As part of my recent trip to Kenya, I went to visit the first major project Gennarosity Abroad founded, Grandma Jenny's Training Centre. This would also be the last time we would visit the centre as we know it today.
Grandma Jenny’s Training Centre was initially designed in 2013, to be a project that we would help launch, but then would eventually become a self-sustainable centre, owned and run by the local Karunga community. Having been developed alongside the community, our intentions were to create a centre that could be owned and run by the local community, over the years however, we were unable to realise these ambitions of self-sustainability and have had to make some hard decisions as a result.
One of our ideas to support the school was to have students learn how to make clothes and sell them to local schools. The profits from these sales were to go back into the operation costs of running the centre. Unfortunately, when put into practice we were faced with the limitations of schools only agreeing to partner with the centre if we were to pay for the partnership. Unfortunately, this behaviour does not align with our code of conduct and so we were unable to generate funding this way.
Another way we were hoping to help encourage the school to be self-sustainable was through the return of Grandma Jenny’s alumni, to help support the ongoing training and education of future cohorts. However, since being up-skilled, many graduates went on to alternate career opportunities, many outside of Kaungra, allowing them to build better lives for themselves and their families. Although this is an extremely positive outcome, it posed another hurdle to reduce costs.
Once these two options didn’t come to fruition we aimed to establish a mentorship program within the wider community. We tried to form connections with small businesses in Gilgil to have students learn new skills that Grandma Jenny’s didn’t offer. The idea was that the mentorship program would happen once a week on a Friday and as a result reduce operational costs of the centre but not at the learning expense of the students. Unfortunately, after speaking to several businesses in Gilgil this idea was terminated as there were consistent concerns about trust from the owners. Our value system is not the same as it is in Kenya. As a result we wouldn’t get the mentorship program up and running.
Outside of the challenges to convert the centre into one that is entirely self-sustainable, there have also been significant changes to needs within the Karunga community.
Since Covid, fewer people have been attending Grandma Jenny’s Training Centre. The classrooms have not been at full capacity of the 40 students we originally aimed for even though since 2019 we have been taking in male students as well. We have had to re-evaluate what we do with the funds going towards running this program and to see if there were greater opportunities for support elsewhere.
We asked the community for their advice as to how they would change the centre to become more useful for them in a way that it would be self-sustainable. This meant they could use the facility in any capacity, not just for vocational training as long as they managed the costs and operations of the centre.
Unfortunately, the community could not think of an alternative use that didn’t depend on significant funds from the charity. Core elements of community development are participation, ownership, being involved in the decision making process and empowerment. With the reality that it cannot be self-sustainable, the Gennarosity Abroad Board decided to close Grandma Jenny’s Training Centre and we will be redirecting the funds once it is sold to help support New Hope Children’s Centre and Rhonda Maternity Clinic.
It was heartbreaking to share the news with the staff from Grandma Jenny’s, who have been very loyal to the centre and its success. And they were all very appreciative of the support we have provided them over the years. Sitting together gathered around the dining table eating lunch was one of the most emotional days we had in Kenya. I may have had a tear or two in my eyes. The sheer gratitude they had towards all of you, our donors, was immeasurable. They acknowledged the sacrifice you have given to help uplift their community. So from them all, they say thank you.
Because of you, our donors, over the past 9 years over 250 students have graduated from Grandma Jenny’s Training Centre. That is at least 250 individuals and families that have had the trajectory of their lives changed.
This project has been my heart and soul since the idea was first conceived. From presenting the concept at the UN Women's Project Inspire: 5 Minutes to Change the World, to acquiring the land and having the facility first established, brick-by-brick. So, it’s been an emotional and incredibly difficult decision to make.
The centre has been a massive success during its years of operation. I do not feel in any way, shape or form that the closure is a failure. More so that we have done what we can to play our part and now it’s up to the community to come together and decide what the future will hold for the centre’s premises. We gave many students with the tools and knowledge to stand on their own two feet and as the world continues to change, we need to constantly adapt and evolve with it.
Moving forward Gennarosity Abroad wants to help Kenyans helping other Kenyans to ensure there is always local ownership, drive and motivation. My motto is we want to give a hand up, not a hand out. In other words, when we can see you are working towards helping yourself, we want to help support you too.
Thank you to everyone who has supported Grandma Jenny's Training Centre through us over the last decade. We are grateful we were able to make it this far and could not have done so without you.
Up next on our trip, was to visit New Hope Children's Centre, and to start making plans for our future.
In case you missed it, before Grandma Jenny's Training Centre, we stopped by Karunga's Emanuel Kindergarten to visit the teachers and kids, and to see how the kindy has been going over the last few years.