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Brosis School: Two Years Later

Miss the previous update about Brosis? Read it here.

It's been awhile since I've written about the Brosis School in Nairobi, Kenya. Almost equally as long since my time working with the students and teachers there in 2012.

Brosis, however, is still near as ever to my heart, as is its inspiraitonal founder, Abel Siro—and though my extended overseas journeying seems to have reached its conclusion, I still plan on supporting the communities and projects I was involved with over the past few years.

In this post, I hope to get you caught up with what's been going on at the school since I left.

Quick Recap

Brosis is a community-based school located slightly to the east of the affluent Karen district, in a small slum community off of Ngong Rd.

It was founded by Abel several years ago in response to a need in his community to make education available to children unable to afford it (Malezi has the same roots). The Kenyan government as yet does not provide 100% free public schooling, which leaves many thousands of children growing up in poverty without a viable option.

Though Brosis has never closed its doors since launching (and has even grown), it has consistently struggled to cover its monthly overhead expenses, totaling approximately $300, as it is sustained on very limited school fees from students and outside donations.

In 2012, I spent seven months living within walking distance of the school and worked closely with Abel in support of its overall sustainability. In that relatively short period of time, we cleaned up and beautified the school compound, launched a farm, and cultivated values in the students helpful for disrupting the poverty mindset.

This resulted in a school with a more cohesive identity, which inspired the students and teachers greatly. In addition, the changes we made had the effect of attracting over 60 new students, which further resulted in additional school fees.

Unfortunately, what we did would prove not to be enough.

Hardship Befalls Abel and Brosis

Headmaster, Abel Siro, pointing to a mural at Brosis.

Headmaster, Abel Siro, pointing to a mural at Brosis.

I used to have dinner with Abel and his wife and their daughter every Sunday.

Like many others in the area, he lives in a small, one-room home no bigger than 15'x15', deeper into the slum Brosis is situated in. It was hard to believe how they managed in such a small space, where the charcoal stove was setup inches away from the bed.

Abel is well educated and probably could carve out a "better" life for his family but has decided to dedicate himself to the service of his community because this is what gives him the greatest joy. At times, Abel and his wife have even funneled their already limited funds into Brosis to help keep the school afloat. It's this sacrifice that has always inspired me about him.

Abel was alone with his dying mother, scrambling to find money to pay the bills, all the while somehow keeping Brosis open, despite the school’s rent piling up and teachers getting anxious about not being paid.

Shortly after I left Nairobi in 2012, Abel's mother became severely ill and he was forced to move her from her home in the country, where there is little to no access to hospitals, to his already cramped home in Nairobi.

Abel became his mother's primary caretaker. Though he has brothers and sisters, Abel is looked to for leadership, given his education and fact he lives in the city. Abel's mother started accumulating expensive medical bills, which often forced Abel and his family to go without food. His wife could not bear the difficulty and took their daughter to live with her grandparents outside of Nairobi.

Abel was left alone with his dying mother, scrambling to find money to pay the bills, all the while somehow keeping Brosis open, despite the school's rent piling up and teachers getting anxious about not being paid (they earn $30/month or $1/day for around 200 hours of work).

Abel's mom died in April of 2013. Her passing took a considerable toll on Abel's spirits and livelihood. Brosis suffered as a result. Students started to leave for a new, better funded school down the road. Teachers left. The quality of education diminished. Most of the beautification work we accomplished, deteriorated. But Brosis never closed.

In this slideshow, you can see how some of the improvements we made in 2012, sadly deteriorated.

Rising Again

Abel has been recovering over the past year by working, investing in a local business, and is now standing on more solid ground with a more optimistic outlook on life. As such, his wife has returned with their daughter and they are now all living together again.

Before this crisis, Abel handled everything at the school and accommodated numerous children (up to 50% of the entire student body) who were not paying even a token for school fees. This had the effect of disengaging the parents and created an impression in the community that Brosis was a free daycare center backed up by donors.

Facing a near collapse and witnessing Abel's inability to save Brosis, many parents rallied around him and contributed what they could, realizing the value the school provides. Now, the majority of the children are paying some school fees and will continue to.

Throughout the entire ordeal, Abel and I stayed in touch. I knew what was going on and it never quite felt right to intervene in what was going on by trying to find funds for the school. Somehow I sensed he was going to be alright and needed to get through this ordeal on his own.

Below are some photos that Abel was posting on Facebook and sending me while he was in the trenches. Again, somehow he managed to keep the school open and smiles on the faces of his students.

Success of the Brosis Family Farm

I was in Nairobi in February of this year to help launch Malezi and had the opportunity to drop by Brosis. Though it was disheartening to see some of the work we did falling apart (understandable given the story), I was amazed to bear witness to the spectacle of a fully flourishing farm.

With $500 in 2012, we converted an unused piece of land behind the school into a farm with an idea to raise enough crops to provide food for the students' lunch and be sold on the market. Our dreams were dampened some after watching most of the newly planted crops get swallowed up during the rainy season, as the land was not properly irrigated to prevent water stagnation.

Abel informed me it has been a learning process with finding a solution and that he and another Brosis volunteer have put a great deal of effort into digging out a trench system, which now successfully diverts rain allowing for successful harvesting. The result is a farm that is fairly regularly providing for the students' lunch, which has also become a tool to teach children basic farming skills and the values associated with them.

It was inspiring to see this project take on a life of its own and the amount of care (and money) that went into it after I left. A little more about this development, including video, here.

You can clearly see the progress with the farm in this slideshow.

Moving Forward

Brosis is a labor of love. It is Abel's service calling and a refuge for children who otherwise would be out on the streets all day. Brosis changes lives. I've seen it firsthand.

Absent a large cash infusion, Abel and the school will have to continue to struggle along. Their model is inherently unsustainable but good enough to keep the doors open and students enrolled.

Here and there, I expect to launch fundraising campaigns to help meet the various needs that come up and will continue to post updates as I hear about them.

If you have been inspired by our work, please consider joining with us and donating to help keep the school going. You can do so securely here.

Continue to next Brosis update and meet one of their students.

C. LowmanComment