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As families settle back into the rhythm of the school year, we wanted to share about education in Kenya. How would your child’s life be different if she went to school in Kenya? Here are some Kenyan Ed basics shared by Beth Oaks, an American teacher who has taught in both Kenyan and American schools.

Bilingual Education

Classes are taught in Kiswahili (literally "the language of the Swahili people") through class 3 (3rd grade). Starting in class 4, all classes are taught in English except for their Kiswahili lessons. Students are typically fluent enough in English by class 4 that it isn't a difficult leap for them.

School starts with the Calendar Year

The school year in Kenya runs from January to November with breaks in April and August.

Children pay for their own supplies

Students are expected to come to school with all of the supplies they’ll need for the term. For primary school, the equivalent of grades K-8, the biggest costs are school supplies, including uniforms, and, if they go to a private school, tuition.

A private school education is ideal, but out of reach for many. For public school students, uniforms are a huge cost, and many students only have one uniform that they wear every day and wash when they get home from school. Supplies are also costly, leading some students to fill every available space in their notebooks and find scrap paper to write on when their notebooks fill.

Tech-free Ed

Computers are not common in Kenyan schools. The higher-priced private schools in Nairobi have computers, but few other schools do, so students don't typically get this vital skill until high school or university, if at all.

High school is private – so are electives

Different students have different goals, mainly depending on what part of the country they're from or how wealthy their parents are. Most students would LOVE to get good enough grades on their standardized tests to get to university, but many students won't realistically get there, and the best they can hope for is an 8th grade education, which is as far as the government will pay for. After that, many students go on to work, likely on their parent's farms or similar labor jobs. Students who can afford high school and university can go on and hope for better careers after graduation.

Students in primary school don't typically get electives, though teachers may sponsor clubs to allow students to pursue interests outside their typical classes. In secondary school, students have more choices for their classes, such as various foreign languages, math and science courses, music classes, and computer classes if computers are available.

Students also aren't automatically admitted to high school after class 8, regardless of the availability of money for tuition. Students must pass a test called the KCPE (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education) to be admitted to high school. Their grades determine how good of a high school they can get into, and high schools send out offer letters to prospective students in early January, following the release of the KCPE scores.

Side by Side is proud to promise education through high school to the eleven students currently enrolled in the Embakasi Project and to provide computers to teach students at the Tania Centre about technology and enable them to practically implement word processing and online research in their studies. All donations to Side by Side are directed entirely to providing educational support and additional interventions to vulnerable children and their families in the United States and around the world. Join the impact today!  

A Child's Brain & Body on Trauma

By definition, vulnerable children, those who have lost one or both parents, are at a high risk for trauma. Any event where a child perceives their life is in danger is considered a traumatic event. For children across the globe, these events could include a wide range of experiences such as political violence, sexual abuse, earthquakes or other natural disasters.


Psychologists now know that trauma, and especially repeated trauma, can have a lasting effect on a child’s developing brain and body. Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, a distinguished researcher in PTSD and child trauma, shares ways that children are affected by trauma in his book, The Body Keeps The Score. Here are only three ways repeated trauma can change a child’s life:

1.     Trauma teaches helplessness

"Children with histories of abuse & neglect learn that their terror, pleading and crying do not register with their caregiver…In effect they’re being conditioned to give up when they face challenges later in life.”

2.     Trauma effects physical development

In one study of incest survivors, researchers found a cellular imbalance in survivors that affected their immune systems, making them unable to distinguish actual threats and creating the potential for the immune system to attack the body’s own cells. “Our study showed that, on a deep level, the bodies of incest victims have trouble distinguishing between danger and safety…The past is impressed not only on their minds, and in misinterpretations of innocuous events…but also on the very core of their beings: in the safety of their bodies.”

3.     Trauma puts survivors at risk of disease

Another study found that adults who had experienced repeated trauma as a child have a higher chance of deadly conditions such as cancer, emphysema, heart disease and liver disease. Van der Kolk concludes, “The ongoing stress on the body keeps taking its toll.”


There are ways to treat the effects of trauma in children and adults. However, an important weapon against trauma is education and prevention. When communities know what to look for and how to support vulnerable children, traumatic events can be avoided and repeated trauma can be circumvented. Side by Side partners with community organizations to provide financial and emotional support systems to vulnerable families and ensure children are provided a safe and full education. Our hope is that these partnerships will decrease children’s exposure to traumatic events and foster resiliency.

Citation: Van der Kolk, Bessel A. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Viking, 2014.

5 Things to Celebrate in Embakasi

Some of the students and their mothers and guardians gather after first term.

Some of the students and their mothers and guardians gather after first term.

1. Eleven children are now included in the project

Side by Side’s original goal of providing education through at least high school for 10 children has been met and surpassed. At this point, we are coming alongside eleven individuals ages 8-20 offering educational support in school fees, books and uniforms as well as additional supports as needed individually.

Side by Side board visits Mercyline at Kimana Secondary School for Girls

Side by Side board visits Mercyline at Kimana Secondary School for Girls

Side by Side and NGCI visiting Lilian at her school, Gideon's Memorial Academy

Side by Side and NGCI visiting Lilian at her school, Gideon's Memorial Academy

2. Five girls are enrolled in the program

Orphaned girls face additional challenges as they grow into maturity and forge their place in the community. This year, Mercyline and Lilian were joined by Blessing, Claudia and Marie more than doubling our enrollment of young women.

3. Staff is growing and going further

As part of her broader duties at Nairobi Gospel Centres International (NGCI), the project has welcomed Jackie, as the coordinator for the Embakasi Project. The Embakasi Project has grown with Jackie and is now able to document and centralize more measurable data, such as school records, and personal information like career goals, and even favorite foods and music.

4. Bigger goals have been set

Side by Side has set sights higher with a new goal to support 15 children through at least high school.

Students enrolled in the Embakasi Project who attend King's Academy

Students enrolled in the Embakasi Project who attend King's Academy

5. Impact is spreading

A school in Embakasi, run by NGCI, has adopted the Embakasi Project model for their scholarship application and assessment process to support vulnerable children. The church currently supports 15 students, providing impactful education for vulnerable children.

Many teachers at the school also attended Side by Side’s initial teacher trainings. The 20 kindergarten students who attended the school at the beginning of Side by Side’s partnership in Embakasi has grown to 180 students. Now, the Kenyan government is working to introduce a new curriculum, a challenge for the academy that we believe they will meet beautifully.

Every gift you give goes straight to programs like the Embakasi Project. These milestones were only possible thanks to the generous support of our Friends and donors.

Mercelyn: A Story of Hope

Mercelyn and her little brother, Daniel

Mercelyn and her little brother, Daniel

Mercelyn is one of six children, three older daughters and three sons, who have been orphaned by HIV outside Nairobi in the Kitegela community. Unfortunately, Mercelyn's situation is similar to that of many vulnerable children. Of the estimated 15 million children orphaned by HIV, over 11.5 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.

After the deaths of her mother in 2010 and her father in 2014, Mercelyn and her younger siblings were taken in by her church, Gospel Centres International Kitegela. In addition to community and spiritual support, the church provides housing, occasional meals and school needs for Mercelyn and her three brothers while their older sisters tend to their jobs and families.

Mercelyn, and millions of young people like her, are much more likely to drop out of school. Balancing school responsibilities can seem impossible while lacking the necessary supports to pay fees, access transportation, and secure family necessities like food and shelter. A study by the National Institute of Health connects school dropouts to early sexual behavior, making these adolescents even more vulnerable to HIV. Ultimately, an education gives Mercelyn and her family the greatest chance to escape the cycle of poverty facing them.

Side by Side is excited to announce Mercelyn's acceptance into the Embakasi Children's Project so all of her school needs will be provided for. The Embakasi Children's Project is a joint effort between Side by Side and our partner organization, the Royal Diadem Centre, a Kenyan public charity. The same NIH study found that such educational interventions, rather than financial handouts, led to higher retention rates in schools. Students who received supports to keep them in school were less likely to accept domestic violence in relationships, more likely to feel appreciated or cared for by adults in their families, and more likely to put off sexual behavior until later into adulthood. 

By partnering with Royal Diadem, the Embakasi Project meets the financial and tangible needs of these children in a holistic and hands-on approach. Side by Side is proud to work through the local church and Royal Diadem Centre to present our support through the community surrounding Mercelyn and her brothers. As Mercelyn approaches her national exams this year, she is not alone. She will have the time and materials necessary for acceptance into higher education because she has found a community to come alongside.  


Funding Transitions in Fairfax

Within one of the richest counties in the nation some families still live in poverty. FACETS, a partnering organization of Side by Side, works to not only break the cycle of poverty for these families, but also to provide infrastructure to sustain the futures of the next generation. Following the expiration of the Linda's Gateway project, Side by Side will continue to support local families through FACETS' Education and Community Development (ECD) program. ECD comes alongside these families in four communities throughout the country by providing parents the support they need and working one on one with their children to promote well-being and academic success.

The ECD provides a place for these children to receive individual academic and social support after school and in the evening, a period when many parents must remain at work. Mentors teach and encourage healthy relationships and the pursuit of college degrees and careers that suit kids best. Their support has enabled 65% of children to make the Honor Roll at their schools and encourage 100% of graduating seniors to move on to higher forms of education. 

Parents can receive services in computer and financial literacy, career development and ESL as well as individualized case management to prevent eviction and find food assistance. Side by Side is excited to partner with FACETS' ECD program to provide assistance and advocacy to families in the Fairfax community that might otherwise go unnoticed. 

Children celebrate their Honor Roll acheivements 

Children celebrate their Honor Roll acheivements 

Families join students and mentors in celebrating at the Academic Achievement Banquet. 

Families join students and mentors in celebrating at the Academic Achievement Banquet. 

Kelvin Joins the Embakasi Project

The Embakasi Project works in Eastern Nairobi in partnership with our friends at Royal Diadem Centre of Excellence, to break the cycle of poverty weighing heavily on orphaned and fatherless children. Of the estimated 1.9 million orphans in Kenya, many have been abandoned by a surviving parent or other relative who is unable to provide care due to financial needs or health conditions. 

While Side by Side continues to encourage in-country adoption for children like these, the Embakasi Project focuses on providing the education they need now to one day become self-sufficient. By providing school tuitions, Side by Side relieves the guardians of that extra financial burden while Royal Diadem provides other assistance to the families. An exciting observation Royal Diadem has noticed in the field is that even by providing education for one child, his siblings will also have opportunities to learn and gain from his education. The project is currently supporting six children and four families. 

At sixteen years old, Kelvin is an exciting addition to our Embakasi Project following the expansion of the program's qualifications that opened the program to older students. Kelvin has had to learn independence at an early age. After having lost both parents, Kelvin was living alone without a bed, adequate clothing or food before a friend connected him to Royal Diadem and he was able to apply to the program. Royal Diadem has helped Kelvin enroll in a quality high school and his future is brighter because of our awesome donors!