In early 2009, four students from Columbia University’s International Affairs program visited Jitegemee to conduct an independent professional assessment of our vocational program. The complete report, including all data and recommendations, is available by clicking here.
This January I travelled with Emma San Segundo Riesco from New York City to Machakos, Kenya. Emma and I had been working on our Masters in International Affairs and fervently studying everything about development and Kenya we thought might help us on this trip. Our first day in Machakos, teacher Elizabeth Nzivo brought us around town, where we met with seamstresses, carpenters, and mechanics who told us their everyday problems, talked about paying for their siblings’ school, and spoke confidently about what they had gained from Jitegemee in terms of courage and friends. Our job was to take these stories and somehow reconcile them with our Columbia “book knowledge” to conduct an impact assessment of Jitegemee’s Vocational Training Program.
Every night when we returned to our hotel room, Emma and I typed pages of notes into our computers, looking for key words and phrases, trends in students’ answers, and recording our observations of the town and people. The next day we would go out again, this time meeting with parents to ask them what they hoped their children would gain from Jitegemee, or how they had seen their son or daughter change during the program. I won’t say our book knowledge became irrelevant on the ground— it didn’t. But what did happen was a slow realization that to assess the Jitegemee program we needed to use criteria that the Jitegemee staff, parents, students and mentors deemed valuable. To impose our personal, or Columbia’s, academic criteria, would not do justice to the hopes, desires and values of Jitegemee’s students.
Upon our return to New York and with the help of our other two team members, Greg Nichols and JeongMin Cha, we used the information we’d gathered to come up with indicators for success as defined by the Jitegemee community. They are:
1. Satisfying social relationships
2. Ability to live life based on good values
3. Ability to live a healthy life, for my age
4. Ability to financially support myself
5. Ability to engage in leisure activities
6. Satisfaction with achievements in the workplace
7. Ability to find meaningful work
8. Feeling of physical safety
9. Ability to feel spiritually fulfilled
10. Suitability of vocational training
11. Extent training met expectations
12. Ability to freely associate with the community
13. Feeling of confidence
14. Level of excitement about learning
With surveys, interviews and other activities based on these indicators ready, Min and Greg returned to Machakos in March to gather data. They talked to many people and even were convinced to buy a suit and dress respectively from a particularly good Jitegemee saleswoman!
After analyzing their extensive quantitative and qualitative data, our team found that Jitegemee has had a huge positive effect on almost every indicator. The greatest positive effects were seen through Jitegemee students and graduates’ success in the following areas: communication, education, spirituality, good behavior, safety from police, confidence, stress level, and desire to work. The rehabilitation class is having a large impact on students’ social abilities and behavior, and students are benefiting from greater income and professional ability. 82% of students who were interviewed were employed. 62% of vocational graduates reported being the primary breadwinners in their home, while none of the students who were just starting the program reported being the breadwinner. Students were also much more confident after the rehabilitation program— one student said that “In Jitegemee, I learned about myself and that I am a good person.”
I remember Emma and me thinking after the January trip—”How are we going to help this organization improve? It’s already amazing!” While our data analysis corroborated this initial observation, it did reveal some areas in which Jitegemee can expand or improve its impact.
First, we found that boys are typically earning lower profits than girls. Second, Jitegemee students had experienced a huge decrease in their contact with police, but were still in some danger at home and/or in their communities. Third, we found that Jitegemee students and mentors with higher educational levels were more successful both in the rehabilitation program and in their careers. Lastly, because mentors themselves worked on a commission basis and had varying levels of training themselves, some students were less prepared for their trade than others.
Based on these findings, my team made several recommendations to Jitegemee to improve its program and expand its impact. We would like to profusely thank Mike, Elizabeth, Mwelu, Alex and all the students, graduates, and mentors for their hospitality and for making this analysis possible. This is a fantastic organization and we are excited to see it continue its great work in Machakos.
By Kerstin Ahlgren