Just north of Eldoret, in Kenya, is the village of Soy. Here, WIN has set up a school, the Nancy George Academy. Our East Africa Director, Robert Mulumbi, and his wife, Alice, have worked hard to get the school up and running. A group from England visited them in May. Here is their impression of the school:
The school sat in a plot of land separated from the road by a low fence. It consisted of a large field with several buildings nestling on it. The major building was made up of three classrooms, each more bright and airy than we expected, providing cool respite from the heat outside. The floors were packed earth, the “blackboards” merely painted onto the walls. The window frames were set in place but there was no glass in them – the money had run out before glass could be purchased. When the wind blows through, the children simply hold on to their papers to keep them from flying away. When it rains, they move the desks away from the windows so they don’t get wet.
There will be eventually be more classrooms, one for each year of primary education, and these will be added as children work their way up through the school. Eventually, there will be seven classrooms here, and each will be able to accommodate forty children – a high number by British standards but far fewer than the ninety plus per class we had heard of in some of Kenya’s schools.
Beside the classrooms was a small mud building, with a desk and glassless windows. This was the staffroom, a place for the seven teachers and two non teaching workers to go to for themselves. There were also buildings for the pre-school children, a small school kitchen and, in a far corner of the field, pit latrines. Eventually, Robert wants to install proper flush toilets, but for now the latrines have to do.
In the future, World In Need hopes to build dormitories here. Some of the children walk seven kilometres to get to school each day, and since the school day starts at 7am, they often leave home in the dark. In the rainy season, the roads are a muddy quagmire, and a dormitory would mean the children could stay on site, making life easier for them. It would also mean children could come from even further away.
In the school holidays the place is used as a training centre for Christian leaders and missionaries, thereby teaching and spreading the word and providing much needed income from the buildings.
The school kitchen is busy. Many of the children come to school without a meal inside them, and they will go home to no food at night. The school, therefore, has a feeding programme. Mid morning, all children are given a breakfast of porridge, and in the middle of the day they receive a proper cooked meal, which is eaten in classrooms, as there is no dining hall. The meals are cooked in the tiny mud hut, over a charcoal fire. Most homes in Kenya cook over charcoal. At the time of our visit, the school was borrowing cooking utensils from Robert and Alice’s home, although since that time a generous donation has allowed them to buy equipment of their own.
In the middle of the field was a water tower, newly built with a grant from the Water Trust. Water is pumped up from a bore hole and stored in the large tank from where it could be dispensed at the turning of a tap. The water from the taps was surprisingly cool and clear. The generator which provides the electricity needed to run the water tower will one day power lighting and computer points in the school as well.
Also in the field were climbing frames and old tyres for the children to play on, and goalposts for a game of football, and a flagpole on which they hoist the Kenyan national flag twice weekly.
When we arrived, the children were brought out from their classrooms and lined up in two rows, ready to greet us. The school opened in January 2009 with just one pupil. Its opening had been delayed because of the post election violence and its aftermath, so when it eventually began, it was a relief to Robert, who had worked hard for this project, and he did not mind at all opening the doors for just one child. He knew parents would be wary at first, unsure of entrusting their children’s precious start in life to an untried academy, but the dedication and quality of the staff began to pay off very quickly, and by October 2009 there were 73 children attending. Robert hopes to have a hundred pupils by the end of 2009. His own three children are among the students here, and his willingness to let his own family attend reassured a lot of parents.
Finances are a problem for the school. The children are supposed to pay school fees of twenty British pounds a term but the school serves a poor rural area in a poor country and few people have enough money to pay such fees. However, Robert believes education is something children should not be denied and he doesn’t turn away his pupils simply because they don’t have means. At the time of our visit, only four children were paying their fees. This obviously created a shortfall in the school funds and the school runs at a loss. Robert and Alice have countered this by injecting money from their own family purse, giving the meagre income that they receive from their farm and which was intended to support themselves.
One of the ways of counteracting the problem of finance is through child sponsorship. World In Need runs a sponsorship scheme whereby a child is sponsored to the age of sixteen on condition that the child attends school. It costs twenty pounds a month for each child sponsored and that money is used to pay school fees and other expenses such as uniforms and supplies, and to provide the family with other essentials that might otherwise need to be paid for by taking the child from school and setting them to earn a living. Most sponsored children have one sponsor who pays the full amount each month, but some are sponsored by two people and some by groups such as a Sunday school, or a class or a ladies group in England. However the money arrives, it is gratefully received and gives a child a chance.
After our arrival, we were introduced to all the teachers, including the Head Teacher, a self effacing young man named Bonventure, who told us how he had come to the Academy. After finishing his own schooling, he taught for two years at a Government funded school as an untrained teacher, and was thus able to raise the funds needed to go to college. He qualified as a teacher and wanted to teach in a school where the education would be of good quality, even though he could earn far more if he returned to the Government schools. He could also find employment closer to his home. At present, he walks to school and it takes him an hour each way. That he is prepared to do this gives an idea of how highly he thinks of the Academy.
After shaking hands with all the teachers, we went, spontaneously, to the lines of waiting children and shook hands with each one as we introduced ourselves. The children seemed shy at the time. Later the teachers told us they had been thrilled by our attention, and had talked of nothing else but our willingness to shake their hands. Some even vowed never to wash their hands again, as if we were visiting royalty or movie stars. It was humbling to realise how much our visit meant to them.
In the last 24 hours, we have been informed that Robert's wife Alice, may have a brain tumour. We are praying for her and their family at this time.