Teacher Profile: Lilian Achieng
To celebrate World Teachers Day (October 5), we’re sharing stories from our teachers here in Nairobi. In these profiles, Josephine, Vincent, Agnes and Lilian share their experiences working in the informal settlements, reflect on their interaction with Dignitas, and provide wonderful insight into the challenges and joys of educating Kenya’s next generation. Why not honor and celebrate our teachers by donating to Dignitas today?
“I realized I had a vision of starting my own school,” says Lilian Achieng, founder and head teacher at Vigil School. Lilian was a teacher elsewhere when she realized the huge need for quality education in Nairobi and decided to establish a new school. She resigned her post, found a location in Kawangware, and opened Vigil in 2006 with just two children.
Lilian started Vigil School with just the preschool section – her area of expertise – but quickly, the parents’ demand pushed the school to grow into offering a full primary school. “It has been really a journey,” she laughs. Vigil now has 288 students and continues to grow.
Lilian’s own children attend Vigil school and appreciate its welcoming atmosphere and sense of community. Since her husband died before her youngest daughter was born, Lilian especially appreciates the warm presence the male teachers are able to provide her children.
“The teachers are so friendly,” she says.
Lilian herself is friendly – she is warm, and smiles easily in conversation, an action that triggers her entire face to light up and glow. As well as managing Vigil School, she teaches the Pre-School class and Handwriting for Class 8. If you go to her Pre-School class, you will find her jumping and singing with her students in the classroom, a practice she describes as “going back to childhood.”
In the two years since Lilian’s school first partnered with Dignitas, she has grown and changed as a teacher.
While Lilian has always enjoyed working with children, the Dignitas training has shaped and empowered her to lead her school.
In particular, Lilian has applied the lessons she learned during her Dignitas training to manage her school’s finances. She is especially proud that children can now pay their school fees through the bank. “Before, we did not even have the records,” she smiles, “but now things are in order.”
“Coach Carol is the best to me.”
Lilian harbors a special affection for her Dignitas coach and mentor, Carol Owala. She credits Carol with the fact that Vigil School used to be the lowest-ranked school in the area, but has since skyrocketed to eighth place. “You see how we are really growing?” Lilian exclaims, her face alight with joy. “We are growing! It’s because of the help of the coach.”
Lilian mimics Carol give her feedback before breaking into laughter. She says it is Carol’s support and tough love that has pushed her to improve lesson plans, filing, and ultimately, to advance Vigil School.
And the impact does not stop there. Lilian believes Dignitas has helped her beyond her role as a teacher and director. As a single mother, she’s grown in her capacity to plan for her family and manage her home.
“I am able to take care of my family as a woman. At the same time, I am able to take care of [my] teachers. I am able [. . .] to bring parents together.” Lilian sits back and marvels to herself: “It’s Lilian, doing all of this!”
““I am able to take care of my family as a woman. At the same time, I am able to take care of [my] teachers.”
– Lilian Achieng, Vigil School
“Education is very important to girls. And you know, in our Kenya today, education is the key.”
Education, Lilian says, allows people to open their minds, see farther, and set higher goals. She says that Dignitas helped teach her to set big goals. “You will start seeing things in a bigger way.”
It is the difference between dreaming of becoming a teacher, and dreaming of starting a school. Having seen her school grow from two students to 288, Lilian understands the power of having a vision and seeing it through.