Two local women have been featured in a new book that chronicles their mission to reform educational standards in a small village in Kenya.
The book, written by Kris Coffin Stevenson, is titled Beneath The Baobab Tree: Where Poverty Dies and Hope Begins, and details Dr. Debra Akre and Jeana King’s work to reinvent educational practices in a small African community.
Akre and King are the founders of Tembo Trading Company, a business that uses its profits to finance educational programs in impoverished African nations. The events of the book begin in 2004 when the vice president of Kenya contacted Akre and King about managing a school he’d founded with his wife.
Akre and King approached the project as businesswomen, rather than educators or social workers. They said they believed that approaching the project with this mindset would produce a better outcome. The approach proved invaluable for the school.
In its first year, the school found success. When its first graduates took their national exams, they placed among the highest in the nation, a success rate they’ve maintained ever since.
“Our village school was ranked in position one in the district three years in a row in the national exams and number 56 nationwide,” said Benson Mutua, the school’s administrator. “Now our students have dotted virtually all the major universities in Kenya.”
He said this was achieved in the face of great challenges.
“In Kenya, higher education can be viewed as a preserve for the rich or able, but as we all know, being poor materially doesn’t mean you are poor intelligently or academically.”
Beneath the Baobab Tree describes the two women’s work with Mutua and the local community of Ngomono. Not the least of the reasons for the project’s success was the initial approach Akre and King made to the Ngomano community, whom they met, appropriately, under the town’s towering baobab tree.
“They felt they weren’t going to the village to do something for the villagers,” Stevenson wrote. “They were going to the village to do something with the villagers.”
Mutua said that the book takes the story of the women’s journey through the various trials, determined to give the students a chance to advance their academic life in a way that involved the entire community.
Beneath The Baobab Tree: Where Poverty Dies and Hope Begins is available in local bookstores, and can also be purchased directly from its publisher, Stoneydale Press, from its website, stoneydale.com