By Traci Yoshiyama and Kerry Tiedeman, Kenya Ambassador Volunteers
The laughter of children is the first sound I hear as I enter the grounds of Terrian Academy. A smile is brought to my face as I see a group of forty students singing songs and playing games with their teacher on the open field in front of their classroom. The walls of each class are decorated with brightly colored homemade posters and pictures, while the desks are filled with children deep in concentration as their teacher passionately provides instruction. After months of renovation, Terrian Academy is now in session!
Skeptics of microfinance claim there is no evidence of poverty alleviation beyond that of anecdotal, and although individual lives may benefit, alleviation on a larger scale is left to be proven. Founder, principal, and teacher of Terrian Academy, Theresia Kabiti, provides a sound counter-argument, for through Zidisha loans, she has been able to provide educational opportunities to an entire community. The long-term effects of such access are endless, as education is one of the most powerful tools for economic growth. Offering lower costs and comparable education to that of private schools in Kenya, Theresia provides a learning environment for those with otherwise little means.
I visited Theresia over a month ago as her school was still being constructed. Due to heavy rains in Githunguri, the classrooms of Terrian Academy flooded and students were moved to a nearby, vacated building. With Theresia’s Zidisha loan, she was able to renovate the school to avoid future flooding.
I was very excited to see her school. It can be especially fun, because being a visiting foreigner, the kids are usually very excited to see you and have a story to tell, since it’s not every day they see a “Mzungu.” This day did not disappoint. I met Theresia and I introduced myself to each classroom. There were many giggles from the 205 students ranging from ages of 3 to 12.
Theresia has been a teacher since 1998 after moving to Nairobi from Kisumu County in western Kenya. She worked at a private school for a couple years and then received her ECDE (Early Child Development Education) while working at the same time. Then in 2011 she continued her education and received her college diploma.
Theresia founded Terrian Academy in 2001 with savings from her private teaching job. She saw the need for a school in the community she lived that was more affordable for the local families, many of whom did not send their children to school at all because they could not afford the fees. Her school is private, but the fees are 800KES/month, which is a little less than $10 – versus the going rate of about 2000KES/month ($25) for other schools in the area. Public schools in Kenya are few and far between so Theresia has provided a great option for the members of her community.
She began the school with one employee and five children. One of the five students has done so well that she was awarded a scholarship for a prestigious national school from Equity Bank, a company which will sponsor her all the way through University. Theresia feels extremely proud of her former student and has been slowly adding grades since those five preschoolers. This is in large part due to the help of Zidisha lenders. She has used her loans to increase the number of classrooms and accomodate more children and now employs 10 teachers. She hopes with furthur loans she will be able to build a second story and add more classrooms. The school is growing with the kids.
Theresia has taken a piece of land and created a community. It is easy to see how she is capable of doing this. She is warm and caring. We visited her house which is next door to the school. She offered me one of her chickens (I said I had nowhere to keep it), and while I was there some of the school children came over and she gave them cups for water. I left during recess, and all the children were outside playing on the giant field next to the classrooms. They looked very happy.