands and wives. If they are both working outside the home, arrangements must be made to make sure homes do not disintegrate. Even where help in the home can be hired, always remember that the home belongs to the husband and wife and their children. Therefore take full responsibility and care for your home environment.
9. Demolish Stereotypes
Do away with gender-stereotyped jobs, e.g. the woman belongs in the home and the man is the go-getter. This has caused a lot of conflict in many countries, where some men earn and then misspend the family money, leaving the women and children destitute and hungry. Women must also learn to fight for themselves and their children by seeking employment or earning incomes through business.
10. Societies Must View Women Positively
Society’s attitude towards women and their contribution to the economy must change. Women must be recognized as co-partner with the men, and their role in the home, in education, in the workplace, in the government and in the economy must be appreciated. Women have value in and of themselves, not as an extension of the men in their lives. Single, divorced and widowed women must also be validated and respected.
11. Women Must Also Support Men in their God-given Roles
Many men have lost their God-given role as heads of households by not seeking Godly wisdom, not leading, not loving their wives as themselves and not taking responsibility in the home as they should. They must wake up and do their part as God meant them to do, and women should be prepared to support and encourage them in this role, and in turn also perform their own role with Godly wisdom and perseverance.
12. Do Not Abandon Mentoring
Men, mentor your sons and become the examples to be emulated. Women, mentor your daughters. Let every growing boy or girl grow up knowing what is expected of him or her in the home, community, society, nation and world. The mentees will benefit because someone cares enough to support them, advise them, guide and encourage them. The joy and fulfillment of passing along hard-learned wisdom as mentors to influence the next generation is appreciated. This used to be done in the society before formal education was introduced. Formal education has not met this need, which is sad. Let us retain the things of old, which were good.
EDGENESS INSIGHT – Experiences that have built me up even when I did not particularly enjoy them
1. Finance Gaps
When my husband and I were building the schools in 1986 and in 1991, we had no problem getting financing. We would both sign for the loans and repay as agreed. But when we wanted to build again in 2007, we found the process to be much more difficult. We were advised that a development Bank would give us better rates and a longer term within which to repay, and they welcomed our application. But the levels of due diligence required and the slowness of their communication led to many delays. Eventually they approved our loan, only to cancel it later – due to in-house corruption, which saw the money earmarked for our loan given instead to a crony of those in the Bank. Finally we obtained financing through a local Bank, who have been good partners and in which my late husband had been a Director.
2. Bold Step
From 1987 to 1994, St. Christopher’s Preparatory School adopted both the British National Curriculum and the Kenyan Curriculum of Education (8.4.4), which we ran concurrently so that our students had the option of doing either one. It became clear that the 8.4.4 System was too crowded and overloaded, stressing children in a way that was disturbing. I made a bold step when I announced to the parents that I was going to discontinue the 8.4.4 System and remain with the British System. I gave them time to look around for an alternative school if they wished to remain with the 8.4.4 System. In a school where I had 3 streams of students per class, I was now left with only 1 stream per class. That meant that I lost a lot of income but I was happy and relieved to not be a part any longer of a system that stresses children so much that too many of them have been known to commit suicide! This year there were 7 reported cases of suicide from examination stress from the 8.4.4 system. Bold steps, tough choices are necessary to maintain your integrity.
3. Terminating Services
When a team member does not fit with the requirements of their employment in the school, I am forced to terminate their services. I agonize over such decisions because I don’t find it easy to fire anybody. Those I fire will probably never know how much it hurts me to have to do so, and yet this is a part of my job that I must do, if I am to keep the interests of our students and the school paramount.
4. Following up Payment Defaulters
Some parents do not fulfil their commitment to their children and to the school. Following up fees defaulters is nasty work and yet it has to be done. The fees must be paid if the school is to remain a self-sustaining and viable business.
5. Rampant Inflation
I live in a country that has a relatively high inflation rate, and sometimes prices of necessary commodities fluctuate rapidly in an uncontrolled manner. School fees cannot be increased every time fuel and food prices go up, and so it is a delicate balancing act to make sure the business remains viable.
6. Perseverance even through Sickness
I have suffered with back problems for a long time. This frustrates me, as I am a person who does not enjoy lying down when I am supposed to be working. I guess age is not helping much! But God is faithful, and I have been able to achieve
Being able to communicate with all team members, e.g. teachers, watchmen, drivers, cleaners, directors, grounds people. I walk around the compound talking to my team in the 3 languages I speak: English, Kiswahili and Kikuyu, choosing the language that each person best understands.
All my team members know that they can talk with me even without an appointment, I have an open door policy.
3. Offering Guidance
I offer guidance on how to do things for efficiency and do not get offended if they don’t follow my guidance so long as the work is done properly. I take it that although I am the employer, I do not have a monopoly on knowledge.
4. Getting Personal
When my employees have problems at home and they feel free to share with me, together we look for solutions. For example if they have sickness or a death in the family, if they need school fees for their children, if there’s a housing problem or even a security concern (during the 2007/2008 post-election crisis I housed several of my employees and their families who were under threat because of their ethnic background).
5. Approachability and Trust
My team members all know they can approach me, and I in turn also listen to and trust them. Most of the time they repay that trust by being trustworthy, but when I realize that someone is cheating me or taking advantage, I protest in no uncertain terms.
I do not “witch hunt”. If a worker has made a mistake and owns up to it, or when reprimanded turns away from the wrong behaviour or practices, then the relationship is restored. We have to remember that all human beings are flawed and make mistakes, but forgiveness is crucial in all ongoing human relationships. Holding grudges is unhealthy and unproductive.
7. Servant Leadership
I lead by example. There is no work I give people to do which is unfit for me to do. I maintain integrity just as much as I expect my team members to do.
8. Believe in People
I value people and believe that each person has a contribution to make in life.
9. Build People
I motivate people to be the best they can be, and to have self worth. I encourage my employees to walk with their heads held high as they are all valued. Help them progress in their careers, even if it means that they will leave your employment – send them away with your blessing.
10. Guide People to Eternity
In all my businesses, to anyone at all who knows me, I am unashamedly Christian. We pray to begin and end meetings, we pray for all our meals, we pray for our employees, for our students, for their parents, for each other’s families. No one who has ever worked in the schools can say they have not heard the gospel of Christ. I do employ people who are not of my faith, but at some point in time they will encounter Jesus. I count it as tremendous joy if they make a choice for eternal life.
Words of Wisdom for African Women
For my fellow African women, young or old, educated or not educated,
1. Be Literate
Learn to read and write. This was the eye opener for my mother in the early 1930s when she was growing up. In the early 1940s when she started bearing children, and when things were very difficult and there were no counseling services, reading the Bible gave her consolation.
2. Help Your Fellow Woman
Do what you can for your fellow woman. Give advice, provide opportunities, and give services that you can afford to give. My mother became the midwife for the women in her neighborhood, which services she provided free of charge.
3. Know That You Are Special
Always remember that even if your husband or nobody else ever tells you that you are special, God, your creator, knows and tells you that you are special. He threw away the mould he made you with and so there are not two of you. Never compare yourself with anyone else.
4. Have a Vision for Your Family
Have a vision as to the sort of family you want. My mother, who was the only daughter of her mother, was made to do all the chores in the home while her brothers enjoyed being boys. She swore that all her children, both boys and girls, would be educated and treated equally in everything. She had 5 boys and 5 girls.
5. Believe in Yourself
Believe in yourself as a Woman. Do not let anyone look down on you on account of your gender.
6. Avoid Being Judgmental
Do not judge others. See the best and appreciate the best in everybody.
7. Avoid Complaining
This hinders progress. Be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.
8. Avoid Destructive Cultural Practices
Decide what cultural practices are not beneficial to your girl child and so discard them even if you are going to be the laughing stock of the village. Female Genital Mutilation, tribal marks on the body, disfiguring your ears or lips and forced early marriages are not beneficial. My mother discarded all these for her children.
9. Feed Your Children Well
Feed your family well. Meals need not be expensive but a balanced diet, especially for growing children, will save them from many ailments that affect growth and education related matters. And teach them how to cook; it is a life skill that is being lost in many countries.
10. Befriend and Provide for Your Children
Encourage your children to be the best they can be by befriending them and providing for their needs.
11. Remember – Values Begin at Home
Values begin at home. A parent is a teacher to her or his child, whether you realize it or not. Interact with them. Talk together about moral issues and value-choices they make daily. The world is a global village these days of quick and sophisticated transport and exchange of information. Our children are being affected by what is happening in Western countries and they tend to be attracted to values that are not beneficial to them. Help them by making it easy to discuss openly and candidly with you as the parent.
12. Support the Men in Society Too
Men are an integral part of society, just as women are. Sometimes as we move towards empowering women and girls we do it at the expense of men and boys. There is no society that is made up of only one gender, and we can never be whole as women without strong and supportive men too. Men are not our enemies. Everyone in society must be valued, must be well educated, must be given good values, must be taught to be good, God-fearing citizens, and most of all, must work towards the good of the nation.