Barry Silah @obel_barry
To Dr Patricia Chepkwony, 36, education is literally the key to freedom. Her life has revolved around the power of books and the desire to make a change in those she comes into contact with.
While growing up, the second last born child in a family of five enjoyed accompanying her father to Moi Primary School library in Kesses, Uasin Gishu county. Her parents were middle-class people who valued education.
At some point while pursuing her undergraduate studies at Moi University, she began teaching, marking her first encounter in academia. Despite her father pushing her to work in the corporate sector, her calling was more inclined towards literature and business. This is how she ended up pursuing entrepreneurship with a strong focus on the micro-enterprise sector.
Patricia says seeing some of her colleagues drop out of school to get married pushed her to make a difference.
“It was sad enough to see them quit school, but getting married off as teenagers was disheartening. This prompted me to work on a project, which is now a reality,” she adds.
The Entrepreneurship and Development studies scholar at the University of Kabianga now runs Soma Dada Initiative; a community-based library project for 200 children in Kericho county. Her love for books started at a tender age.
“Our parents were keen on education and ensured we got the best. This is how I got attached to books,” she says.
Her project started in 2015 when she moved into the village in Simatwet, Belgut constituency in the South Rift. She deemed it fit to invest in the rural setting where many people are disadvantaged.
“I Initially started it in my house where children could come and read books. I had partnered with some organisations after doing a feasibility study and we can now see the fruits. Our small library began with books bought off the street and stocked in my living room,” recalls the researcher, who also works with students in realising their goals.
The model used by Dr Chepkwony, who has taught in university for 10 years, is a cash-free programme, which has attracted many people. Through assistance from the National Library, she is now able to reach out to young people between 10 and18 years and at the moment they are using a tea-buying centre nearby.
“I believe in the two years we have made strides and want to continue inspiring change. We are now working closely with the county government to make the whole project a success,” she says.
Soma Dada Initiative currently invites professionals mostly women to talk to the children as a part of a mentorship drive. The project is targeting evaluating the language grasp and literacy level among students in the area. “The impact is such that anytime these children borrow and read a book they leave with a smile and a desire to learn even more,” says Patricia.
So far, the biggest experience according to the Mandela Washington Fellowship alumnus is the fact that partnerships that will last have been built. The programme that runs during holidays is making parents to stand up and take notice.
“Despite few challenges around resources and capacity, we are on a good path and the community support is essential,” she says. The vision is for Soma Dada Initiative to have exchange programmes and establish their own resource centre.