Further to the Project Elimu Impact Story, Kibera, located in the center of Nairobi, East Africa, is one of the largest slums in Africa. Life in Kibera is difficult because unemployment rates are high and those who do work earn about $1 USD per day. It is extremely difficult for Kiberans to escape slum life as resources are limited and the numerous gaps in formal education hinder youth from unleashing their fullest potential to achieve a prosperous life outside of the slum. The Kenayan government has created policies regarding equal opportunities for both genders, but little effort has been made to convert this policy into action. As a result, gender inequality remains an issue in education, the workforce, and sexual rights. Furthermore, women are susceptible to maltreatment and acts of rape or violence because they live in a culture that supports male dominance.
Another issue is the stigma surrounding menstruation. While menstrual taboos are a universal phenomenon, Kenyan girls receive minimal (if any) education about menstruation and what they are taught is usually inaccurate. They are ashamed of something that is biologically normal and the misconceptions about menstruation restrict a young girl’s mobility during her cycle. Aside from that, access to sanitary products is often a challenge. Many girls do not attend school during their menstrual cycle for fear they will bleed through their clothing. Other girls engage in transactional sex (they exchange sex for sanitary products) so they can stay in school thereby increasing the risk for pregnancy, STIs, and HIV.
In Kibera, gaps in formal education do not equip students with the necessary skills to reach their greatest potential in the 21st century. Many outside organizations have tried to intervene with good intentions, but their impact is minimal because their imposed solutions do not include community engagement. In May 2020, Zoe Ryan constructed a global team of experts to create a new Project Elimu program known as “Beyond the Classroom: The Power of Play to Transform Communities.” This is a program to teach children necessary life and problem-solving skills that will lead to change in communities and a better way of life. Phase I of this initiative is currently in progress and the global team is conducting a needs assessment with Kiberan youth and their parents to identify key issues in the community.
The global team will eventually offer tools and resources so youth can independently and systematically address an issue, develop a plan, implement a solution, and evaluate the outcome. This process will foster creativity, especially when the expected outcome does not occur. This may require some experimentation on their part, but ultimately they will discover solutions that are relevant, viable, and sustainable, which will ultimately create change for the greater good of their community. This will be achieved by implementing a comprehensive, new curriculum that extends beyond the classroom and into a community center where Kiberan youth feel safe to address their challenges and empowered to find the solution. The envisioned community center will include a dance theatre, computer lab, organic garden, and library/resource center.