Partnership with Bombi Primary school Kenya
Kenya trip October 2009
On a freezing October morning six students, Louise Hegarty, Katie Moore, Peter Mc Glynn, Gillian Robinson, Georgina Smyth and Richard Smyth, set off from Letterkenny accompanied by Miss Cowan and Rev. Stewart. Some 19 hours and 3 airports later we arrived in a sweltering hot Nairobi. The six of us had been involved in fundraising to provide a solar cell for a primary school in a remote part of Kenya, and were flying out to visit the school itself to develop links made during the project. http://bridgingthegapafrica.org/galana
We first got involved when Derek Roulston, who had been working as Community Development Officer in Bombi, visited our school with Robert Mramba, a teacher in Bombi. Derek had been helping the community in Bombi by teaching them new farming techniques as well as helping with a suspension footbridge that was being built over the Galana River. http://www.pcimissionoverseas.org/people/item/17/derek-and-linda-roulston/
As our Young Social Innovators project, we raised funds for a solar cell to provide light for the class eights, so they could stay on after school to study and take their exams. Three teachers, Rev. Stewart, Miss Cowan and Mrs Shaw, had flown out over the summer to develop this link and prepare for our trip.
Monday 19th October
After flying in, we travelled to the Lutheran guesthouse where we stayed the night. We visited the Nairobi National Museum to brush up on our Kenyan culture and learned some interesting things, like the Maasai tribe’s traditional drink made from cows blood and fermented milk. Afterwards, the braver among us visited the snake house and were informed than many of the varieties on show were native to Kenya. Then we checked out the local shops and experienced some of the craziest driving we’ve ever seen.
Tuesday gave us an early start and a long day of travelling. A 12 hour bus journey, and complimentary African massage, brought us from Nairobi to the coast. On our way we passed dozens of shanty towns built alongside roads that make Donegal by-roads look like motorways in comparison. We passed stands for red onions and live rabbits before entering Tsavo East National Park where we were treated to views of elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, zebra, ‘ostriches’, water buffalo, small deer called dik dik, water bucks, lots of birds and more than a few lizards. We arrived in Malindi late in the evening and after dinner, had an early night.
On Wednesday, we visited the PCEA in Malindi. As our ‘adopted parents’ Miss Cowan and Rev. Stewart stocked up on supplies. We visited the nursery and sang nursery rhymes with the ‘watoto’ (children), before setting off for the school in Galana. To get there, we drove/floated through the Galana River, took the wrong road twice and got stuck four times. One of these times we were stuck for two hours, miles away from help, in the middle of the African bush, until the Kenyan Red Cross chanced upon us and towed us out. Understandably we arrived at the school later than expected, but the welcome we received was beyond phenomenal! All the students had stayed back long after school had finished, and they put on amazing displays of marching, dancing and some very memorable choir singing. We meet with the principal, Mr. Mudzomba and had our first taste of Kenyan fanta (much tastier and a nicer shade of orange).
We were woken early on Thursday by a particularly tasty rooster, and after a surprisingly continental breakfast of pancakes, joined the 8am assembly to start the school day. At assembly the whole school gathers for prayer and all the teachers take part to encourage the students. Before class starts, the students clean the classroom and prepare the desks for the teachers. Before joining the classes, the class 7’s took us to see the Galana Bridge that Derek had been helping with, as well as their school shamba (farm) which they run using new irrigation techniques. This gave us a good opportunity to get to know the students. Afterwards, three of us joined class seven while the other three attempted to visit another school nearby. But the roads had other ideas and heavy rains meant that they returned soaked to the skin from pushing the van. Those that joined class 7 leaned a bit of Swahili from the students. After school we joined their choir, who were preparing for the bridge opening. We did our best to join in with the Swahili songs, but I doubt any of us will be called on for a solo any time soon. After school we chatted with the students until dinner time. Because of the rain, we shared our dining space with a few hundred bugs but that didn’t stop us enjoying the amazing dinner cooked by Julius!
On Friday we lined up again for assembly. We divided into groups- three of us in class 7 and three in class 6. After role call, we had PPI (something like SPHE), Maths, Science, Swahili and Social Studies. Students study 8 subjects- English, Science, Maths, Social Studies, Art, CRE (religion), Kiswahili and PE. While we joined the classes, Miss Cowan and Rev. Stewart took a few classes for Maths, Social Studies, Science and PPI. One huge difference we noticed in class was the way teachers were treated. Students stand as a teacher enters and recite the school motto ‘Education for Development’. They remain standing until they are told to sit. After school we joined their games and taught them how to play rounder’s which they took to with amazing speed. The school day ended with another whole school assembly where each teacher gave encouragement and made announcements to their classes. We had fun showing them highland dancing when Richard and Louise produced their chanters. At night we sat outside and watched the shooting stars in an amazingly clear sky.
On Saturday we lay on until 8 o’clock, instead of rising at six like on the school days. We had great fun washing our clothes in the basins before setting of on a 14km walk around the local community. This gave us a great opportunity to get to know the students as they introduced us to their families and let us see life from their perspective. The class 8 students stay at the school to study for their exams, but the majority of the 311 students walk up to 7 km to school every morning and walk back every evening, many crossing the crocodile and hippo infested Galana River. On the walk we visited irrigation schemes, campsites, local shambas and the students’ homes. We were introduced to the locals including Robert Mramba’s father, who is a traditional Griama witchdoctor and currently has four wives. While visiting the shambas, we tried our hands at planting maize and making flour, with varying degrees of success.
On Sunday, we attended church in one of the classrooms because the new church wasn’t finished yet. The lively service lasted two hours and was an incredibly joyous experience. Every group in the church (the Sunday school, the men, the mothers, the teenagers, and the visitors) presented a song on their own and then the whole church sang from Swahili hymnbooks, accompanied by drums, tambourines, harmonicas and other instruments that had been kindly donated. This was followed by a joint English/Swahili sermon presented by Rev. Stewart and a translator, and more singing. Afterwards we watched the Boy’s and Girl’s Brigades practice their marching, before walking down to the river to see if we could spot any hippos. We also visited the home of James, one of the students and an officer in the B.B. We met his 96 year old grandmother who had just planted an entire field of maize that morning! That evening, Peter was given the privilege of ‘preparing’ the chicken for dinner. (He still has the blood on his shoes)
On Monday, we joined classes again. Each school day starts at 8 am with morning assembly. Class starts at 8.15. Students have two classes before breaking for 20 minutes at 9.25. Then another two classes before second break at 10.55. They then have two classes on either side of lunch, which is from 12.35-2 o’clock. The day ends with either games or clubs before evening assembly at 3.45.After class we joined the choir and had a go at traditional African Wata dancing, which seemed to amuse the other students. At night we joined the class eights for night study. This is the first year that students have been able to take the KCPE (Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education) at the school. The class eights stay after school and use light from the solar cell to study and do homework as they have no electricity at home.
Tuesday consisted of another day of classes. As they had been teaching us both their national language Swahili and their local language Griama, we decided to teach the students some Gaeilge. They learned very quickly and even managed to pick up the Donegal accent! Students’ ages range from 6-19. In the Kenyan system, students proceed to the next year group only if they have passed their exams with sufficient marks. Likewise, the secondary school a student attends depends on the points they receive in the KCPE. We also joined rehearsals for the opening ceremony. In the evening we taught Julius Dadi, who had kindly offered to cook for us during our stay, how to make a traditional Irish meal- Cuppa Soup. Julius’ cooking skills are unrivalled and it was even commented that if Julius was a Julia, he would make the perfect wife!
The day of the opening arrived. This meant huge preparations for the school. Every surface was scrubbed and polished by the students, as the finishing touches were added to the church and dispensary. Visitors on the day included Derek Roulston and his daughters as well as representatives from the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, Bangor West and Carnmoney congregations, AIG and Gorta, who had all helped with the dispensary church and bridge.Work on the bridge started in 2007 with the help of the charity ‘Bridging the Gap’. Before that, the school children and locals had to wade through the crocodile infested waters to get to school or go to Malindi, the nearest town 80 km away. Funds were raised and engineers developed the first suspension footbridge of its kind in Kenya. Soon other projects became interested in the Bombi area and the Medical Clinic and bridge were built.The church and dispensary were opened by the moderator of the PCEA (Presbyterian Church of East Africa) and performances were given at the church. Local dignitaries and representatives from different groups involved in the project gave speeches at the bridge about how they hoped the bridge would become a focal point for trade and tourism in the area. Unfortunately, after all their hard work, the school didn’t get to present, because heavy rain had delayed the ceremony.
On the Thursday we learned that we would have to leave early over fear of being marooned by the rain. Needless to say, that announcement did not go down too well with any of us! We spent the rest of the day saying goodbye to the students, before a lovely farewell party where generous gifts of necklaces, t-shirts and even knives were given. After a special assembly, the students escorted us to the bridge. We all promised to write and some of the students even wrote songs for us. Travelling back to Malindi, we visited Mr. Mudzomba’s home and met his family. In Kenya all teachers stay at the school where they are appointed. This means that they often only see their families for a weekend every few months. Often teachers don’t get paid for months at a time and this means that they cannot afford to travel home. At Christmas this year, the teachers in Bombi hadn’t been paid for three months so they had to spend Christmas at the school away form their young families. Unfortunately this is the case all over Kenya.