The Kimutais, changing the face of higher education in Kenya

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A country with educated citizenry is one bound for greatness. This fact is not lost on Bethwel and Phylis Kimutai who have expended great effort in the last several years to provide quality education to thousands of Kenyan youth through the three institutions of higher  education they founded.  If we believe that our circumstances decide who we are and what we are capable  of becoming in life, then Kimutais cannot be founders and heads of an Institution of higher learning. But they are and the following is their intriguing story of success and perseverance. 

Bethwel began his career with the A.I.C-Diguna, a successful evangelistic organization based in Mbagathi, Nairobi. Many African evangelists with this German funded organization usually tend to stay longer than planned because the organization provides immediate comfort. It offers free board including three square meals a day and German nurses attend to health needs. In addition, staff are given a two-week holiday every year and a small financial allowance each month. There is also the unique opportunity to travel across the various communities in east and central Africa to evangelize to the various communities. Few lucky ones even get to travel to Germany! Many Africans therefore tend to stay on while their German colleagues often return home to work and earn a living in their professional field.       

It was not lost on Bethwel that the German evangelists who worked with the Africans already had skills that offered them meaningful employment in Europe. Many were plumbers, motor mechanics, chefs, nurses, electricians, school teachers, carpenters, administrators, etc. But this was not the case with Africans joining Diguna from rural Kenya. These circumstances motivated him to leave the organization and rejoined his village community in Kapsabet Nandi. This was a sacrificial move because he lost all the perks Diguna offered. Soon afterwards, Bethwel had an opportunity to travel to Germany where he enrolled in a Bible college. While in Germany, he reconnected with Phyllis his (Kenyan) girlfriend, and they wedded in Bonn, (Germany) in 1997. Phyllis holds a master’s degree in chemistry and currently works as a high school teacher in Kenya. He attended another Bible school in England before returning home to join his new wife.           

The Kimutais believed strongly that if they were to make a difference in communities, they needed to build capacity and empower individuals to actively engage in shaping their future. This was reinforced by the fact that many secondary school graduates in the various communities didn’t have the opportunity to pursue post-secondary education and thus engaged in anti-social behaviors. They had the innate urge to transform them into productive members of society with the ability to influence decisions in the community for the greater good.

To this end, the Kimutais secured a small personal loan to realize their dream of owning an institution of higher education. They rented space on the first floor of a business block in Kapsabet town and enrolled  25 students in affordable computer –based program. That cohort later relocated to a new campus currently known Baraton College with 600 full time students. The Kimutais own a second college in a Kenyan town called Kericho with an enrollment of  60. A third college known as The Great Rift International University College which has been granted university status this year is in Kapsabet town with a student population of 450 offering an assortment of programs across various disciplines.

As heads of post-secondary institutions, the Kimutais meet regularly with leaders and stakeholders in the education in Kenya and in East Africa to exchange ideas and adopt best practices. Knowing fully well the need to strife for the best, they often encourage their students never to think that “this is as good as it gets.” Their pedagogy is to highlight the significance of the individual student journey and learning, to provide students the capacity and ability to guide their studies and determine their future. With Kenya’s growing knowledge-based economy, the Kimutais believe that the production of quality and skillful graduates from institutions such as theirs would strengthen the economy and enable it to compete effectively in this era of increasing globalization.

 On a personal note, the Kimutais whom I have known for many years through my involvement in A.I.C. Diguna, have accorded us (my wife Nicole and I) the unique privilege to visit their institutions to share our experiences as educator/social worker (in Toronto). It is part of their larger objective of motivating students to excel in their academic and professional pursuits by interacting with others and hearing their personal experiences and success stories.  

            He noted in a conversation with this writer, “you cannot google-search personal experience: it needs to be narrated by those who have lived it.”  The Kimutais story resonant with us because they share the same educational objectives with my wife and I. We founded “30 000 Village Kids Reading” charity in Kenya which establishes community libraries to build capacity through literacy programs. We now have 21 village libraries in Kenya. We have two daughters who are actively engaged in learningand have been very instrumental in the “30,000 Village Kids Reading” initiative.  The Kimutai’s work compliments ours and we are happy to be partners in this endeavor.  We’ll provide more insights in subsequent issues.



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