Last Monday Lizzie and I visited Ivona Secondary where Alex and Thea are Project Workers. We were shown the lab technician keenly demonstrating the newly-installed water and gas taps (with evidently excellent flow) – before the water used in experiments had to be fetched from the contaminated tank and gas was taken straight from a cylinder. A very smart (but inexpensive) laser printer was being put through its paces in the staff room. Many of the staff told us how important the quality and speed of the new machine are since old fashioned duplicators take far longer and often make exam papers unrecognisable for students.
This is just one example of what most PWs are currently focusing on, namely resource investment. Traditionally KEP has focused on providing textbooks and lab equipment in its schools and for many this is still the priority. Since the introduction of Free Secondary Education enrolment has rapidly increased, leaving schools that were poorly equipped even worse off in terms of learning materials. With ratios as bad as one textbook to twenty students in some schools KEP has visited, PWs can and are providing hundreds of new books for their schools. The story with lab equipment is very similar – since 50% of KCSE marks in science subjects are for practical work, keeping enough equipment for students to do regular practicals is vital. Most PWs have now either received or ordered in their resources. Watch this space for photos over the next few weeks!As well as these traditional areas of investment, PWs at some schools (like Ivona) have been branching out into less common ventures. As well as helping to complete water, gas and electricity projects, some PWs have been looking into income-generating projects and initiatives that try to reduce the operational costs for the school (for instance by purchasing printers). These last two can sometimes overlap – at Lirhembe Kate and Ewan have invested in an extremely efficient printer/photocopier which not only makes exam paper printing faster and cheaper for their school but can also generate a steady income if its services are offered to other local schools and businesses.
Completing water and electricity projects has been significantly aided by the London to Paris in 24 hours (LTP24) fund. Click here for details of the massive fundraising effort that went into raising the £4.5k available for such projects. Over the past few weeks the five Kakamega schools who successfully applied for a grant from the fund have been planning and budgeting for the receipt of their money at the end of this week. For instance at Tim and Jess’s school Demesi, LTP25 money will be used to provide electricity to a computer lab, which will not only allow students to make use of the computers the PWs are purchasing for them but will hopefully also generate an income as there are plans to offer computer lessons to the local community.
But resource investment is only a part of what PWs do during their time in Kenya. Some Project Workers have been busy setting up Post-Secondary Education days, where local tertiary educators or businesspeople come to give students an idea of what options they might be able to pursue after school. Kate and Jorge have taken the lead in updating KEP’s ‘Careers Guide’ for Kakamega, a booklet that aims to collect as much information on local colleges and employment prospects as possible. This is an extremely daunting task because there is no single source of information on what actually exists by way of colleges in Kakamega (let alone business sectors) so most PWs have been given an institution or two to visit and write up – the project is very much a team effort!Beth (along with Becky in Kisii) has been pioneering a first for KEP – last Thursday as part of a health week at Esokone she was instructing a group of students and Lizzie and Emma from the Summer Team how to make reusable sanitary towels. The idea comes from the NGO Irise
which teaches volunteers how to train others to make the towels. KEP along with many other NGOs has found that attendance rates for girls are generally poorer than boys in rural secondary schools for a variety of reasons, including lack of access to affordable sanitary products. Girls without funds to purchase pads simply have to stay at home and use rags or mattresses to manage their menstruation. Thus equipping girls at our schools with the skills to make their own sanitary products from the simplest of materials (essentially just fabric, a plastic bag and some absorbent towelling) should have a significant impact on their attendance. One of the students was even overheard saying to a friend that she would like to start a small business when she left school selling the sanitary towels.
Meanwhile the Summer Team has been characteristically busy. School selection has continued at such a pace that we already have enough schools selected to partner with next year! Going on school selection visits can be one of the most fascinating and inspiring parts of volunteering with KEP. For instance, at a secondary visit to Emanyinya Secondary school, Lizzie and I found a Head Teacher who had, in the space of a year, turned around a school on the verge of collapse. The previous Head Teacher had been suspected of misappropriating funds so the Board of Governors had brought in Musa Obura. Enrolment and performance have been boosted, the staff now has the enthusiastic support of the local community and the students are brought into a dialogue about what their school needs to develop. One female student gave an exceptionally eloquent explanation of why textbooks in a functioning library were so necessary for the school to develop. All the school seems to need to flourish is a boost in terms of educational materials that (school selection depending) KEP may be able to give.
Summer Team and PWs all visited Kakamega rainforest last weekend. It’s extremely hard to capture in pictures or even words the vibrancy of the smells, sounds and sights of the forest. It is the largest remaining section in Kenya of a forest that used to occupy an entire band across Africa. Our guide Timothy explained that logging was one of the factors that brought about this reduction. But interestingly the forest is still very much used by the local population – edible fungi which make up only 20% of all those available are nonetheless collected for food and many of the plants are thought to have medicinal properties and are still harvested. One of the most extraordinary specimens was one nicknamed the sandpaper tree. Its leaves are collected by carpenters and beauty enthusiasts alike and are either used to sand wood or file nails!Perhaps a highlight of last week was a Kenyan style ‘come dine with me’ – the Summer Team were fed ludicrous amounts of githeri maize, beans and tomatoes) by our compound neighbours Nellie and Maureen who then visited us the following evening for a tomato and squash risotto. Summer Team were introduced to the wonderful world of Kenyan soaps, some of which are actually Mexican but dubbed into English and told about a rule in Nigerian films – before the end a spell must be cast that turns someone into a chicken.
Sad farewells have been now been said to PM Esme and Coordinators Anna, Matt, Lizzie and Emma, who have either returned home, are still travelling or, in the case of Lizzie and Jan from Kisii, are embarking on some very exciting expansion research in Jinga in Uganda. They’ve all been absolute troopers – from setting up a safe and comfortable Kakamega house to rushing sick PWs to clinics, all Summer Team members have been reminded how little sleep it’s possible to get as a coordinator! Lizzie, Emma and I had an opportunity to meet Jenny, Rona and Jan from the Kisii site in Kisumu this weekend to have a short debrief on the first half of the project and to suggest plans for the next stage. A first for KEP, the meeting was extremely productive, though perhaps the best part of Kisumu was the luxury of chocolate milkshakes at the Laughing Budha restaurant and real fluffy towels!
Most PWs left at the start of the weekend for their holiday week – many to Tiwi beach, some joining them via Naivasha – so the Kakamega household population has been dramatically reduced from twenty something to one! Next update in two weeks will have lots of photos of PW schools, information on holiday week and an introduction to two new Summer Team members – Anja and Louise.
Gabriel, Kakamega Project Manager