If colonial settler Monroe were still alive and happened to visit his home at Mirangine, Nyandarua County, he would be filled with pride.
Unlike other colonial farmers who settled in Nyandarua in the early 1900s and lived extravagantly in Happy Valley Homes, Monroe lived a humble life, and was friendly to the community and his African employees. He is also well remembered for his love for children.
While most colonial houses in Happy Valley were built on more than one acre of land with many rooms - some with up to 20 - Monroe, who owned thousands of acres in Mirangine, lived in a four-room house on less than an eighth of an acre.
The one-storey L-shaped house was built in 1944, with the first room on the ground floor serving as a kitchen. On top of it is the table room and dining hall, while adjacent to the table room was his bedroom with a guest house below it.
“Mr Monroe was loved by his employees and the community. He was very committed to education and used part of the land he owned to build Monroe Primary School for his staff and the community, which was later renamed Mikeu Primary School.
“During land subdivision after independence, in memory of Mr Monroe, the community decided the home compound where the settler lived be reserved as public land. In 1984, the community decided to convert the home to a youth polytechnic,” says Mr Johnson Mwangi, a tutor at Mirangine Vocational Training Institute and a history enthusiast.
Started with seven students
The polytechnic started with seven students from the neighbourhood but has grown to a centre of excellence, producing professionals ready for the job market on completing the courses.
While other similar training centres send home students who fail to pay school fees, Mirangine Vocational Training Centre, through its courses, helps learners earn the fees and some pocket money for their upkeep.
And it is not just students who benefit from the initiative but the institution and the tutors as well, who get a percentage of the earnings from products made at the vocational centre.
While teachers earn a motivational stipend above their salary, the school earns the biggest share of 50 per cent, and the rest goes to tutors, students and maintenance of the specific department that manufactured the product.
From the training model adopted by the vocational centre, the institution saves more than 50 per cent of what it would have spent in developing the facility.
For example, construction work is not given to contractors but to students guided by the tutors, all under the supervision of the Public Works engineers from the county government.
On entering the main gate, one is welcomed by building and construction students working on a storey building to host a modern hotel on the first floor and other college facilities on the ground floor.
The same team has successfully built a male hostel that was approved by relevant professionals and bodies, at a lower cost than it would have taken.
“In the 2020 financial year, the Nyandarua County government funded the construction of a hotel for female students by a private contractor at a cost of Sh8.5 million. For the male hostel, using VTC students to build it, we have spent Sh3.5 million for a similar capacity hostel,” says Mr Mungai Kiongo, the VTC chairperson.
He said that by using VTC students, the school avoids the procurement process, which is cumbersome and time-involving.
“VTCs are not profit-making organisations, meaning the amount of profit margin the VCT will get is not the same as that of a private contractor would. VTCs do not pay tax to the government, and that means we can save much more and do more with the same kitty that would have done less using private contractors,” says Education executive Daniel Wangenye.
He says the Nyandarua government has resolved to give more of its contracts to VTCs, which are cheaper and do quality work.
“We have also established that private contractors source their manpower from the VTCs, why use them where we can avoid it?” says Mr Wangenye.
“We have given Mirangine VTC contractors to construct Early Childhood Development classes and modern toilets. They are doing an equally good job and at a lower price, and all facilities are approved by the county and national public works engineers.”
Done by private contractors, an ECDE class would cost above Sh1.2 million, but VTC trainees can do it for Sh800,000.
Quality of work
“The quality of work done by the VTC trainees is good, since they are not after profits. They are also under our control and management, making it easier for supervision,” he says.
“The other advantage is that it also serves as an attachment for the trainees and they will be ready for the job market when they graduate.”
The model was also adopted to make VTCs self-reliant instead of depending on government funding.
“The VTC has done renovations on our county offices whose budget was Sh2.1 million but was done at Sh1.2 million by the trainees,” Mr Wangenye says.
The other promising department earning the school a good reputation and additional cash for tutors and students is the textiles production unit, which last month alone earned Mirangine VTC Sh500,000 in profits, after the deduction of tutors’ and students’ share.
Ms Philomena Njeri, a trainee at the centre, is among students who rely on stipends from the textile production unit to pay school fees, accommodation and other basic needs.
“I am a second-year student from a humble background. I rely on stipends from sales made from designer clothes and interior decor made at the college,” she says.
“The stipends, complemented by the county bursary, have made my life easier here. Electronic modern sewing machines donated by the county government have made it possible for us to produce double designer clothes and interior décor, earning us more income.”
Ms Elizabeth Wanjira, an instructor in charge of the department, says the VTC has a long list of client orders than they can supply.
“We have orders by corporate institutions, government, schools, cooperative societies, and individuals planning weddings and other family events over the festive season,” she says.
Mr Peter Kimani, the centre manager, says the Nyandarua government is helping the school to open display shops in major towns all over the country where the VTC can market their products.
“The centre is attracting more students than we can accommodate. We currently have over 700 trainees with limited space for expansion. Our main challenge is space for expansion. The neighbouring community is unwilling to sell their land due to cultural beliefs,” he says.
The centre has also set aside two days a week to train local women on modern cooking methods, skills they can use at home and for entrepreneurship.