John Kariuki (right) assessing Fredrick Kimanthi at a job site. PHOTO: Ralph Wechuli for Eastlands College of Technology
When Eastlands College of Technology (ECT) first opened its doors in 2015, few would have foretold the unique paths by which students would end up passing through those doors, nor the diverse backgrounds from which they would hail. To many, the location and stated mission of the college precludes complexity; the underclasses of Nairobi, its main intended constituency, are all the same, right?
Well, this isn’t exactly the case. Seven years on, all kinds of people have passed through ECT. Take Ian, on the one hand, for example. His father is a welder. From a little iron-sheet walled workshop in the depths of Sinai, a sprawling informal settlement near ECT, he crafts various products, like windows and doors. He makes a modest income, which is just about enough to put food on the table for his wife and two boys and do little else.
Soon after Ian completed his KCSE exams, the last of high school in Kenya, at the end of 2019, he joined his father at the workshop. He didn’t have much of a choice about it. Not only had he not attained the grades required to proceed to college, but his family could not have afforded to send him to one even if he had qualified. Besides, he suffered from a debilitating health condition that would have made extended absences from home unsustainable.
One day, sometime in 2020, his younger brother invited him to accompany him to the boy’s club at ECT, where the lad often joined other boys from the neighbourhood to play football and study. Ian jumped onto the opportunity. Partly on account of his illness, he couldn’t exactly play football. But he liked that he could meet more people there, and liked watching the game.
So he started showing up more often. He would sit on the sidelines and, between bouts of his illness, cheer on his brother’s team. In the course of time, one of the staffers taking care of the boys club, having noticed his consistent presence at the games, asked about his plans for further education. Ian, of course, had no such plans, but informed the staffer that he helped his father at the welding shop.
The staffer informed him that the college offered a certified course that included welding, called Mechanical Maintenance Technology, which he could pursue on scholarship, and which would open a lot of doors for him. Overjoyed, Ian immediately signed up. The scholarship came from Nou Cims, a Spanish organisation which currently supports 30 other boys at the college, across all courses.
Ian has now been at the college for nearly two years. The practice he got at his father’s workshop has turned out to be quite handy, as he has been particularly adept at the practical aspects of his course. This adeptness earned him a spot, quite early on, at ECT Enterprise Services (ECTES), the business arm of ECT, where he has now worked for over a year, earning a respectable income while building up credit for the industrial component of his training, a signature requirement for certification at the college.
Of course, Ian’s story is unique. But, perhaps to illustrate this better, it helps to consider a totally different story. Enter Fredrick Kimanthi, who was already on the path of developing his profession in the trades. On leaving high school, he enrolled at a different college to pursue a course in plumbing. However, he soon discovered a problem: the course wasn’t as practical as a he had supposed it would be. He felt he wasn’t being properly prepared for the real world.
Disgruntled, he decided that he would look for another institution, one that took the practical side of training much more seriously. His search brought him to ECT, on the back of a sponsorship programme run by the Safaricom Foundation, where he immediately enrolled for the Mechanical Maintenance Technology course, specialising in plumbing. He took to it like a duck to water, and relished the chance to work more often with his hands.
Towards the end of his first level of certification, he stumbled upon an online platform that connects trade professionals with clients, to which he signed up. He soon got his first client and, before long, was crisscrossing Nairobi, fixing leaking pipes, unblocking drains, and setting up new plumbing systems. In fact, his professional engagements proved so lucrative that he elected to enroll for the second level of certification, on his own bill, since the Safaricom Foundation sponsorship only covered the first level.
Now he not only studies and works concurrently, but his professional work has turned out to be sufficient to cover the industrial component of his training. Instead of needing to be placed by the institution at a company, his projects are assessed and graded as part of his training. And, on top of all that, he brings along some of his fellow students, who get industrial training from his projects as well.
Many other stories could be told about the students who have passed through ECT. Each of them is a unique snapshot of a human life across time. None is like the next. But, perhaps those who wouldn’t have foreseen this diversity were right in one thing after all. There is, indeed, a thread that unites all the stories, and it is perfectly captured in the college’s motto: Per aspera ad astra (from adversity to the stars).