They don’t need more fish. They don’t need fishing poles. What the women of St. Columba’s Vocational Centre in Kitui, Kenya, need is the IT training they have been waiting for.Racheal came to St. Columbas to study fashion and design. She designs clothes and jewelry and dreams of opening her own business when she finishes. Her family is eager for her success, both because they want to see their daughter and sister’s talents appreciated and enhanced, and because Racheal is responsible in paying the school feeds of her younger siblings.
Two weeks ago, students and staff from Strathmore University in Nairobi traveled to Kitui to visit the girls at St. Columba’s. Interning with the Community Outreach programme at Strathmore, I was lucky enough to tag along. They visit monthly and while they give leadership training to the St. Columba’s teens, the university women always leave feeling that they are the ones who have learned something.
In my brief conversations with Racheal over the course of the two days we spent in Kitui, I too found my sixteen-year-old Yoda. With ambitious career goals in mind, Racheal explained to me why she was so grateful to be here. She had always loved design and had worked hard in primary school. When it was time to enroll in secondary school, however, she felt pulled in another direction. Her mind was in a different place, designing dresses and imagining fashion shows. As her sketches and pieces showed, her “feeling” was not just a feeling, but meaningful talent.
Full utilization of that talent is frustrated though, by lack of training on the tools that are even readily available to Racheal. She is just beginning to learn how to use email. Having to catch up and be up to speed with modern fashion will require accelerated training in design skills in software. Increased efficiency, product presentation, advertising, and access to a profitable, targeted market are all at stake. Computer skills are not an option; they are must. Racheal’s ability to pursue her career professionally hinges on this simple training.
The late Steve Jobs was not the only one to realize that not every mind thrives in red brick—and Apple was far from being the only successful business founded by an autodidact. To believe that the university is the only path to success, intelligence, or development is to deny the successes and talents of an entire population who actively and consciously choose what might be called “more traditional vocations.” Whether we acknowledge them or not, these industries exist and prosper in Kenya, alongside the numerous universities that have sprung up in the last twenty years.
The pond is stocked, and with a variety of industries. Mobilization via opportunities for continuing IT education are on the other hand, wanting. This particular vocational school in Kitui is one of many whose teachers are thirsty for the technological resources and training to supplement their instruction. These are the tools needed to grow their students future businesses into sustainable, profitable companies.