The history of Kianda College is closely associated with the history of Kenya and faced the same challenges, which were overcome one by one: opposition to a multi-racial school (Kianda was the first women’s college to admit students of all races); difficulty in convincing African fathers to allow their daughters to study a hitherto unknown to them career in Nairobi; lack of financial means which greatly limited the number of African girls who could come to the College, etc. In 1963, with the arrival of Independence, things changed drastically. The colonial administration ceased, and with it came the departure en masse of the European women who had been holding secretarial posts in government and private offices. Well-trained African secretaries were at a premium, and Kianda College past students found themselves occupying top posts as private secretaries in a very short space of time. The story of their success is the story of Kianda College, which now has some 7,000 past students all over the world, and a veritable network throughout Kenya and Africa.
In order to cope with the demand, and to make it possible for students from all over East Africa to benefit from this training, a residence block for 100 students was built, financed largely by a German NGO, and opened by the First Lady, Her Excellency Mama Ngina Kenyatta, on 28th October, 1966. Girls from all races and backgrounds shared rooms of five in the new family-style, four storey residence block, and lasting friendships were forged among them.
In view of the urgent need for trained secretaries in government and private offices, and the growing awareness of the need to promote women of this country, government and commercial organizations collaborated with Kianda through a sponsorship scheme by means of which school leavers were given full tuition, residence fees, and pocket-money, in exchange for a commitment to work with the sponsoring body for a stipulated number of years on completion of the training. This system worked very well and most of the Kenyan students in the ‘1960’s and ‘1970’s studied under this scheme. As Kianda provided not only technical skills, but also sound character and personality formation through its unique tutorial system and its professional ethics classes, the students developed into women of integrity as well as self-confident professionals. In 1968 the Honourable Tom Mboya, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, made reference to these characteristics in a speech given at Kianda. “The most important task is that of helping to develop healthy, intelligent and creative young people –people who will play an important part in the development of our nation- and the development of our nation includes its moral and spiritual development. There must be certain values in man, certain principles, certain ideals and certain standards of behaviour. We, in the Government, are very happy with the products of Kianda College in every department in which they have been employed. I have not heard any word of criticism. Kianda College has taken her place among the most distinguished secretarial colleges.”
A prominent business woman in Kenya today –Mrs. Evelyn Mungai Eldon – was the first African girl to study in Kianda College in 1962. Sponsored by the East African Community, she quickly rose to a management position and now is the Director of several companies and runs the Evelyn College of Design of which she is both founder and owner. She retains a great affection for Kianda.
Meanwhile, in 1961 the first students arrived to take up in-service catering in the training school run by Kianda Foundation staff and attached to Strathmore College. The standards of building and equipment were a new experience for all of them, but by early 1962 some had already learned enough to qualify for a catering career and to successfully run an institution. The number of applicants grew as the years passed. In 1967 the school, by then registered as Kibondeni School of Catering doubled its intake, with another group of students boarding at the catering department of the new Kianda Residence; for many of them the course at Kibondeni provided their first experience of living with girls from other tribes. It was urgent to provide proper classrooms for the theory classes, and with the fundraising help of the Kianda Foundation Ladies’ Auxiliary –a group of women who volunteered their time and expertise- two additional classrooms were built, and for many years they were the “campus” for more than 1,000 students from all over the country and from all ethnic groups. On completion of their studies most returned to their districts where they worked in hotels, restaurants, tourist resorts, hospitals, schools, youth polytechnics and similar institutions. In 1969 Kibondeni was authorized to issue its own certificates at the end of the training, thus becoming an educational institution in its own right. Graduates were in great demand. In fact, on some occasions job advertisements have specified “only Kibondeni graduates need apply”.
In 1989, with the assistance of ICU (an Italian NGO) and the European Economic Community, a new phase of Kibondeni School was built, incorporating more classrooms and staff accommodation. Again in 1991, with the help of ICU and EC, a further phase was built to allow for the admission of day students, and in 2004 thanks to FISC and the Basque government, Kibondeni expanded to include a new campus with more classrooms, catering facilities and a computer room. Kibondeni now caters for some 250 students yearly between boarding and day courses.
Professional outlets for the students are many, as Kenya has developed its tourism industry and become the base for a number of international organizations. The demand for trained personnel is constantly growing, especially given the need for standards and maintenance. This is an important part of the training given at Kibondeni, and one of the reasons for its success. Other Kibondeni graduates return to their home areas and help with outreach programmes, to raise the standard of living. There are past students working all over Kenya and in six other countries of Africa: Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Congo, Uganda and South Africa.
Margaret Nyokabi, now in the Democratic Republic of Congo, wrote to Kibondeni:
“My grandfather used to have a walking stick which was an essential part of his means of going around, sure of his step. I would like to call Kibondeni my walking stick. All I know professionally as well as my personality, I learnt from Kibondeni. And what are these things? How to cater for a large number of people, providing meals on time, at the required temperature, for some three hundred people or more (…). Another aspect I learned was about personality. The teacher told us that we had to be “women 100%”, the way we talk, walk, carry ourselves, whether in school, kitchen or on the street. I felt great, it was fantastic and I had a proud feeling inside me, for ever having come to this school, where I was being taught how to be a first class worker and if I can put it this way, a first class woman; I loved it all”.
The past students of Kianda College who had married and were bringing up families wanted a school where their children could learn in the same family atmosphere they themselves had experienced. In 1977 Kianda School began with 40 girls in two classrooms borrowed from Kianda Residence. In 1980 a school block was built with donor funds while the parents raised the money for four laboratories, equipped with science material donated by Alfred Krupp of Germany. The School has grown yearly and now has a Primary Section which began in 1989. A significant aspect of the school is the tutorial system. Constant communication between staff and parents accounts to a large extent for the students’ success.
Another project that began in 1977 is Faida Girls’ Centre. A Swahili word that means ‘benefit or gain that leads to growth ’. Faida is a youth centre for primary and secondary school girls that provides facilities for study, interlaced with cultural, social and spiritual formation.
In 1987, Kianda Foundation opened the Fanusi Study Centre for university women opposite the University of Nairobi Main Campus. Fanusi is the Swahili name for the lantern hanging at the back of a dhow that guides ships safely to harbour. Study facilities are available at the Centre and students are helped to mature in their intellectual development through good study habits and organised activities promoting academic excellence and character development. Students from Fanusi are encouraged to participate in community service projects in villages, slums, schools, hospitals, etc.
Kimlea Girls’ Technical Training Centre was started in 1988, The result of a desire to improve the quality of life of tea and coffee pickers in the Tigoni area of Kiambu District, who were living in appalling conditions, aggravated by a lack of basic knowledge in health, hygiene and grooming. The Centre set out to teach these as well as income generating skills. The villagers were told about the activities at the Centre as they went about their work of picking tea. However they did not respond immediately as to them it seemed a very long term investment before they could start earning an income or be self-employed. It took time and many visits to the tea plantations before they understood the benefits that awaited them. The highest initial enrolment of 23 girls, was in 1992. These enrolled for its technical courses in agriculture, home-management, garment making and machine knitting. Kimlea was built with funds made available by the European Union and ICU. It now has a staff of 12 with 120 full time students, 60 on the part time programme (Saturdays) and 200 women being taught in outreach programmes in the plantations.
The latest project of Kianda Foundation is the Kimlea Clinic. This has been made possible by a donation from Rode Foundation, a European NGO.
Kianda Foundation has established an Endowment Fund to ensure that its contribution to the intellectual, cultural, economic and spiritual welfare of women in Kenya will continue to thrive in perpetuity and its projects grow and increase.