Kenyan Adventure for Mollie
Tuesday 26th November 2013
Last year I was invited to join a small group from our local Parish Church to visit a school in Africa, which has been supported by us for some years. After a year in the planning, the group left during October half-term for our adventure.
Our Lady of Nazareth School is located in the middle of one of Nairobi’s slum, Mukuru, where 350,000 people struggle to survive. In Swahili, mukuru means “garbage dump.” The roads there are unpaved and pungent smells of excrement and wood fires fill the air. Ramshackle houses of tin, plastic and wood have dirt floors, no running water, no sanitation, and no electricity. Hunger, disease and abuse are common.
For the 2,000 children enrolled at Our Lady of Nazareth School (OLN), education offers an opportunity to escape this desperate situation. OLN is the only means of breaking the cycle of poverty in which they were born. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. The emotions I felt as we arrived at the school, to be greeted by the scouts and ‘marched’ into school, are difficult to express. It was a humbling experience and I feel very privileged to have participated in such an adventure.
Pupils planted a tree for each of the nine parishioners visiting as their way of showing their appreciation for our visit and support. I helped to paint a map of Africa and butterflies on the outside of the classroom blocks, a little thing to brighten up the environment and leave our legacy behind.
I served Uji Porridge, a daily ration, rich in proteins, for both physical and mental development; the children receive it at everyday at 10am. For many, this will be their only meal, for although they are later served a bowl of cooked maize, the children save this to serve to their siblings at home who are not able to attend school. The uji was very sweet and was not of the consistency of any porridge I have tasted before.
In the classrooms, children sit attentively, three or four to a desk with 55 pupils in each class. The windows have no glass and the rooms are made from tin. The light in the rooms does not support learning and they are taught in a very didactic manner – the teacher leading from the front and the children chanting and repeating facts, figures and phrases. It is difficult to see the children sat at the back of the room and how they hear the teacher, I am unable to comprehend, yet they still thirst for knowledge.
Our Lady of Nazareth is an Oasis of Hope. It provides a haven for those who enter the gates and while they are safe within the grounds the faces you see are alive and smiling – grateful and appreciative.
I learnt so much from my trip, which I cannot deny was quite an eye opener. I want to do more to help and as I watched the children pour over the books we took as gifts, I fought back the emotions swelling up inside me. I wanted them all to have a picture book, a snack and a treat but most of all I wanted them all to have a little of what I have at home.
We set up a blog to share our holiday experiences in the hope that others will be touched and help us raise money to fund the education of children living this life. I realised that I cannot change it all, but if I can help one child make something of their own life, this in turn will help other people living in this beautiful country.
£500 per year pays for one child to attend secondary school for 1 year, £2000 supports them for four years and enables them to then go on to university. This money pays for books, food and teaching costs. A little bit different to Queen Anne’s I believe!
If I had been to visit Kenya as a tourist, visiting the safari and staying in a hotel, I would have had a wonderful time but also would have left with a very different impression of this country. I did ride a camel (great fun!) and also had the chance to observe animals at the watering hole when we stayed for one night in a tent (my style of camping with shower and electricity!).
I visited a tea farm and an elephant orphanage and drove to see the amazing sights of the Great Rift Valley. Watching the sun come up behind Mount Kenya with a giraffe in the foreground is an unforgettable image and one I will treasure. Bartering with the stall holders to get a good deal for souvenirs presented its own challenges and, until you have been kept awake by the call of the tree hyrax, you just haven’t lived!
What I learnt from this trip is indescribable. Zebra crossings on the motorway (people using the crossings, not the four legged animals crossing) and traffic jams the M25 would be ashamed of. They say that ‘pictures paint a thousand words’ but believe me, the pictures we took can only allow a glimpse of what we really saw. Without the smells and sounds surrounding the sights, the true picture cannot be seen.
I observed a very proud race in Kenya. One where people work hard all the time, will walk miles carrying heavy loads because they have no choice, and where hope fills their days.
I hope I can help raise funds to support this project, as although it is only one small school (2000 pupils) in a very large country, it only takes one person to make a difference and that might just be the one I can help to be sponsored through school.
Written by Mollie Robinson, L5