BY VICTOR ADAR
When Jacqueline Mathaga took to the podium to talk about the 13th edition of Family Group Eldoret Half Marathon that is expected to take place in October 2019, the foundation manager stated clearly that apart from the already existing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) angle, objective is also to support a course. For one thing, CSR models, though changing have been viewed with what Ms Mathaga terms “a lot of scientism”.
The sponsorship kitty, currently valued at Sh12 million, has been boosted by the sister companies under the Family Group Foundation banner that brings together Family Bank, Daykio Plantations, Kenya Orient Insurance, Kenya Orient Life Assurance and Alpha Africa Asset Managers. This year’s race will feature three categories; 21 kilometres for both men and women and a 5-kilometre family fun race/corporate race. Winners of the men’s and women’s race will take home Sh350,000 each, an increase of Sh100,000 compared to last year’s prize money. At the same time, the first and second runners-up will bag 250,000 and 150,000 respectively.
While it would be the foundation’s desire to add more sports, for now a marathon would attract a lot of people – both runners and spectators, and it makes advocating for a cause more effective. So far for this year, Ms Mathaga says, the sponsors on board include AAR Insurance, Brainwave Communications, Maisha Water and the Eldoret County Government.
Most of the corporate companies today have no doubt in transforming society by having a course. Try to picture “seeing is believing”, Standard Chartered Nairobi International Marathon’s initiative that was launched in 2003 in a move to tackle avoidable blindness and visual impairment. Safaricom Marathon is another sporting event that for 20 years has been taking place at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Meru County. As the influence of CSR activities are being felt across the country, the story is a reminder of how the landscape is changing so much that sponsors must out think.
“The biggest challenge for anyone wanting to carry out a Corporate Social Responsibility project is of course availability of enough funding,” Ms Mathaga points out. “In order for a CSR project to be sustainable, it must continue to have impact long after the donor has exited. This is exactly why we believe that funding education and inclusion will continue to reap benefits for communities across Kenya.”
Ms Mathaga who started off her career as a management trainee for a FMCG company and discovered her passion for sustainability and community impact work along the way firmly believes that organisations can harness more resources for the benefit of the people they draw profits from and that puts a smile on her face. For 10 years, the holder of Masters degree in Public Administration says, one of the aims of this Eldoret Marathon is to nurture talent while also using the proceeds to fund inclusive education, specifically for children on the autism spectrum.
Actually, the foundation’s pillars are in education, health and economic empowerment with a particular focus on young persons and so the addition of the Disability Inclusive Education program is fitting. The issues of inclusive Education and nurturing talent cannot be exclusive to one, two, three or just four companies. It probably calls for more strategic individual and corporate sponsors.
“We view ourselves as partners with the government in improving access to education for Kenyan children. We as Kenyans want to see persons with disabilities included in every facet of society. In order for this inclusion to happen, especially in work places, we need to ensure that access for those with disabilities begins at nursery and primary school,” she explains, adding that with autism, learners affected have a better chance of overcoming the challenges this disability poses when interventions begin at a young age.
With the advent of free primary education a while back in 2003, access to education for Kenyan children from all walks of life became achievable. This however did not automatically translate for children with disabilities. Disabilities like autism are often associated with stigma as those affected are viewed as having mental illnesses and therefore are shunned or labelled cursed or demon possessed. This has over time stopped parents from taking their children to school, in a bid to protect them.
There is also the matter of a lack of infrastructure. Free primary school meant that a much larger number of children could now access the same number of classrooms and teacher resources. But when resources are stretched, those with disabilities get marginalised. One teaching 50 children in a class is unlikely to pay attention to one or two children who are autistic or have dyslexia, dysphagia, and even dyscalculia. These children therefore get left behind and school becomes more of a babysitting service.
“We are asking other organisations to join us in sponsoring the Marathon so that we can drive more resources towards the building of classrooms and therefore increase access for those who struggle to get admissions in school. Children with autism have unique needs that require extra funding but they can learn right along their peers. If primary school education is free for the Kenyan child, then it should be so for the child with autism as well. This has so far not been the case as classrooms and resources have not been available across the nation,” says Mathaga.
Family Group has been able to partner with the Ministry of Education (MoE). MoE has a vibrant policy on inclusion that can be supported by the private sector providing much needed infrastructure. MoE has trained special education teachers who are in places where classes have not been set aside in public schools to teach other subjects or teach in private schools where parents of autistic learners have to pay thousands of shillings for their children to learn.
By making classrooms available in public schools, she says, parents of children with autism will have the same access for their children as those who are neurotypical. They no longer have to pay out of pocket for a resource the government gives free of charge. Classrooms are important, as it is on these spaces that children with autism can receive the extra care they need in order to begin to be at par with their neurotypical peers. Ensuring classrooms exist in public schools also means that those with disabilities learn and play right alongside those without disabilities. It also ensures that the care of these children remains the responsibility of their parents and community.
There are children who will at some point need extra ordinary care that can perhaps be provided in special schools, however a majority of children with autism require to live and learn in the same environment they will grow up in. Having children with any kind of disability in a public school setting also teaches other children that disability is part of us and it prepares them for the possibility that they may one day have children with a disability. No parent asks to have a child with a disability and so seeing disabilities as part of life reduces stigma and raises acceptance and inclusion.
The course will of course spread across all the 47 counties – Eldoret acts as a model. But as corporates continue to support initiatives beyond their core business, transforming one county at a time, low moments abound. For something substantial to be realised, players must always look at the bigger picture. .