How entrepreneur defied poverty to build school in slum

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Despite spending his childhood in the slum and poverty locking him out of college, Moses Sumba had one desire; to build a school in Mathare Valley, an informal settlement in Nairobi.Being an orphan, Mr Sumba was raised by his grandfather in Mathare Valley slum who struggled to pay his school fees from the Sh3,700 he earned as a security guard.Studying in Siaya in the 1990s, he missed most classes in secondary school due to lack of fees.After being transferred to a day school in Nairobi, he spent his time in the library reading as teachers boycotted classes often, due to delayed payments.But today Mr Sumba, 39, has beaten the odds and owns a school, Valley View Academy located in the same slum that he grew up in. It has 951 pupils.Valley View is no longer those little unknown makeshift schools sitting deep in the slums.Last year, a pupil from the school was ranked amongst Kenya’s top Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination candidates after scoring 404 marks out of 500.A girls football club that Mr Sumba started in the slum has also earned international recognition. The young girls who play football to keep themselves busy, were invited to Netherlands where they recited a poem on life in the slums that earned them Sh3 million in donations.The money was used to construct permanent buildings in the school.For Mr Sumba, the football club shields the girls from early pregnancies or engaging in drug and alcohol abuse.He says his greatest motivation is seeing poor children living the slums finish school, inspiring others to follow suit.“My lowest moment is when a bright pupil clears primary education and does not proceed to the next level due to financial constraints,” said Mr Sumba. This is a feeling he knows too well.By the time he was completing secondary school his grandfather was retiring. He pleaded with a neighbour to take his grandson in until he finished school.Despite the lack of teachers, Mr Sumba scored a C- grade in the Four Form exams.After finishing secondary school, his grandfather gave him Sh6,000 from his retirement package to study an early childhood course.

But he soon died and Mr Sumba realised the Sh6,000 was not enough to enable him finish the early childhood course so he opted for a short marketing training that would later enable him earn a commission for every  policy sold.Untrained teacher“But I left the job after four months. This was not what I wanted to pursue. My dream was to become a teacher and run my own school,” he said.He started pursuing his dream. He joined a school in Mathare slum as an untrained teacher, earning Sh800 per month.Unsatisfied, he quit and started offering evening tuition classes from his small house. He started with seven pupils, charging each child Sh30. After some time, the number rose and parents urged him to open up a bigger school that could accommodate more children.By that time, he had 240 pupils and he made some good profit.“I used to talk to the children in the slums about hope, taught them how to change their mindsets and behaviour,” he said.And this is what made him warm into the hearts of many parents who wanted their children to stay focused.“In Mathare, you don’t use force when trying to instil discipline in children, they will become rebellious. You use examples of role models from other slums, people who have made it despite the slum challenges. You inspire them through what they don’t have and make them know they can get it,’’ said Mr Sumba.He later struck a deal with a church to use their building as a classroom.“But we disagreed on revenue sharing and I decided to leave and rediscover myself. It was the most difficult part of my life. It took me a long time to rise again,’’ he said.He decided to borrow Sh40,000 to set up a makeshift school.‘‘The money came from one of the parents who had noticed my dedication,” said Mr Sumba. He opened Valley View Academy, the school that enabled young girls from the slum travel to Netherlands.The girls were invited by a missionary group to attend a forum in Netherlands. Their poem about life in the slums drew the attention of sponsors who decided to build them permanent buildings.“They were shocked that 600 pupils shared two toilets ,” said Mr Sumba.

The donors gave Sh3 million and the school now stands on stone overlooking the vast Mathare slum. Valley View Academy now has 35 teachers.Nearly two decades after finishing high school, last year Mr Sumba joined university, enrolling for a Diploma in Early Childhood Development and graduated in August.He plans to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Development from next year. He also hopes to expand Valley View Academy into a secondary school in the next four years, giving more children from Mathare slums a chance to get post-primary education.