When the founders of Kianda Foundation looked at the situation of women in Kenya back in the 1960s, they saw a bleak landscape with virtually no opportunities for women to advance.
At that time, there were no educational opportunities for girls. Very few had access to formal education and the ones who did rarely went beyond primary school, as they were married at an early age.
With this in mind, Kianda opened a secretarial college in 1961 to help girls acquire the education they needed in order to achieve financial independence and consequently the respect they deserved. It was a rare venture, as until then it had not been possible for African girls to pursue a secretarial career.
Since then, Kianda has been involved in 12 projects which have touched the lives of over 50,000 women and girls. They have opened schools, colleges and training centers. Kianda’s mission is to give a personalized education that helps women develop all aspects of their personality.
The first lady of Kenya today is actually a graduate of one of Kianda’s schools.
The projects founded by Kianda are:
• Kianda College, merged with Strathmore University in 1993 – the first inter-racial college of its kind in pre-Independent Kenya.
• Kibondeni College – the first women’s hospitality school in the nation.
• Kianda School – a primary and secondary school for girls with 900 students.
• Kimlea Technical Training Center – helping girls with skills to generate income.
• Gatina and Maramba Nursery Schools – for children in the tea-picking community.
• Kimlea Medical Center – provides medical care for poor laborers in Tigoni tea-picking plantations.
• Tewa Training Center – provides quality education for girls and women.
• Faida Center (Nairobi) – youth center for primary and secondary school girls. Provides cultural, social and spiritual formation.
• Fanusi Study Center -for university women. Provides a forum for professional and social development.
• Wanjohi Farm for Internally Displaced People (IDP) – After election violence in 2008, 238 IDP families were relocated by Kianda to 20 acres of land in Nyandarua.
• Trainer of Trainers Project – empowers women with basic business training through help of university students.
• Scholarship Endowment Fund – for needy, talented children
• Children’s Health Program at Kimlea Clinic – provides for medical needs of children in poor primary schools.
“Fifty percent of women in Kenya are living below the poverty line today,” said Mercedes Otaduy, managing director of Kianda Foundation. “However, this does not mean that those living above the poverty line are doing well either. The position of girls in Kenya has always been secondary to boys. If a family has a little bit of money, they spend it on their sons’ education instead of girls. Girls are subordinate.”
Another problem in Kenya is that many men are unfaithful and abandon their wives, leaving them and their children in dire poverty. This means that women, despite their lack of education, must often work to survive and feed their children.
“Women are very hard workers. They work themselves to the bone to provide for their families,” said Otaduy.
In every Kianda project, girls and women must pay to participate.
“They must pay something, even though it is very little, or else they do not own the project. In some of our schools, we offer scholarships. But even these must be applied for,” said Otaduy.
The girls and women who participate in Kianda schools come from many different races and religions. The majority of the students are Christian. A smaller percent is Muslim and Hindu.
The directors of the Kianda Foundation have much to be proud of. Their future plans are to continue to expand and reach more areas of Kenya. They rely on donors both inside Kenya and abroad to function.
As the name Kianda means “fertile valley”; where everything that is planted grows, the Kianda Foundation has proven true to its name.