Varsity rolls out sustainable programmes that have touched the lives of very many needy people by addressing their paressing challenges

By George Gichuki

The need for universities to engage in community outreach initiatives cannot be overemphasized.  That is because traditionally, universities are supposed to generate knowledge which addresses various challenges facing the society.  “The end consumer of the knowledge generated by universities is the society,” says Professor Francis Muregi, director of research, grants and endowments at Mount Kenya University (MKU). “All our programmes should therefore be integrated with the needs of the society,” he adds.  Nevertheless, the don laments that some universities (especially in the developing world) have deviated from that goal. “They have become like citadels and totally alienated from what takes place in their respective societies,” he emphasizes.   According to him, universities have a duty to share their research findings with the communities that they serve.  “We undertake research in order to get solutions to various challenges in the society,” he observes.  For instance, through research, the challenge of food security in Kenya can be addressed by devising better and cost effective ways of producing food.  Ultimately, the knowledge generated through such an undertaking is supposed to be used by the farmer.  Similarly, if the university develops medicine (either drugs or vaccines), it is supposed to be taken to the people (society) since they are the end consumers.
Against  this  background,  MKU integrates  the  community  in all  its  scholarly  endeavours  and  pursuits.  To that end, it has built a very strong working relationship with the people in all the   countries and localities where it has a presence.

Community outreach programmes
MKU has rolled out a good number of community outreach programmes with resounding success.  To start with, in Bungoma county, the university is raising the capacity of hospitals (under the county government) to incubate neonates (babies under twenty eight days old).  Bungoma has one of the highest neonatal mortality rates in the country. The programme has been funded by United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) to the tune of Kshs.40 million. In total, nine new born units (incubators) have been built in different health facilities in the county including Bungoma, Webuye and Sirisia. These units are now able to incubate about one hundred neonates as opposed to the previous low average of ten to twenty. “This flagship programme will be officially launched in July and we are very proud of its positive impact on the residents of Bungoma County,” observes Professor Muregi.
Its roll out is being overseen by Dr. Jesse Gitaka, MKU’s head of human health research programme.  In the same regard, the university is undertaking a   programme to control malaria and infectious diseases in the Lake Victoria islands. Championed also by Dr. Gitaka, the programme includes a campaign to deworm children in these islands so as to boost their health.  “Good health is a fundamental requirement of all human beings and we are indeed very proud of how we are touching the lives of low income households and children by undertaking the programmes above,” Professor Muregi avers.

Christian and Scientific Association of Kenya
There have been several cases in country where the government and practitioners of faith have openly differed on issues relating to health – especially vaccination campaigns. Consequently, in February 2016, MKU established a project – called the  Christian and Scientific Association of Kenya (CSAK) – so as to  foster dialogue between practitioners of faith and their peers in  the field of  science to eliminate  any unnecessary conflict between the two bodies on matters related to science.  CSAK is a professional, non-political, non-secretarian association whose objective is to enhance cordial coexistence of science and religion.  According to Professor Muregi ( the project leader) : “ CSAK aims at bringing together practitioners  of  science and christian faith in order to explore how the interaction between the two in the African context can best synergize each other.”  The association’s head office is at MKU’s Thika campus and it draws its membership from various universities and research institutions in the country. It is being jointly funded by MKU and the Templeton World Charity Foundation for a three year period.
According to Professor Muregi : “ Science is not magic – it can be proved and tested – and consequently, scholars can openly share the knowledge generated from such a process  with a neutral person in order to validate the results.”  This will help in settling any disagreements that may arise from misinformation about scientific innovations and campaigns where members of the public have a vested interest.  “If we don’t immunize our children against fatal diseases like polio, measles and tetanus, we shall be risking their re-emergence long after they were eradicated,” Professor Muregi warns. “Clearly as a modern day society, we cannot afford to do that and hence the need for a platform where scientists and religious leaders can engage in dialogue, instead of differing in public,” he adds.

General Kago Funeral Home
Through a public, private partnership (PPP) initiative, MKU has partnered with Kiambu County Government’s Thika Level Five hospital in refurbishing General Kago Funeral Home. The home is part of the hospital and after receiving Kshs.300 million funding from MKU, it now has a modern embalmment unit, classrooms and human anatomy laboratory. The facility is the teaching and referral centre for MKU. “It is important to note that the services offered at the modern morgue are accessible to members of the community, which was not possible before it was refurbished,” avers Professor Muregi.

Very many noble community outreach programmes are not sustained in the long run because of a shortage in funding.  Nevertheless, the ones initiated by MKU’s directorate of research, grants and endowments have been fortunate in that respect.   “We are lucky to have a university (MKU) which appreciates that its very existence is to serve the community,” he further observes. “Consequently, its management fully supports community outreach programmes and over the years, we have surmounted many challenges that would ordinarily cripple similar initiatives in other institutions,” he adds.
Besides being supported by the university’s management, the research, grants and endowments directorate  builds the capacity of its staff members through seminars, workshops and conferences so that they are well equipped in touching people’s lives.  For instance, in 2014, it participated in  the successful  organization of  the National Water Summit at Lodwar (Turkana County).   Similarly in May (this year), the directorate actively participated in the International Peace Conference, hosted by MKU at the Safari Park Hotel.  Most importantly, besides organizing conferences, seminars and workshops for its members of staff, the directorate trains post graduate students on how to write proposals on projects that have will help in alleviating various challenges in   the society.
The directorate is also very active in sourcing for funds from the international donors and well wishers to support its programmes. It for instance received funds from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to roll out the CSAK project, while DFID has donated funds for the neonates programme in Bungoma County.  In the same breath, the directorate also receives grants from the National Research Fund for its research activities.
“Whereas funds are critical in ensuring that our programmes are sustainable, our passionate and highly skilled human resource remain the most important  pillar in  the  overall success  and  sustainability  of  these  initiatives in  the long run,” ends the don.



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