‘Jambo, karibu’, hello, welcome, was the warm greeting we received at Kundeni Primary School. Located north of Malindi, deep within the bush of the Kenyan coastal province, Kundeni may be initially typified as an African school in need of economic support. Tucked away, in a place of almost desolation, it is far removed from the throng of shops or other amenities commonly associated with human habitation. For us, as volunteers who only occasioned the school with one morning visit, spent the best part of an hour walking the dry clay track under the heat of what was a strong winter sun. Many of the students who are in attendance of the school make this journey every day. There was little, indeed sporadic, evidence of habitation on route to the school, leaving one wondering ‘where have these children come from?’, ‘how long does it take for them to get to school?’, and ‘are they actually able to make it home for lunch and back again during the one hour and fifty minute lunch break?’. Although the school’s location may be described as desolate, the warm embrace we were greeted with speaks of nothing more than a tightly knit community filled with wonderful spirit, great pride and an earnest hope for the future. The students were thoroughly happy and spoke only well of school, enjoying their education, with ambition and future dream.
Many of the students, and also the teachers, stay at the school over night for the working week, due to the distance they travel in order to attend. There are no dorms, however. There are a couple of mud houses for the teachers to reside in, but the students spend their nights sleeping in the classrooms. Classrooms without doors, open to the elements of the evening bush. This does not dispirit the students, and the request to have separate sleeping quarters only cropped up with one student and as an after thought. The request to have five new classrooms was top of the list. Currently the school’s exterior buildings consist of two elongate buildings, parallel to each other, which each contain five classrooms. One of the buildings is condemned, but still in use as a teaching space and learning environment. It was built in the 1960s by a government-run company, and to the opinion of one of the teachers, they had not done a very good job. They had cut corners and finished the job quickly, thus today the building stands condemned. The cracks in the walls are beyond a simple re-plastering. The concrete floor is chipped and holed to such an extent it is an issue of health and safety. There is no lighting; the students must learn and the teacher must teach using the natural light that floods the vacant space of a missing door, the barred window and the holes in the corrugated tin roof. The remaining classroom in the block is partitioned with a mud wall, offering that final fifth classroom. The other classroom block, providing adequate and indeed a humble learning environment, was much more commendable. The solar panels funded by on-going proceeds from a neighbouring reforestation project- Bore Project, powers the fitted electrical lights, providing the necessary lighting for class.
Interestingly, the request for the five new classrooms came more from a learner-based approach to the structure of the school and teaching day. A teacher, in interview, explained how learning was more conducive in the morning; there was notable increased student performance when their lessons were in the morning than in the afternoon. So, the benefit of having the new classrooms means that all the students can start their lessons in the morning, improving their ability to learn and to perform. Giving them a better chance to excel and continue with secondary education.
Having to pay school fees is an issue for both primary and secondary education, but if a student has performed well they are more likely to get sponsorship for their secondary education. There was a case of one student, who the teacher spoke fondly of and with pride, who, as a result of their excellent grades, are being sponsored by a Kenyan bank for their secondary education.
Amongst the request for a new block of classrooms came the request for shoes. In speaking with our host, I was informed that it is Kenyan Governmental policy that every child must go to school. However, the Kenya Government does not provide state schools therefore every student has to pay annual fees. This year the fees have risen from KES 7,000 to KES 14,000 (approximately £106 GBP, $166 USD). Although that may not sound much by western standards, the people of Bore, on average, earn less than $1 USD a day per household. So within a local context the fees are somewhat unaffordable. The issue of poverty was raised more in this context than in any other. Some students receive sponsorship, others may receive a bursary from the government, and some families are provided with additional work by the government in lieu of paying the school fees.
Although every child in Bore attends school, 200 out of the 300 students walk bare foot, some students’ families cannot afford a school uniform. But I have never seen happier students, so keen and eager to learn and to play. These are the students who not only need but truly deserve adequate classrooms, materials, food and a protective place to sleep.
Before leaving the Kundeni School, the students presented us with a performance song and dance in Swahili, about the issue of illness that is a living reality for those drinking unclean water. The school does not have running water. The fresh water supply is sourced from rainwater collected in a tank. When this runs dry, the next immediate source is the lake nearby, which is not clean. Although illness arising from the use of contaminated water is a reality very much close to home, the performance was charismatic, educating others on a serious issue through entertainment. The expressive performance of song and dance really signifies the high-spirited individuals at Kundeni School, who together form a wonderfully warm and embracing local community. Being so welcomed into their community is an experience to be very grateful for.