We’re raising funds to support our global charity of the year, St Martin’s School, so they can continue their outstanding work empowering students in Kenya to build their futures. We spoke to Alfred Aswan from the school, on the impact of technology, raising money and what it means for the children of St Martin’s.
I joined back in December 2008. I joined the school as an accountant and had the position for nine years. In 2018, we started looking for more sponsors and sponsorships, and I was promoted to work as Program Liaison for the sponsorship program, which is my current position.
St Martins has two schools—the primary school that currently has 800 students, and a secondary school. We offer education mainly from preschool all the way to grade eight. Then there is secondary education, which is from form one to form four. It’s essentially grade nine to grade twelve.
We’ve also started working closely with the community, because often you realize that helping the children without helping the background they come from doesn’t help them as much. That’s why we started the community empowerment program back in 2018. This empowers the mothers of children that we support here at the school to be able to support themselves. In return, they can support their families.
So we are an all-around institution, with the intention of empowering both the parents and children that we support here through education.
A typical day for me is looking at what is in the best interests of the school. Currently, I’m in charge of fundraising so a typical day is finding people to donate to the school or to renew existing sponsorships, that is what I do from Monday to Friday. The busiest time for me is the months of January to April because that is when our school calendar starts, so it’s when we need to raise funds to be able to support the school throughout the course of the year.
There are several ways. First, Salesforce is one of our partners, we’ve worked with them since 2003—they were the first company to help us install the internet into the school. We’ve been using Salesforce’s non-profit database to manage the program since 2018 too, so close to five years now. They also help us through their employee matching program. Their employees are able to sponsor children from our school and then the company matches the same amount. So, through that, Salesforce has been able to support most of our programs.
There are also the employee volunteering trips. Through these trips, we’re able to get more people to help us and this, in return, helps the school generate more income. We’re also able to get grants to do some major things in our school. For example, they helped us install solar here, and with the water needs in the school by helping us drill a borehole. So Salesforce is a very important partner, and we always look to them in terms of donations, through the company and its employees, with time and money.
It helps the teachers in so many ways, for example they are able to get content from outside of what I’d call their comfort zone. They can use it to interact with teachers from other schools and get knowledge, share exams and such. In return, this helps them work with the students and improve their performance.
Another aspect is that we used to have to do things manually, in terms of marking sheets and exam results. Thanks to technology, we’ve been able to have more teachers embrace the use of computers, reducing the burden placed on one person having to do the task, and then share that with others, which also helps save time as well.
We’ve also found that we have more kids interested in school by virtue of computers. Being able to play educational games on their computers has helped motivate most of the kids to attend school. We can see there has been a massive improvement in terms of enrolment and attendance in school, and have had quite a number of students joining us to do computer classes. Initially, we didn’t have many students doing computer school as most of them were not used to it, but in the last two years since we launched our computer labs, we’ve had quite a lot of interest in terms of children who enrol for these classes.
Some of the skills we have been able to teach our students has given them a chance to decide their own futures. We are thinking of introducing coding as a concept next and would love to fit it into our school calendar. The whole idea of introducing coding is to have a skill set for students from an early age—something that they can use no matter when they finish their education with us. It’s a skill they can use to develop and empower themselves.
We have one student currently doing computer technology in one of our local universities and he’s also working on helping setting the community up on a blockchain. That’s one aspect that’s coming out of it. Another student who has benefitted greatly from their time at the school is a girl who took computer science. She’s into her third year at university now—luckily, thanks to her interest in technology she has been invited to do two internships in Europe. Through these students, we continue to learn what is important and what we can do to elevate the next generation of students from our school.
Lab refurbishment is something that comes to mind because most of the equipment we currently have was donated to us some years back. Some of our computers are more than 13 years old, so as time progresses they become slower and harder to use, and also consume a lot of power. So, lab refurbishment is a key aspect that we can look into in terms of making sure that the kids have ease of access to the computers.
We’ve also had an increase in the number of students in the last few years, a number that is set to rise further. So, we need help in terms of creating more space so we can have more computers for kids to learn. Another aspect that is important is the internet. It is still a costly affair in school and in this time and age the internet is everything, so finding someone to help us finance this in school would be valuable. Volunteers are another big thing for us—we need people who are willing to teach some of the students for maybe an hour or two a day, to help them with their computer skills. Any other resources that the kids can use is an advantage.
Fundraising is a crucial aspect for our school and it’s one of the ways that we survive as an institution. First and foremost, we don’t have an income because most of our kids are from the slum just outside the school. Most of them cannot afford to even pay school fees, this also applies to most of the girls in our high school. We don’t receive any source of funding from the government either, so we rely entirely on well-wishers to help us fulfil most of our activities.
We do fundraisers most of the time, but it’s not easy because there are so many things that have come up in terms of ways people want to get involved with the world, aspects such as climate change. But given our focus is primarily on education, which is one of the pillars of the UN’s sustainable goals, we still believe that we have a part to play, which is why fundraising from our donors is so important.
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