Teacher beyond borders

A career choice conversation with most teachers in Kenya ends up with them, regrettably saying they only became teachers after missing out on their desired careers. But that is not the case for Fahima Ali. Hers is a case of passion and desire to create the change she wants to see in society- passion and desire that she has had since childhood, growing up in Coastal Kenya.

When we meet her in Majengo, Nairobi during a children’s session, a component of the Building Family Resilience Against Violent Extremism project, she first offers us a brief lesson before further conversation. The lesson is about the meaning of her name Fahima. She tells us her name in Arabic is Fahim, meaning Fahamu or loosely translated into English as … to understand. As a teacher she gets the inspiration from her own name; that she always endeavors to make her pupils understand every concept she teaches. Her teaching philosophy is impacting knowledge and understanding.

When she began teaching Physical Education in Majengo in 2001, Fahima had little idea of how impactful she would become not only in the lives of the hundreds of children she teaches, but also the youth and fellow mothers. The mother of four has lived in Majengo for 26 years and taught in the same area for 19 years. With this rich experience, she asserts that poverty and peer influence are the major challenges in the low income community, making many children and youth drop out of school.

“Left with limited options, many of them become vulnerable and are lured into violent extremist groups like Alshabaab” she says.

This enormous challenge is Fahima’s second inspiration; to use education as the key to drive most children and youth in her community out of poverty and consequently out of violence. The 40-year-old mother reveals that she has been encouraging fellow mothers to take their children to school and work hard to keep them till completion. But she doesn’t stop there; she has been a crusader of peaceful co-existence. She states that her community comprises of people from differnt faiths and instead of it being a blessing, it has been a curse for the community as people are profiled along religious lines, thus causing disharmony among them. She is committed to transforming this unfortunate state of affairs and her rallying call is …“We are all human beings. We are all from God”

Fahima however feels that parents, especially mothers have not done enough in imparting the right values and religious teachings in their children. She alludes this to mothers being either too ‘busy’ for their families or just being reluctant in meeting their parental obligations. “Mothers need to be close and friendly to their children in order to know them well,” she says.

It is for this reason that Fahima gladly grabbed the opportunity to be part of the Building Family Resilience Against Violent Extremism project- an opportunity which she says has enabled her network, share experiences and most importantly widen and fulfil her passion and desire as a teacher and a crusader for peaceful co-existence. She is among the 40 women within the project in both Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya.

This project has been actively involving women working or living in informal settlements of Nairobi and Mombasa in Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) by building their capacity to educate children and young people against radicalization into violent extremism. The women/mothers from different faith backgrounds are also provided with training on the nature of violent extremism and its prevention. The project further instills entrepreneurship and leadership skills to the women as part of the broader objective of enhancing local independence and peaceful co-existence. The project is a partnership between Arigatou International – Nairobi, the Global Community Resilience Fund (GCERF) and other partners. This project came against the backdrop of several factors including growing poverty and youth unemployment that have pushed or pulled vulnerable youth and children into violent extremist groups.

By being part of this project, Fahima, together with other women are able to amplify their voices on preventing violence and reducing poverty through community education and engaging in small Income Generating Activities respectively.

Fahima asserts that this project has come at the right time and offers a ray of hope to women. She hopes the project expands even to more regions within the country. When we ask her for a parting shot, she doesn’t lack one; being a teacher.

‘Every mother has big dreams for their children. Let’s empower them to meet those dreams for their children” she concludes.