Today is a special day for Starehe Boys Centre — the rescue centre for street children that became the centre for academic excellence.
It is the day a memorial service in honour of the late Dr Geoffrey Griffin — the founder of the Centre — is scheduled to take place.
This year, the centre commemorates its 60th anniversary and coincidentally the 50th of former President Mwai Kibaki’s uninterrupted tenure as its patron.
Celebrating Griffin’s contribution to the makings of the magnum opus that Starehe has matured into over the years evokes diverse sentiments and memories.
His dream of rescuing hundreds of children living in the city streets and sleeping on the banks of Nairobi river evolved to modern-day Starehe Boys Centre.
Thousands of the centre’s beneficiaries — drawn from every corner of Kenya and now strewn all over the world — would readily have some affirmative testimony about Starehe’s contribution to the moulding the persons they have turned to be.
Sunday’s memorial service, however, will only fully capture the essence of the moment if Griffin’s co-founders of the Starehe idea — Geoffrey Gatama Gituro and Joseph Kamiru Gikubu — are also properly recognised.
The same would be said of the many now departed school administrators like Yussuf Kingala who contributed to the sense of rectitude that to date remains a cornerstone of the “Starehe Way”.
Starehe’s Diamond Jubilee comes at a point in time when Kenya’s education sector is in the process of rolling out a new competence-based curriculum.
The philosophy behind this new curriculum is inspired by the need to equip learners with skills, proficiencies and competencies consistent with the socio-economic realities, opportunities and challenges of the 21st Century Kenya.
When the dust of teething challenges settles and the new curriculum is finally embraced by all and rolled out, there will still be need to address how we should socialize our young people.
This is important because acquisition of the workplace toolkit goes beyond the realm of skills, proficiencies and competencies.
Equally important is the need for the impartation of and adherence to values, attitudes and ethics that young people earnestly need in order to build a strong sense of personal integrity.
While Starehe is undoubtedly known to be among top academic performers in the country, what really distinguishes Sterehians is systematic and deliberate tattooing of values and attitudes that enforce well-adjusted character.
I am not in any way suggesting that other schools lack the commitment to impart the right values and attitudes but for Starehe character moulding is an inexorable dogma.
The same creed is a key guiding factor at Starehe Girls’ Centre, a latter-day girl version of the Starehe Boys’ Centre.
The mix of backgrounds of the Starehe community is literally a riot of colours.
Boys from all walks of life, many who would be seeing Nairobi for the first time and some who would use a modern toilet for their first time formed Starehe cohorts year in, year out.
Without being subjected to undue ridicule, the young men would be helped to fit in, embrace certain values and ultimately proclaim the Starehe ‘badge’ of honour.
In many ways, this spirit was and remains way greater than the spirit of the founding philosophy whose initial thrust was geared towards providing a “place of safety” for “…waifs displaced by the struggle for independence”.
The original Starehe was essentially a rescue centre where boys deemed vagrant and rounded up from the streets would be offered safe landing and care.
To date, the significance and potential of Starehe Boys’ Centre ‘rescue centre’ model and principle remain relevant albeit in a dissimilar manner compared to the original founding objective.
For instance, to this day, academically-gifted boys who would have fallen by the wayside in their hundreds find refuge like no other at Starehe Boys Centre.
The deliberate aim of transforming both fate and fortune of the Starehe beneficiaries is itself a doctrine.
Michael Josephson a celebrated American barrister and ethicist better known as the founder of his ‘Character Counts’ project that has impacted personalities in education, law, journalism, sports and the military, to name a few, famously observed that, “Any teacher can show students how to count; great teachers show them what counts”.
Josephson also aptly proclaimed that; “We will remember with respect the good teacher in our lives that enlarged our minds and understanding of the world but we will remember with a feeling closer to love those who enriched our souls and taught us how to live our lives".
Whether by sheer happenstance or design, the view expressed by Josephson captures the Starehian foundational ethos and the spirit that is fondly referred to as the ‘Starehe Way’.
What then can our education system glean from the ‘Starehian Way’? In this regard, three basic elements come to mind.
One we need to specifically prioritise character building as an output in our education system right from the outset of formal schooling.
Yes, there may be some among us who would view this approach as prescriptive moralism and therefore denial of one’s freewill and the so-called personal freedoms.
If we are to harness the best of our human resources as a country, shouldn’t the moral-ethical dividend qualifies be considered as part of our national capital?
Two, Starehians across 60-odd years have an unwritten code of relationship that extols the principle of being one’s brother’s keeper.
This camaraderie bolsters the commitment Starehians have towards the welfare of each other. It encourages an attitudinal disposition that values excellence in the entire spectrum of endeavours one sets to undertake.
Three, in a world where technological, cultural and other distractions dictate how human relationships prosper, such a bond that Starehe creates among its alumni is crucial in fostering as robust sense of identity and belonging.
Even in the din of modern-day distractions made worse by the rat-race mentality, somehow Starehians, on the whole, find fulfilment in pursuing excellence — be it in academics or at the workplace — in retaining their sense of community.
Beyond equipping our youngsters with certificates, it is clear that without investing in building a character that enforces integrity and loyalty to noble causes, the learning process is incomplete.
I am sure Professor George Magoha, the current Cabinet Secretary for Education and a distinguished Starehe alumnus will agree with me.
Wehliye is a senior adviser, Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority an old boy of Starehe Boys Centre & a member of its Management Committee.