A More Sustainable Brosis
Miss the previous update about Brosis? Read it here.
For years, our Brosis School in Nairobi, which offers the hope of education to children growing up poor and without any other option for going to school, has struggled to keep up with its expenses and keep its doors open.
Remarkably though, somehow, someway Brosis's founder and head teacher, Abel Siro, through all the challenges (landlord repeatedly threatening eviction, inability to pay teachers or provide lunch regularly, flooded classrooms) and near collapses, has always managed to keep the school afloat and in service.
Because of high rent (approx. $130/month) and low income from students who can barely afford the $3 in school fees asked per month, which in many cases is waved for the truly needy, Brosis's model has been inherently unsustainable. Up until now.
Living Smile recently received a donation to invest in a promising Income Generating Activity (IGA) to create supplemental income Abel can use to support Brosis, replicating the self-sustaining model we use at Malezi.
When I talk about Brosis, I usually mention that the school has survived, mainly, because of Abel's sacrifice and incredible sense of resilience. He just won't give up, even that means blows to his personal life, of which he has taken many.
In the last article I wrote about Brosis, I reported on some of Abel's more recent woes including the passing of his mother, whose medical bills so drained his financial resources that his family could no longer afford to eat. As a result, his wife took his only daughter and went to live with her parents. Even still and while taking care of his dying mom, Abel kept the school open.
Understandably, Brosis suffered in kind during this time. Students and teachers left. The landlord was demanding payment for outstanding rent (Living Smile supporters helped greatly in this regard, offering donations). And the conditions on the compound deteriorated. But the school stayed open.
After Abel's mom died, he started the process of rebuilding his life and has done an outstanding job at it. He got his finances under control. His wife and child have returned. And he is more committed than ever — figuring if this ordeal didn't sink the ship, then nothing can — to ensuring the continued success of the school.
I met Abel a couple of times on my most recent visit to Kenya in April. He was in much better shape than when I had seen him the year before, and the school, also, was in much better shape in terms of its cleanliness, appearance, and overall organization.
For some time, my partners and I have been stressing the need for Abel to start an Income Generating Activity—a small business whose profits would help support the school in the absence of sufficient school fees from students. Relatively speaking, these projects are somewhat costly to launch and the timing was never quite right, given what Abel had going on and his responsibilities at the school. He was stretched too thin.
However, Sara, Abel's wife, is now managing Brosis full time, which has enabled Abel to focus on big picture issues—he is no longer bogged down in the day-to-day of the school. Abel informed me that a friend of his had recently donated a plot of land in a section of town (Ngong) about 30 mins. away from Brosis, and that he had ideas about how to use it for a poultry project to create extra income for the school.
I asked for a budget, said I would think about it, and that we would discuss how to move forward or not with it.
I received a budget of 62,000 KSh or a little over $600 to build a setup to raise 120 chickens in. The egg market, believe it or not, is booming in Nairobi and Abel foresaw being able to earn a minimum of 15,000 KSh or $150/month through the sale of eggs. That's more than enough to cover Brosis's rent and, when combined with school fees, would be enough to sustain the school. Further down the road, the chickens could be sold for well over $1,000, and with that would come a sizable chunk for savings. New chicks could then be purchased, starting the cycle all over again.
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In the immediate aftermath of receiving the budget, my friend, Kate Carter, (whose US-based non-profit, LifeChronicles, acts as Living Smile's fiscal sponsor) informed me that her mentor — who was on her death bed at the time — wanted to give me $1,000, after Kate explained the kind of work that I do.
I was taken aback, as I have been before, when money arrives without asking for it, right as a need arises. If it had not been for this unexpected donation, I would not have been able to consider Abel's proposal seriously.
After informing my project partners of the donation and Abel's intention to start this poultry project, we all agreed that granting him the money to start was the right thing to do. He is ready.
Abel has built himself a makeshift home so he can live in proximity to where the poultry project will be located, as he will need to dedicate significant time to it. This week, he will be given the funds to start building the chicken coop and early on in July, he should be fully underway.
So much humanitarian aid that is given has the "filling pothole" mentality. It treats the surface level issue but doesn't necessarily solve the deeper, root causes. We could have tried to find a sponsor to cover Abel's rent and salary for teachers, and probably could have found one with enough time and effort.
But why not invest the same time and effort into an income-generating project as this, which turns Abel into his own sponsor and resource? This is the way we feel humanitarian aid should work, i.e., by giving a hand up vs. a hand out.