“This is how we iron our uniforms since we don’t have an iron,” young KCE student, Joy, age 13, humbly explains to me while she pulls one end of her skirt and her friend pulls the other end until it’s as straight as a ruler, carefully folding the skirt at each pleat. Joy then lifts her mattress to carefully place it underneath. This ensures that the uniform will be flat as a board by the following morning, when it is time to get dressed for school. But it doesn’t stop there.
Joy reaches for her black shoe polish and begins to tirelessly polish her formal school shoes. Some may consider this uniform maintenance a burden while others take it as a fun part of their routine that reaffirms their participation in school.
In Enoosaen school uniforms are a part of a young person’s identity. Uniforms distinguish he or she as both a student and by which school he or she attends. Girls are required to wear a one-piece dress or skirt with a blouse and pullover. Boys must wear shorts or pants with a shirt and pullover. Though each school varies in uniform accessories, every student studying in school is required to wear one.
In 2003, primary public education fees in Kenya were waived but uniforms remained mandatory. The need for uniformity put pressure on parents to purchase uniforms, ranging $20-30 per outfit. When 50% of the population is living under the poverty line, you can imagine the impact that this expense has had on families. The cost still undoubtedly prevents some economically disadvantaged children from attending school. The purpose of school uniforms is to obscure any social or class differences amongst students, which might be evidenced by their apparel or hairstyle. Owning two uniforms is often a privilege, owning one is a challenge.
Therefore KCE students proudly care for their uniforms everyway that they can. KCE girls told me that they enjoy wearing their uniforms because they are bright in color and are unique. The plaid plum red skirt and white shirt topped by a bright magenta sweater is considered unique in design and fashion outside of school hours.
Unfortunately, these school uniforms are made from cheap fabric and aren’t designed to withstand the yearly wear and tear of a young girls life. After 365 washes, a uniform’s vibrancy is lost, the seams are weak, colors faded and one hole quickly leads to many.
KCE parents and students (classes 6 and 7) were recently given a chance to analyze the durability of their uniforms like never before. They were asked several questions about the pros and cons of the uniform. This analysis was spurred by a visit from eight members from Nike Inc. and two from the Nike Foundation, who help to sponsor KCE.
This week they visited Enoosaen with the intention of creating a uniform design that is more cost-effective, durable, fashionable, and will enable a local tailor to reduce waste and increase productivity.
The girls’ parents were more than enthused to participate in such a process, given they had never before been consulted on their kids uniforms before. This was also a special opportunity for the girls because it allowed them to participate in their design by collaborating with professionals to make it a reality.
This exercise concluded that the girls want uniforms made of high quality fabric, bright in color, sharp in pattern and appropriate to fashion outside of school. Thanks to Nike Inc. & Foundation the girls will be given a chance to wear their dream uniforms that they participated in designing. Their new uniforms will surely be treasured and well taken care of.
Posted By Megan Orr
Posted May 26th, 2012