Part 2: Mothers of the Forest Academy, Boré

We are delighted to bring you Part 2 of our special report – click here for Part 1 – written by Michael Jefwa, the tutor of our women’s empowerment group, the Mothers of the Forest:

With no doubt, many people around the globe will be surprised to see this article, but none more than the members of the Mothers of the Forest Academy, Boré, also called MOFAB.

Most of the women in our community never got the privilege of going to school like other ladies in the developed cities like Nairobi and the outside world. The majority of the Mothers were forced to marry at an early age and the dowries that were paid for them, went on to support their families. So many never went to school at all.

Other Mothers got a small amount of primary school learning but could not proceed with it because of the poverty levels in the region that forced them to forego their basic right to education. It is no wonder, as most of the families these women come from, are poor and needy.

school books from the Mothers of the ForestRegardless of the fact that lots of the Mothers were illiterate when I started giving my lessons in February 2019, in my opinion they have formed the most hard working group of people in almost all sectors. Now they can read and write a bit and do some maths, they can benefit themselves and the country’s economy.

Whenever you go around the region, in almost all the trading centres, you are likely to meet mainly women operating small businesses like selling fried fish, or working in cafes where they sell traditional fast moving foods and drink like tea and coffee.

Generally, they only stop the work to cultivate their shambas during the rainy seasons. These are the lucky women. The ones who have learned how to count and read. Kenya needs more of them but it is hard and some think it’s embarrassing for them to go back to a traditional school to do this.

The Mothers of the Forest Academy, Boré was started with the aim of empowering the tree planting women of this region by giving them knowledge and skills that would transform their lives positively. The shared learning would also encourage them to plant more trees and initiate projects that benefit the entire community. For the last whole year, the Mothers of Boré have been doing a great job of giving awareness on the importance of trees, as well as participating in big tree planting events (and other environmental events) in the area.

Over the last 4 months, the learning has gone well and I’ve seen great improvements coming along with the efforts employed by the women. As so many missed the privilege of attending structured classes when they were young, I was worried at first, but I can say they are honestly enjoying formal education. Along with other fundamental privileges, the Mothers have warmly grabbed this golden opportunity in their life. We are all grateful that education has found a way to the Mothers to open up new opportunities and right now 40 mothers are benefiting from this learning project.

The women are divided into 3 classes according to their capabilities and experiences. The first class comprise of 25 Mothers who encounter formal education for the first time. We are calling them the beginners. They are learning how to write by scribbling, writing and identifying the letters of the alphabets. I have helped them learn how to hold pencils by drawing join-the-dot shapes of things like trees. They have to trace a simple line from dot-to-dot, around them. This makes the small muscles in their hands get used to holding something to write with.

The second class comprise all Mothers who dropped out part way through their primary school education. They are learning simple grammar rules in both written and spoken Kiswahili and some English too. They are coping very well doing their learning in two languages.

My third class comprise Mothers who completed Standard eight, but they dropped out of secondary school for various reasons. (All primary school pupils sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination at the end of the school year in Standard eight). This is a much smaller group and when I am busy with the other classes, some of the Mothers take turns to stand up and lead their group, which is helping them build up their self-confidence too.

All Mothers are eager to learn. They have their two exercise books and a pencil or pen, and these are very precious to them. This is where they complete their homework. To them, learning has been always funny and interactive with a lot of constructive ideas put in. Every woman participates actively in all learning sessions with a lot of commitment, zeal and enthusiasm. Their interest to learn new things every day is most wonderful and inspiring for me to see.

Their devotion and driving curiosity has made my teaching easier, I am attending all the three classes within the allocated two hours for the lessons. After just the 8 lessons we have had so far, my beginners are all able to identify, write and read the letters of the alphabet. This motivates me the most.

My second class learners are now able to write simple compositions about themselves, families, friends and neighbours in Kiswahili and English, using simple grammar rules.

Students of the Mothers of the Forest Boré groupMy third class is fantastic. Here I have Mothers who are learning all about speech and they practise in written and spoken English too. After their assessment test, which is due before the end of May, I will be practising speech writing and presenting, debating and letter writing with them. This will expand their skills and give them confidence communicating in English – in the primary schools here in Kenya, the children learn most of their lessons in English, so this knowledge will help the Mothers understand what their children are doing at school as well. This will help everyone in the family and it will give the youngsters extra support with their studies.

Introducing classes to the Mothers of the Forest has not only added a tangible value to all the activities they do at the Boré Community Forest Centre, but also created a sense belonging to the Word Forest Organisation, as well as restructuring their future.

They have a powerful interest and passion to continue learning, hence none of them want to miss a class unless something really difficult has happened, maybe someone is very ill. Their love for education has double increased my intensity to teach them more and further my own studies to gain more knowledge and skill as a teacher.

Surely I can’t wait to see the Mothers of the Forest during their meeting days at the Forest Centre. How I wish we had more than the two meeting days in a month.

It’s fantastic seeing them all turn up for their lessons in their beautiful white T-shirts with the tree logo on. They act as uniform of the MOFAB. During our meeting days, the Forest Centre looks like a college of its own. This is because both theory and practical classes are taught and you can see them enjoying sharing their knowledge about trees and also making bangles and other beautiful ornaments using many different materials, which helps raise money for their group.

I am very proud of our newly founded Academy for the Mothers of the Forest and I hope we can open more groups in the future to help empower more women in Kenya and maybe other parts of Africa too.

Thanks everyone for supporting this learning.

Michael Jefwa
Head Teacher of the Mothers of the Forest Academy, Boré.