Increasing access to education and technology in Kenya

By Jalixa Mancebo | November 17, 2021 | Africa & The Middle East | Education, Youth Empowerment

In Nairobi, Oasis Mathare empowers children and young people from the Mathare slums through educational programs and vocational training. GFC interviewed the organization’s Founder and Director, Douglas Mwangi, to learn more about his story, Oasis Mathare’s mission, and its longtime partnership with GFC. 

Growing up in Nairobi’s Mathare slums, in Kenya, Douglas Mwangi experienced some of the challenges facing his community – including poverty and difficulties accessing education – firsthand.

Douglas smiling. © Oasis Mathare

At age 14, Douglas couldn’t transition to high school due to financial struggles. He left school to work as a barber so that he could help support his family. He aspired to achieve the lifestyle of the head barber at the shop, who had a two-bedroom iron sheet and mud home with a color TV. However, many of Douglas’s clients convinced him that he needed to finish his education. The decision to return to school and stop cutting hair wasn’t easy. In Douglas’s case, it meant choosing the classroom over money for food and shelter. 

“I was making ten dollars a month as a barber. Where I’m from, that’s hard to give up,” Douglas explained. 

However, Douglas left his chair at the barbershop and returned to school. It was at school that Douglas discovered his love for digital technology. He realized that no one in his community, including him, should have to live without access to the digital world and quality education. This moment ignited Douglas’s call to action. Douglas wanted to ensure the children and youth in his community had the necessary tools and support to succeed in school. 

In 2014, Douglas founded Oasis Mathare, which provides a safe space for children to play, work on their homework, gain valuable skills, and access computers and the internet. Oasis Mathare’s programs include offering access to technology for kids as young as 3 years old; monthlong programs in engineering and problem-solving for young people ages 7 to 18; and providing children with the opportunity to go on trips to museums and other educational spaces in Nairobi. The organization also offers an economic empowerment program for older youth.

GFC first began partnering with Oasis Mathare in 2018. Douglas said that GFC’s support, which goes beyond funding and includes capacity development and networking, has helped Oasis Mathare to grow. 

Oasis Mathare has adapted quickly to support children and youth during the pandemic. After learning that many children in Mathare were struggling to access their classwork due to limited internet access, Oasis Mathare invented a text message tool to help these kids get their classwork while schools were closed.

Young children who participate in Oasis Mathare programs. © Oasis Mathare

“Our system is free. It can be easily accessible by anyone with a phone and that phone doesn’t have to be a smartphone or a feature phone,” Douglas explained. “As long as that phone can send or receive texts, you’re good to go.”

Oasis Mathare has had a profound impact on children in Mathare by helping them develop their literacy and technology skills. It has also inspired students to pursue technology careers. Some of the children who have participated in Oasis Mathare’s programs have even gone on to become software engineers. The organization has also been contacted by other youth groups who want to replicate its model.

Douglas summed up his philosophy on community empowerment as, “Think big, start small, and enjoy the process. It will never be easy, but it is worth it.” 

Header photo: Young people using computers at Oasis Mathare. © Oasis Mathare

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