A weekly diary at Nyakome Friends Secondary School

by Tereza Constantinou and Jasmine Yim

Week 1 – Training Week 

After a couple of days of travelling, we arrived at the Central House in Kisii. This house acts as a HQ/safe-space for EPAfrica project workers and the summer team throughout the summer, and was where we spent the first week of training. Trainings started off by getting to know each other with some ice breakers, and progressed to discussing topics such as EPAfrica’s 5 Goals, the definition of development and Kenya’s history and culture. 

Part of the training included a school visit to a secondary school that EPAfrica Project Workers (PW) have previously worked in. There we got to see the impact of the investments, as the head teacher showed us around the library and lab that the PWs have helped develop. This helped kickstart our enthusiasm and by that point we couldn’t wait to get to our school and start our projects!!

Week 2 – First week in school 

The week started off with the Head Teachers’ (HT) conference, where all of our schools’ HTs came to Kisii. In our PW-HT groups, we discussed the current state of the schools and any issues they face. We brainstormed first-draft solutions and ways we could develop projects that could help. After the conference, our HT drove us to the school. 

When we first arrived, the HT gathered the students to the garden to welcome us and allow us to introduce ourselves. We then went into the staffroom to meet all the teachers and staff members. The Deputy guided us to our room, which is part of the teachers’ accommodation behind the school. She brought “porridge” – a drink that is a mixture of flour and water for us to try. Trying to be kind, we made the mistake of pretending to like it (which lead to us being served some at 4pm everyday at school..). The Deputy was very welcoming, as she then sat us down and asked what we needed to ensure we settled in okay. She then immediately sent people to the store to buy us mosquito nets, blankets, and whatever else she thought was necessary to make our place feel more like home. 

On Day 2 we asked Deputy for a proper school tour. The school is very beautiful – from the main building consisting of the staff rooms and classrooms, there is a big garden sloping down, surrounded by tall trees. However, the problems the school faces were becoming evident. There are not enough classrooms, but the ones existing were not efficiently used. The guttering for rainwater collection was in poor state, and there were no filters to purify the water before consumption. 

Settling into routine, we spent the week finding more about the school, and ways by which we could help tackle these issues. We did a student survey to find out more about the school from the point of view of the students, and to learn more about their experience here. Issues like no access to enough clean water, leading to illnesses such as cholera and stomach ulcers, and no dining area kept coming up. 

The HT drove us and a teacher to the nearby market, Oyugis, such that we could familiarise ourselves with the area and know where to go when we need to purchase food or school supplies. 
The extent of the Deputy’s kindness was tested after making our first sad attempt at manually washing our clothes in a bucket, as instead of making fun of us, she sat down and taught us and demonstrated how to properly do it. 

On Sunday we were invited to join the students to church. The service was very long and equally as passionate. By the end we were invited to the stage to sing a Christian song for everyone. Jasmine wanted to sing silent night but thankfully I managed to convince her otherwise. 

Week 3 – Planning our projects

The main projects that we would need to invest in were evident by now, so we were able to start planning them out and budget for them. The main issues are the lack of water, no dining space and no hand-washing facilities.  We started doing research regarding ways by which the school could harvest more water, and were able to conclude that the best fit for the school was collecting rainwater. Using online software, we determined the minimum volume of water that the school would need to store to last through dry seasons. We also talked to school staff and students to determine the main uses of water and ensure that no water is being wasted or used carelessly. 

We invited in the school plumber and technician so that we could discuss our options regarding adding more guttering and water tanks, and estimate quotations. To find out the cost of the materials, we then went into Oyugis to cross-compare prices of shops and find the cheapest one for out needs. The prices were seeming too high for our initial budget, so we proceeded with applying for a grant within EPAfrica for extra funding regarding water projects. 

Two of our friends from school, students Faith and Nancy who often stopped by for a chat, came over for dinner so that they could try “our food”. Coming from Hong Kong and Cyprus, we thought a cheap take on pasta with tomato sauce would be a great representation. Sadly their kindness couldn’t hide the fact that they were not enjoying our food, and so marked the last time they came over to eat.

For the weekend we headed back to the CH for meetings with the summer team. On Sunday, a group of us then headed to meet with an organisation called AquaClara, experts in all water projects, to explore the possibility of working with them for our schools. 

Week 4 – First steps 

Jasmine was feeling ill over the weekend, so on Monday we decided to visit the clinic, where we found out she had tonsillitis and would have to rest and take antibiotics for a week. So returning back to Nyakome, she spent a few days in bed resting whilst I went into school alone. 

The week started off with a long meeting with the HT, where I passed on all the information we collected during out meeting with AquaClara, and we agreed to proceed with working with them for the school, adding guttering, 2 x 10000L water tanks, a school filter and installing hand-washing stations. 

Over the next few days, I invited in the welder to discuss making the tables and benches for the dining hall and receive a quotation. They then drove me to their office so that I could look at examples of ones they’ve made before to decide the best fit for our school. The mason also came in to remove the partition that was dividing the room. 

In the mean-time the HT and teachers would not stop asking about Jasmine and how she’s doing, saying how much they missed her. Thankfully Jasmine was feeling better by the end of the week, and was able to come to school to stop everyone from worrying 🙂 

For Friday dinner we visited friends from a nearby school at a restaurant in the market closest to them, before spending a quiet weekend in. 

Week 5 – Projects underway 

We went back to Oyugis to purchase the material needed for the construction of the tables and benches, and the paint needed for the dining hall. We then got a ride back to the school in the van carrying out materials, and met the groundsman at school to help us place the materials in a location where the welder could work.

The mason came in to fix any holes in the dining hall walls. He also completed the partitioning brick wall between the kitchen and the dining hall (to prevent smoke from entering the room) such that the cement could be dry in time for the painter to come in. 

Before leaving for holiday week, we called the painter and made arrangements for him to come in and paint the interior and exterior of the hall and the window panes. A technician came in to make measurements for the window panes. Whilst the painting was being done, he was preparing the window panes such that they could be installed when the paint had been completely dried. 

We arranged for an organisation called Vinbell to come in to the school to give presentations. The group of women split the students into 2 groups – boys and girls. They discussed sanitation and menstruation with the girls, giving out free pads and removing any associated stigma, helping empower them and feel more self-confident. They discussed hygiene and safe sex with the boys, helping finance underwear for students that did not own any.

Week 6 – Holiday Week 

The schools have closed for long vacation for 4 weeks, so we get a week off work to relax and explore Kenya beyond the scopes of our village. Our plan was to climb Mt Kenya for the first 4 days, and then join the rest of the group at Mombasa.

 On our way to Mt Kenya, we stopped by Nakuru where we visited a crater and the lake. We tried to stroll into the natural park surrounding the lake. Little did we know that you needed a safari car to get in and that it would be dangerous otherwise as it is home to lots of wild animals. Somehow, though, even without lack of planning, the security officer guarding the gates was able to call up the best guide with the best car to come pick us up and take us on a safari. We ended up seeing so many animals (20 to be exact), including a leopard – the only animal our guide said he hasn’t spotted in his 8 years of being a guide. 

Completing Mt Kenya took a total of 4 days. The first 2 days were just climbing, and we stayed overnight in small huts along the path. On the 3rd day we woke up at 2am to finish the climb and reach the summit in time to watch the sunrise. As stunning as the views were, however, we were absolutely freezing so rushed back down to our hut for a hot breakfast. From thereon we just descended back down to the village to return our rental equipment, and took a train to Mombasa. 

Whilst there we had a day planned where we went out to sea on a boat to see dolphins, went snorkelling, and then had lunch on a little island near the coast. 

We hadn’t planned our return to Kisii ahead, so we ended up spending 2 days travelling, taking a 12 and a 10h coach back. Thankfully we made it back in time for the mid-summer meeting, where we spoke to representatives from other charities and organisations, that helped us regarding the sustainability of our projects after we hand them over to the school. 

Week 7 – More project work

Coming back from holiday week was quite sentimental – finally seeing the dining hall cleaned up, painted and with windows installed. Also the concrete bases for the tanks were completed and drying. 

We also came home to find out that we’ve gained some pets! Sadly, though, they are termites that keep building a mud pile blocking our bathroom door. As many times as we tear their pile down, they keep building it back up 🙁 

The welder had completed the bases for the tables and benches, and we had to go to Oyugis to buy bolts to secure the wooden panels on top of them. 

AquaClara’s engineer was working throughout the week, installing the guttering on the roofs and adding under-ground piping. 

Jasmine was unfortunate enough to fall ill again, this time with a stomach infection. She was prescribed antibiotics for yet another week. 

On Saturday we headed back to a bank in Kisii to transfer money to AquaClara’s account. Sadly, google maps was wrong about their opening times (should’ve known, quite common here). We had to crash at the CH to try again on Sunday, but sadly the banks that were open on a Sunday were not the ones that Aquaclara had an account in, so we had to stay yet another night at the CH to try again on Monday when all banks were open.

Week 8 – projects projects projects!

Still in Kisii, on Monday we went to the bank to send money to AquaClara for the water tanks and school filter. Wanting to get some work done with wifi, we accidentally discovered a 5-star hotel restaurant where we had the biggest breakfast yet. Since they had wifi, we ended up spending the rest of the day there completing our admin work. 

With all of our projects underway, we start working on an updated post-secondary opportunities guide for future PWs to use and print for the schools, finding more information on how students can apply for funds for further education, updating contacts and expanding on information on career opportunities. 

Using our last bit of the budget, Jasmine was preparing informative posters for the school regarding careers, which we aim to decorate the interior of the dining hall with. 

When we first arrived at the airport, some of us were mistakenly only given 1 month access to Kenya. As this month has expired, we had to head to Kisumu to the Department of Immigration to get it corrected. The trip wasn’t a complete waste of time though, as we were then able to head to a nice cafe for lunch for a proper latte and a Mexican meal. 

For a weekend trip, we planned a trip to Maasai Mara, the most popular safari location. The group was split up into 3 matatus whose top could lift up, allowing us to stand in to view the animals. We spent all of Saturday driving around in the park, and managed to see the Big Five (lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard, rhino) in just one day (plus 27 more)! On the Sunday the trip was completed with a visit to a Maasai village, where locals from the Maasai tribe danced for us and introduced us to their culture. 

Week 9 – Project Completion

The water tanks had arrived and the engineer made the connections with the guttering, completing the project. 

We spent the week reaching out to schools of secondary education such as universities, colleges and polytechnics, organising a careers day for when students return to school. We also had meetings with the HT who helped us reach out to school alumni in different fields, asking to have them come talk to the students as part of the careers day.

We went into Kisii town with the headteacher, where he directed us to the shop with the cheapest wholesale sanitary pads to buy for the students. The school will then sell them to the students at the discounted price, and use the money they collect to buy the new pack every time the previous one runs out. 

With the projects being completed, we split out duties. Jasmine was working on a post-secondary school opportunities guide for EPAfrica to print and provide our schools with. Meanwhile, I was completing our admin and reports. 

In the meantime, the tables and benches had been completed, and the dining hall cad been furnished! They have even already been used to support a local church meeting. 

Week 10 – Final Week 

We spent Monday in Kisii finishing off admin and printing and laminating the posters. 

Going back to school Sunday morning, we had arranged a meeting with our HT, Deputy, and a PTA chairperson do sign a Memorandum of Understanding, to ensure that the project handover goes smoothly and that the appropriate staff members will be in charge of the maintenance of our projects. 

Wednesday was our last day at the school. We’d planned a careers day, where a college and an alumnus member came in and spoke to the students, encouraging them to work hard and to pick the appropriate modules for their desired career path. 

For our last day, the school went big on celebrations. We had a huge lunch made especially for us. Then as soon as the careers day ended, our official celebrations began. The Deputy and the students sang songs for us and danced with us and they cheered and celebrated the completion of our projects. They even bought us gifts to thank us – a maasai shuka that they wrapped around us and bracelets with “Thank you Teresa” and “Thank you Jasmin”. As we were leaving early Thursday morning, we had to say our goodbyes to everyone – ensuring we took lots of photos. 

About Emily Grotto

Emily was a Project Worker in 2014 and has held various positions since. She  is currently Director of East Africa Strategy.