by Elkana Korir, AVSI Kenya communication officer
Education is not just a personal journey, it's a collective responsibility. AVSI's Distance Support Program has embodied this principle since 1997, guiding children through their formative years and uplifting entire communities. In a recent study, we delved into the transformative impact of the program on adult alumni, exploring how their personal development, careers, and relationships were shaped. As we unveil the findings, we discover that the changes identified by Distance Support Program alumni not only resonate on a personal level but also reverberate through the very communities they hail from. Evidently, it seems that nurturing a new generation of empowered individuals is the key to making a village truly flourish.Giulia Bossi, Distance Support Program Coordinator
Distance Support program in Kenya
The Distance Support Program (DSP), also known as the Orphan and Vulnerable Children Empowerment Network project (OEN) in Kenya, has been a catalyst for positive change since its establishment in 1997. Aimed at empowering vulnerable children, including orphans and those from economically challenged and health-affected families, the OEN project, in the 26 years of implementation, has impacted over 9200 children in Kenya and 21,421 children worldwide. Its innovative approach considers the sponsored child as the entry point to the family, allowing AVSI to support an additional 12,292 children. Operating in 11 counties across diverse settings, the program, in collaboration with local organizations, deploys educators to offer personalized support, fostering positive changes for individuals, families, and communities.
Beyond facilitating education with school fees and materials, the Distance Support Program focuses on enhancing youth employability, supporting caregivers through economic empowerment, and conducting awareness campaigns on children's rights and nutrition. With an inclusive and long-term perspective, the program welcomes children without merit selection, encouraging self-discovery and investing in their emerging skills and qualities for holistic growth.
Impact study overview in Kenya
In 2022, AVSI conducted a participative impact study to comprehensively evaluate the Distance Support Program’s multifaceted impacts in Kenya. Objectives included recording historical efforts, understanding beneficiary perspectives on life changes, identifying significant transformations, and listening attentively to their experiences.
- Educational achievements: 75% of children involved in the program attained tertiary, college, or university levels, surpassing the average for vulnerable children in Kenya.
- Employment: 71% are employed, with 26% advancing in their professional careers, primarily as teachers.
- Economic empowerment: 31% of caregivers benefited, contributing to a 73% increase in household income.
- Community impact: 67% attribute their success to the support of the program, noting community improvement, and a 40% reduction in gender-based violence.
- Willingness to sponsor: 99% express a willingness to sponsor another student through the program.
Freedom to choose from beneficiary to protagonist
81% of Distance Support Program alumni feel they have the freedom to live harmoniously and make life choices, encompassing education, career, family decisions, financial independence, personal growth, values, community engagement, and overcoming challenges.
Impact on the community
67% agree that the Distance Support Program enhanced overall community well-being and positively impacted families by contributing to the advancements in education, financial assistance, housing construction, and sanitation facilities. Societal issues such as gender-based violence and female genital mutilation have significantly reduced by 40%. Consequently, the beneficiaries express a desire to give back through volunteering and influencing others for community betterment.
The Distance Support Program is emblematic of AVSI approach to development
AVSI uses the multisectoral approach in the Distance Support Program by partnering with actors in the humanitarian area including faith-based organizations, hospitals, schools, and government institutions among others. This is in recognition of the interconnectedness of various development aspects. From this perspective, education serves as an entry point, allowing for actions on livelihood, economic empowerment, and health advancement. From the study, it is notable that this holistic approach has resulted in a 73% increase in household income for 31% of caregivers and a 45% improvement in general health conditions at the community level.
Methodology and technology
The study utilized a mixed-method approach, including an action-reflection (a process of reflection and learning, through a face-to-face meeting of members of a project team) carried out through Focused Group Discussions (FGDs), where stakeholders involved with the distance at different levels were invited and had two-to-three-hour discussions around their perception of the most meaningful results of the program. The stakeholders were grouped into three, and they included the social workers (educators), managers to the different local implementing organizations and the donors who sponsor the program from different parts of the world. These action-reflections helped to shape the questions that were asked to the beneficiaries using the quantitative questionnaire.
At the end, a questionnaire of 84 questions was distributed to 240 people who were supported at a distance. In order to analyze the answer, ChatGPT 3.5 was employed for exploratory analysis of select open-ended questions. The innovative use of ChatGPT has undeniably enriched the analysis process, offered a novel perspective and complemented the simplification of information within this study.
Georgina: a testament to the journey made in the program
Georgina, a beneficiary of the Distance Support Program, was raised by a single mother engaged in small-scale dairy farming. The support of an Italian donor through AVSI played a crucial role in her life, covering her school fees and supporting her mother’s business.
“AVSI has contributed to my life by paying for my school fees and helping my mother to enhance her dairy farming business; she can rely on it up to now. Being accompanied by dedicated educators like Cyprian made me feel appreciated.”
Grateful for the assistance, Georgina completed a catering course and secured a job at Victoria Ridge Hotel in Meru County. Now, she contributes to her family’s financial well-being, covering her sisters’ school fees. Georgina aspires to open her own hotel to provide employment opportunities and increase her income. Empowered by the generosity she received, she envisions supporting other children in the future.
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