The Maji Mazuri Headstart School is a school in the heart of Mathare Valley which was set up to provide care and education to the youngest residents of one of East Africa’s largest slums.
The school was originally started in 2004, as a side effect of a microfinance initiative for local women. The programme managers realised that when the women set up small businesses, they were often unable to provide proper care for their children at home. Tragically, several women lost their children when their homes caught fire. Other children were exposed to rape, prostitution and loitering in the streets. To address these problems, the microfinance programme coordinators created a daycare centre to take care of the children as their mothers went about their businesses.
Since 2004, the school has grown and grown. It now caters to over 550 students from pre-schoolers up to fifteen-year-olds. In the past five years alone, the school has doubled in size. Today, the school is run by 22 members of staff including 17 teachers, a Programme coordinator, an administrator, two cooks, and a security guard. Additionally, the School has two Talent Coaches for the Talent Development Program.
Headstart follows the Kenyan government’s curriculum, which allows the children of Mathare to sit national examinations and go on to attend high school where possible. In many cases, when children leave Headstart they attend one of the country’s boarding schools which provides them with an opportunity to leave Mathare and this increases their chances of a better life after school.
In addition to basic education, the school provides a feeding programme, which has been found to reduce absenteeism and improve academic performance. Each day, students are given tea at 10 am and a hot meal for lunch. Because many of the students come from humble backgrounds, their parents are not always able to provide food and the students depend on the feeding programme. As of the start of 2020, the costs of the feeding programme were about $1,700 USD per month.
As with each of the Maji Mazuri programmes, Headstart is set up on grassroots principals. The School Management Committee is composed of two parents from each class, as well as the programme coordinator and the headteacher. As a result, the school has incredibly strong community ties, and the decision-making process maximises the benefit to the children and the community in general.