This morning we took a few minutes to gaze at the creations of the weaver birds outside our hotel rooms. These small, bright yellow birds claim a tree for their flock and build their nests by weaving together leaves and needles until they have a small globe that resembles nothing so much as delicate, green basket. The entrance is at the bottom, and the bird flies in from beneath, laying its eggs in a small pocket that bulges at the side.
The weaver birds remind me of the creativity and determination that the principals and teachers here use every day to try and protect their own flocks.
Today, we went to Habel Nyamu, Karoti and St Mary’s schools, all around the Kerugoya area of Mwea (linger on the m to get the right sound!). The schools are at three different stages of development. In Kenya, schools are village, district, province or national level, and their resources and the breadth of area from which they pull is related to their status. Habel Nyamu began like almost all of these schools when a group from the village pooled what money they could find to pay someone to teach their kids. In space borrowed from a primary school and with a fantastic principle newly provided by the government, this school runs only because it’s staff frequently work without pay and it’s principal is unafraid to ask for exam guides from wealthier schools, classroom space from the primary school, and help from any who can give it. He has done well-their are now three classroom buildings for the secondary students and a faculty building adjacent, built from the trees harvested along the fence line. Habel Nyamu is our only village school, but it serves a group of students who, because of distance and poverty, could not go to high school at all were it not there.
St Mary’s, we learn upon arrival, is the new name for Mutithi. Like Barnabas at Habel Nyamu, the principal at St. Mary’s is remarkable. She was brought in to save the school 7 years ago, and save it she has! In rural Kenya, it is quite typical for a boarding school to have its own farm and livestock. This lets the school provide a healthy diet to its students and keep down costs. St. Mary’s is experimenting with fish farming and dairy farming, among other things. Their projects deserve a post of their own, but even more remarkable is the sense of energy, pride and playfulness the administration here brings to the school. We talked one on one with the students we sponsor and were enamored of their thoughtful responses to questions, their ready smiles, and their ambition.
Like St. Mary’s, Karoti is a provincial school, but it has attained an impressive ranking and has held that status for decades now. We have special link to Karoti, both for its quality and because our coordinator for the region, Beatrice Mwaniki, is a teacher and guidance counselor for the school. We arrived to a campus made quiet by the teacher’s strike . Only a few Form 4 (senior year) students remained. They clustered in self-organized study groups, led by the girls deemed best in the subject at hand, preparing for the upcoming national exams while the country struggled to resolve the tensions created by a 15-year-old unperformed promise.
But Karoti made room for the students who chose to stay and had called our students in from the surrounding countryside to meet us. We will share more of what we learned from and a out our intrepid students later, but we take great pride in helping these young women who help neighbors and parents and grandparents cope with all of the pain and struggle that comes with hunger-level poverty and still get on a bus for an hour-long drive by themselves because they want to show their sponsors just how determined they are.