(Above photo – children making headbands from grass)
June 2016. We left England on a hot sunny day and arrived in Kenya in their cold season. We still prefer T-shirts but most Kenyans are in heavy coats and scarves. June is normally a dry month but this year the rain has continued. This brings its own problems for the children. It is difficult enough for a 4 year old to tramp 5KM (3 miles) across the bush in dry weather but in the wet, the black soil become very sticky and rivers swell making it almost impossible for the younger children to reach school. No nice pavements or Chelsea Tractors for the school run here.
Walking across the bush with its thorny acacia bushes brings other problems as the picture above shows. Parents buy a new school uniforms when the child starts school. These have to last for many years.
The thick cloud cover also hammers the school solar system. It produces less than 10% of the normal amount of electricity. We can cope with this for a few days, but once the gloom stays for 3 or more days, we turn off the computers and internet, the office become dark and the school starts to run out of water. No national power or mains water here in the rural bush.
The clinic now has a solar powered fridge for the storing of vaccines. About half the children in the community have not been vaccinated so now we can address this. Even the most prestigious government clinics do not have fridges. They have to bring in vaccines in a cold box when required.
Having a clinic at the school is working well for the school and the local community. Each day, a few of the school children visit the doctor. This reduces absenteeism and helps to keep the children healthy. The clinic is also starting to get a good reputation in the local community and the number of patients is steadily increasing. We were heartened to receive an email saying that from now, the doctor will be training the school children on medical and health education twice per week. The children will help drip this knowledge into their own families and the wider community.
Who knows what this is? We were also stumped especially as we had just removed it from the 1” pipe coming down from the water tank. After much debate, we decided it was a bat. The bat was obviously not happy but nor were the people drinking from this water !
Items break down a lot in Kenya. Sometimes it is something obscure like this bat in the water pipe, but usually it is due to bad materials or bad workmanship. On this trip we had to replace a faulty Kenyan made battery (less than 6 months old), repair a flooding toilet (bad workmanship), repair a bore hole pump (early failure of a German made pump) and repair a broken thermostat in a new solar powered fridge. One of our sponsored secondary school children was recently send home for a week after an electrical fault caused the dormitory to catch fire killing 1 boy.
Kenyans tell us that the country does not produce good engineers, and this is certainly our experience. Kenyan school have very few educational materials and the school curriculum is based around rote learning. This gives children very little experience of practical subjects or problem solving.
To help combat this, in August, St Joseph’s School from Ipswich are putting on a 2 week summer school for the oldest 3 classes emphasising learning through play and problem solving.
It’s the 2 -yearly school trip when most of the children visit an animal orphanage, a snake park and a museum. We ask the teachers what the children like most and they say the museum and the animal orphanage. When we ask the children, they all say the big snakes (Maasia children are terrified of snakes) and the lunch break when a monkey stole bananas from a teacher. Teacher Nicholas was giving out bananas to the children when a big fat monkey came up from behind, tucked 3 bananas under each arm and ran off. For many of these children, Nairobi (25 miles away) will be the furthest they have ever been from their homes and for some their first trip in a vehicle.
Maasai children are given a lot of responsibility from an early age. During our visit, one of the cooks was off sick having shredded her leg on her corrugated tin hut. How many school kitchens in England ask the children to help serve the mid-day lunch? Head Teacher Rispa also spotted the children mopping the classroom floor. In the words of the teachers, the older children “just demand responsibility”.
The work by Eric and his team to repair other charities broken hand pumps continues. Eric has just returned to the UK after 2 months working on the projects. Since starting last year, the team have now repaired 103 hand pumps; that’s around 20,000 – 50,000 people with local water. Some broke down over 10 years ago.
We hope you enjoy reading about our work in Kenya. You are welcome to leave a comment below.
Helen & Roger July 2016