There is nothing quite like travelling in a Kenyan Matatu. After our 10 hour matatu ride from Nairobi airport to our central house in Kakamega, we knew what awaited us on the morning of Friday the 30th of June as we set off for our visit to Kakunga Girls' Secondary School. As multiple matatu drivers jostled for our business in the bustling town centre, project worker Tom was charged with negotiating the best fare. Once our vehicle for the 30 minute journey had been selected, we squeezed into the people carrier - designed for 14 but typically carrys 20 passengers - the most savvy of us securing a window seat. Whilst the close proximity to strangers takes some getting used to, the stunning scenery of rolling hills and lush fields never ceases to take our breath away. The matatu was filled with a great sense of anticipation as we approached our first Kenyan school of the project.
On arrival we were greeted and warmly welcomed by the Headteacher, Gladis, Deputy Headteacher, Jocye and History teacher, William. Nestled round the table in Gladis' office, we took turn to ask questions on a range of topics from the previous EPAfrica projects they had found most impactful (one somewhat unexpected answer being the photocopier) to their views on the upcoming general election in Kenya. Kakunga Girls' is a school for 15-19 year olds, of which a greater proportion are aged 15-17. A quick glance at the school timetable on the noticeboard revealed the range of subjects studied, most of which are taught in English, from Maths and Science to Agriculture and Business. Having received a thorough low-down on the school, William escorted us across the beautifully kept gardens (we observed two men cutting the grass with sithes) to the classroom of 4th Form (the oldest) students, some of which are aiming to follow in the footsteps of the two students in the year above them who had gained a place at a national university. The girls were studiously revising for their exams at their desks and were intially bemused by our arrival. After some encouragement from William it became clear that they were curious to learn about the university system in the UK, remarking that in Kenya students are more likely to study subjects with direct career progression such as teaching, law or medicine. At one point, they tried to guess our ages; identifying one project worker as 15 generated much amusement. We also spent some time chatting to the girls in small groups and I was impressed to see the hefty English novel one student showed me which was the set text for her English exam.
Having briefly distracted the girls from their revision, we then continued our tour of the school buildings. William pointed out the generator previously funded by EPAfrica as an invaluable resource given the daily power cuts. We peered through the windows of the fully equipped science lab and had a peep at the bunk beds in another room for the boarding students. Then William proudly led us into the library, another project completely by previous charity volunteers. We passed the librarian creating plastic covers for new books and weaved between the subject labelled bookcases which weren't full but housed a few dozen books. William explained that due to the small size of the library, the book lending system had been very useful, giving students the opportunity to check books out and study where they wished. Flicking through an English language textbook, it was great to see it had been written with Kenyan cultural references. We settled down at the one long table at the back of the library and were treated to the local speciality tea, hard boiled eggs and bread rolls. Whilst devouring the sweet tea, which gave us all a much needed sugar boost, I glanced at the Guide to Making a Sanitary Towel booklet that previous EPA workers had compiled. Whilst the Kenyan government has pledged to give free sanitary towels to female Kenyan students, Kakunga school were yet to receive any. The booklet reminded us of the difference female health projects could make in our schools this Summer.
After a much needed respite from the mid-day heat, we mingled in the school grounds, admiring the colourful hand painted mural of the map of the world, which Africa at the centre, that had been painted by local artists on the one of the building's exterior walls. William was quick to fetch an Atlas from the library and asked me which countries they had omitted or drawn out of scale. It made me chuckle to see that on their map, Scotland had indeed gained Independence and was floating next to Ireland. We also remarked on the motivational slogans, such as 'No Pain No Gain' pinned to trees in the grounds. Gradually we realised our 18 member group had attracted much attention from the local Primary school children on their lunch break. Dozens of children, dressed in smart bright blue and yellow uniforms, aged 4-14 began to congregated at the edge of the school site. They were keen to teach us their local language and at one point broke into spontaneous song as we all clapped along. Some project workers in turn gave a rendition of Oasis' 'Wonderwall' to much amusement. Mothers nursing their babies looked on from afar and the school really seemed one of the core hubs of the community.
Whilst William did share with me his ideas for further possible improvements the school would like to make, he stressed the substantial sustainable impact the previous several years of investment that EPAfrica had made had had on the morale of staff, enthusiasm and wellbeing of students and school exam results. It was wonderful to meet such a passionate, united leadership team inspiring their own students, involving the local community and providing a model for other schools in the local area. Our matatu ride back to Kakamega was filled with excited chatter as, inspired by Kakunga Girls' School, we began to explore all the possible projects we could implement in our schools this Summer. To see what we do, watch this space.
Nicole is Communications and Information Manager on the Management Committee, and will be a coordinator for the second half of the project in Kenya during the project this summer