My week at school

Trip Start Aug 26, 2012
Trip End Dec 22, 2013

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Flag of Kenya  , Rift Valley,
Saturday, September 22, 2012

This week seemed relatively calm and peaceful as opposed to my previous 2 weeks. A lot I think had to do with location. The home where I was staying and the school I visited everyday were both in the countryside nestled between crops and grazing land for the cows and goats.  I don't think my pictures will do justice to how beautiful and lush this part of the country is.  While it was peaceful it was never silent.  There was a constant sound of the cow and goat bells ringing all day long as they made their way from field to field to graze. At night around 10:00pm the dogs would constantly start to bark setting off all the others in the area, culminating in a bit of a dog opera for about 5 mins.

I slept in a more modern (made out of concrete as opposed to cow dung!) round African hut with the thatched roof. Two bunk beds fit in each hut and with our bags that was about it.  Meals where taken with the family in their sitting area. 

Two of the seven days I was here, I stayed back with the family and really didn’t do a whole lot except some laundry, amuse their 2 year old son and gave lots of pets and scratches to the two family dogs.  I wanted to help with chores but they didn’t seem to want to let me.  I did convince them to do the chopping of vegetables for the evening meals a few times during my stay.  The food was excellent and very fresh. Again the meals where pretty much the same every day; braised beef or lentils if there was no meat available, sukuma wiki (a bitter green that grows everywhere – served boiled then sautéed with onion, and garlic), and ugali (think of a thicker version of polenta but grey in colour, tasteless and basically eaten to fill one up) or Chappati, my favourite.  Breakfast was mainly pineapple and watermelon and bananas, sometimes an egg, crepe or bread and peanut butter. Lunch at school was rice, beans, githeri and sometimes an avocado. Oh and lots and lots of chai…which was more milk then tea. And with a spoonful of sugar quite delicious!

The rest of my time was spent at the school called Sirua Aulo Academy, located about 6kms away from the house but took about 25mins to get there by car due to the very poor condition of the roads.  The school has been around for close to 4 yrs and this year is the first year they are going to have standard 8 class graduate from the school.  Currently the school has approximate 380 students with the majority of them being boarders.  The dorms currently built have a capacity of up to 800 students each; good planning at the time of construction. What’s not being used now, are being used as storage and classrooms.

Most of the students come from good family homes and the parents pay the school fees (costs $500.00 USD per year per child which includes, boarding and uniform)but some are orphans or come from very poor families.  Emmanuel subsidizes these children by running a day safari’s in the Maasai Mara Reserve.  I did not partake in his safari as I will be doing many in the weeks to come but the volunteers who went said it was an amazing experience.   Emmanuel is hoping to be able to expand his safari business and be able to run 10-day trips which would allow him to take on more orphans into his school.  

I spent my first two days with the nursery class.  The ages of this classed varied between I’d say between 5-7yrs because some children stared school later when parents can afford it.  I was impressed to learn that they were already being taught addition and subtraction, and starting to write!  The next two days I spent with the Standard 2 class (grade 2) and again was impressed that they were learning how to calculate fractions of whole numbers.  My main job for both these classes was to mark the work that they did.  They got a kick out of the fact I was left handed and kept trying to make me use my right hand.  For science class we learned about the difference between a toilet, latrine and urinal and then what to use and how to clean a latrine. And then for a practicum we went and cleaned all the schools latrines!  The girls and I all agreed the boys latrines were the dirtiest!  On Saturday I spent most of my time with the standard 5 class and marked they’re math and English work.  Most insisted that I write a comment, learning later it was because when their parents came on Sunday to visit they would show them their work and tell them that a mzangu (white person) marked their work; which makes both child and parent proud.

During P.E. or breaks  mostly the girl but some of the younger boys would be fighting to hold my hand and then constantly rubbing my hands, my palms, my arms and ask "Where is your black’?  My hair was also a big hit with the question of “how did it become straight?"  During such a session ( swarming seems a bit harsh as I also really enjoyed spending the time with the kids), one girl said to me “Black is bad”. I was really quite taken aback and told her that was not true and that black is as good as white, brown, any colour. It was very disturbing to me to hear this and when I brought it up with Emmanuel he said they often hear this from their parents.

The Maasai people for many years have resisted many of the changes that have been made available to them with the thinking that it would protect their culture.  What they are now realizing is that if they are going to survive they do have to make changes and adapt. So for the last few years they have been trying to play catch up.  Firstly they realize that in order for their children to survive and have any hopes of breaking this poverty cycle , they need to go to school and get an education.  Approximately only 20% of the Maasai children go to school.  Most of that 20% go to public school which I’m told is not really providing much of an education. So to really get ahead they have to go to a private school.

Outside of my classroom visits I also worked in the library covering text books with plastic to protect them and get a longer life out of them.  In the younger grades the text books are shared between sets of 2-3 sometimes 4 children.

I also was briefly part of the construction crew whereby I had to help haul 6 feet or longer 2x4’s from where they had been dumped to nearby the cutting area.  The kids got a kick out of watching me do this! This was for the construction of the roof of the dining room and new kitchen that is currently being constructed.  Currently they have a very small kitchen and the kids eat outside.  When finished, the dining room will hold 1,000 people and when the school is not in session Emmanuel is hoping to rent the school out for conferences to generate much needed revenue for the school to run and expand.

The school is working very hard at being self-sustaining in terms of food.  Currently they grow their own maize and beans and vegetables and do not have to supplement with purchasing additional volume.  They are in the process of growing grass and will soon be purchasing cows to supply milk.

The students at Sirua Aulo Academy are really making a name for themselves in terms of the results they are putting out for the national exams.  So much so that they are seeing a rapid and stead increase in enrollment and even kids as far as Nairobi are attending as they are getting a better education then from even the private schools in Nairobi.  This is all great news for a school that started 4 years ago.

Bad news is that they are running out of classroom space.  Emmanuel is looking to build 3 classrooms by January to which I asked is that doable? He said construction takes about one month. The problem is securing the funding.  A classroom cost $13,000 USD to build which includes all the desks, chairs, and chalkboard.

As well with more students, more teachers are required and right now the staff are sharing accommodations.  There is a plan to build additional staff quarters such that some staff can bring their families as well.  The budget for this project is $25,000 USD.

Aside from infrastructure, Emmanuel has to worry about retaining his teachers has he has picked the best of the best.   In order to do so he has to be competitive with the salaries.  He has a plan to help fund the salaries and increases by implementing a business that would help the Maasai women get their milk delivered into town where it can be sold for 40 shillings a liter, with 20 shillings going to the woman selling the milk and 20 to the business to pay salaries.  Right now because the women have no means of getting the milk to town a lot is going to waste as the family can only drink so much and they can only sell to a few neighbours. The capital needed to start this business is $30,000 USD; $20,000 for a truck, $5,000 for the containers and about $5,000 cash flow to pay for fuel, driver etc.

As I’m traveling for the next 16 months there is little I can do to help raise funds for this worthwhile cause.  But I will see what I can do when I return for my journey.  In the meantime for those who are reading this if you are involved in an organization and looking to support a cause and any of the above projects may be of interest, let me know and I can get you in touch with Emmanuel for further information.
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