Interview with Rose Muthoni: Education, Tree Hill Biocenter, and Climate Awareness

Written By: Sophie Stowe

Interview By: Sophie Stowe and Alexa Storzinger

            Tree Hill is one of Umande Trust’s Biocenters in Kibra that is currently under construction and is being built next to the Tree Hill school. The Biocenter will allow the students to have improved access to toilets and provide a more supportive, comfortable learning space. Rose Muthoni is the principal and founder of the Tree Hill school. Rose started Tree Hill School due to the demand for early education and daycare in her neighborhood. 

“Despite the government-provided public schools, you still had children roaming around not going to school”

What started out as a daycare, has now grown to employ a few teachers and support kids from preschool to third grade, the oldest kids in attendance being about ten years old. Miss Rose’s observation of the community’s needs led to not only the creation of the school, but also the creation of the Tree Hill organization, which is made up of teachers, parents, and many others that are concerned with education and women’s issues in their community. 

Miss Rose was born and raised in Kibra in a time when you could still swim in the Motoine River, and when trees and greenery still filled the area. 

“When we grew up there were a lot of butterflies because the environment was conducive then, and there were more trees and lots of vegetation around. But right now you can easily count the trees that are around, which is very unfortunate.”

After the 80s and 90s, the population in Kibra soared, polluting the river, and leading to more deforestation. Rose’s four kids and those that she teaches do not know how it was before you could count the number of trees in sight on one hand. Rose speaks of her childhood in Kibra fondly and with a passion that makes it clear how she and others have mobilized so effectively to provide education, sanitation, and green spaces in Kibra. She shares this passion for her community and neighborhood with her fellow teachers and Tree Hill members. The teachers often do not receive a salary, but they continue to work, showing their passion for teaching and Kibra’s future. Along with the government curriculum that they follow (even though they are an independent school), they also teach the children about environmental degradation and the importance of taking care of your environment. 

“We try to teach these children about indigenous trees that we used to have and have them understand broadly the importance of conservation. We need to educate them about climate change and the importance of having green spaces around them … to make them ambassadors of it.” 

Along with teaching them about the environment and conservation, the teachers also emphasize taking care of your immediate environment by having the children use a bin for their trash and clean up after themselves. When asked if the children speak to their parents about what they are learning in school regarding the environment, Rose explained that though it is rare for them to talk about the specifics of their classes with their parents, there are noticeable differences in their behavior that make the parents understand the impact of education on their kids. 

“We know that the kids talk to their parents because the parents come in and ask how the kids [learned to be] considerate of their homes. They say ‘Hey, my children used to be very careless at home and throw litter everywhere but what are you teaching them about putting everything in the right place?”

Now that the Biocenter is close to completion, Rose’s next dream is to build a green space in their neighborhood so that children can “have a space to breathe and to enjoy nature.” Once the Biocenter is finished, she also plans to plant trees and vegetation in the courtyard in between the school building and the Biocenter so that the children will have a nice space to play in between classes. They have already decided on a piece of land for the larger green space which will be very close to the school. The next step is to contact the proper authorities in order to have access to the land. However, the issue with reassigning land use in Kibra is that every bit of space is used up by either living space or retail of some sort. Making room for a green space will inevitably displace some kind of business or home. Within the community, there are differing opinions on this project. Rose expressed that there are those who are completely in favor of giving their kids access to nature no matter the expense, but there are also those who still subscribe to the mentality that made Kibra the way that it is today; nature is disposable and less important than living space. 

“People generally love the idea of green spaces but a lot of people also think it's not necessary because of the amount of space needed for other things. [However,] some think that it has come at the right time.”

When asked how she plans to keep the green space green once it is built, Rose explained that there is an employment and education opportunity here. They will teach members of the community about the importance of green space, then employ them to protect and maintain it so that the children and community will continue having access to it. 

“We need to have ambassadors, we need to have women ambassadors and men ambassadors … so that if anybody invades it will be easy to combat that. When the community owns it it is very easy because nobody is going to tamper with that space.”

A focus on employment is emphasized in the new Tree Hill Biocenter. As with all of the Biocenters, women and men from the community are employed by the organization that runs the facility to maintain the space and the safety of those who use it. When asked how she thinks that the Biocenter will impact the community, Rose listed employment opportunities, safe washing spaces for women, greater menstrual hygiene, general community building, and re-emphasized that the students will have free access to restrooms during their school hours. There are different strategies that they have in the works to create employment opportunities. 

“We are hoping to give [the women] carts where they can sell boiled eggs that they cook at the Biocenter [with the biogas] then they can go and sell them. We are hoping that we can be able to make their lives better”

Around Kibra, the Biocenters help women access hygienic, private, and safe restrooms and washing spaces. Rose expressed her excitement about the opportunity to help teenage girls and women in her community through the Biocenter. She hopes to improve access to menstrual products in order to combat the issue of girls missing school due to menstrual issues. She plans to pursue a partnership with another organization that would help with this and incorporate it into the Biocenter’s program. 

“There are a lot of challenges in the slums where there are no proper bathrooms. Some young girls get harassed, so we hope that within the community we can protect the teenage girls. We hope to make a cost-friendly way of paying for them to access the Biocenter.”

            Rose identified WASH access as one of the challenges that Kibra faces regarding environmental issues in Kibra. She is hopeful that the Biocenter will help combat the common practice of ‘flying shanties or toilets’ which is a biohazard and pollutes the environment. Rose also identified improper solid waste management or garbage disposal as one of the largest environmental issues in Kibra. The waste is such an issue due to the lack of proper infrastructure to deal with both solid waste and stormwater runoff. When trash is not disposed of, the drainages get blocked and cause flooding. The flooding is exacerbated by the large quantity of stormwater runoff that is not absorbed into the ground due to lack of green spaces and permeable ground. 

“When the rain falls and the flooding happens those drainages are not able to manage that flooding in the right way” 

She hopes that this issue will be dealt with in the future and is taking action in her community by teaching children how to dispose of their waste properly, as previously mentioned. She also hopes that the government will see the benefit and job creation potential of developing more waste disposal resources and programs in the future.

“I hope the government can see the advantage of collecting the garbage and can provide jobs. We hope that it can be used to facilitate jobs and to bring change in terms of the environment” 

Through education and community engagement, Rose hopes to influence adults and the next generation to fight for their community and environment. She plans to run an Earth Day event that will engage children and their parents about environmental issues. In preparation for Earth Day, Rose asks the government, her community, and those around the world: “How can you invest in the environment to have it help you back?”

“We hope that we can have a bigger impact in terms of the slums around, because what is known about the slums [is that] there is so much carelessness, but we want to start in our own small way just to change everything, maybe not everything but a bit of what we can.” - Rose Muthoni


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