Dale and I were eager to hit the ground running, so we started work yesterday at the MKMF office. Dorcas is the current project administrator, and the only employee of MKMF besides the security/groundskeeper Jimmy. Dorcas gave us a wonderful orientation, listing off the projects and facilities MKMF is involved with. She also helped us know who the foundation board members were and their individual areas of expertise. We started strategizing about our priorities, and which facilities to visit first.
As I understand it, in Kenya, children attend nursery school for 3 years (A, B, C), then Primary School incorporates Class 1 (first grade) through Class 8. At the end of their Class 8 year, students take an important national exam which can determine (along with performance in classes 1-8) the level of Secondary School – same as our high school – (district, provincial, and national) they are eligible for. The national schools are better funded, and therefore offer better educational resources. Meru has a national boys school, and will soon have a girls school. This will be very good for the region. Public education is tuition-free (only since 2008 for secondary school), but parents may have to pay as much as 5,000 Ksh a year (about $60) for uniforms and supplies. Many laborers only earn about 100 Ksh a day, so this expense can be a big burden for some families, especially ones with several children. Even the bright students that qualify for the few national secondary schools can find it difficult to go because of additional expenses such as boarding. MKMF has programs to help students get the best education possible, by helping with uniform costs and providing scholarship funds to send students to the higher level schools.
The flagship for MKMF projects appears to be Kaaga Primary, just down the road from the office. It is one of the first locations for toilet and water projects, as well as a library. It is also the location we will first launch math and science club activities. We got to meet with the principal and several of his staff today, including the chairman of the board. It was a wonderful conversation, and they were excited to hear our proposals to help improve interest and performance in science and math. They proudly showed us how well Kaaga is already performing on exam pass rates – only one other public school in the district had higher scores. But they also admitted science and math were neglected areas, and it was hard to get students excited about these subjects. Hopefully we can help with that!
Kaaga is in the middle of a big construction project to add a kitchen, dining area, and some administrative offices. Parents pitched in to raise the funds. Currently the cook prepares lunchtime porridge over a wood fire in a small wooden shack. The new facility would have a chimney and much more preparation room. I was amazed at the resourcefulness to bring in income to supplement the meager public funds. On the grounds there was a banana plantation and a fish pond to raise tilapia. The goods are sold to support the school. What a great idea!
While we were there, Dale made the request (at Stephen’s urging) to use the sports field for running. It’s about a 400m loop around the field, more than adequate for him to get in good exercise. It’s much safer than trying to jog on the chaotic and often muddy roads near our home. They were happy to accommodate – so who knows, maybe he’ll inspire a running club!
Kaaga School for the Deaf
Next we went to visit Kaaga School for the Deaf, just a little ways down the road. This is the location of the community library built by MKMF to be available to students and families in the region. We stopped off at the office and briefly met the principal (Headmaster) as she was on her way to a meeting. The Assistant Headmaster was very accommodating, and since we arrived during a staff tea-time, brought us into meet all the teachers at the school. We introduced ourselves, and the teachers went around the room telling us their names, then we got to sit and talk with the teachers around us about their school and also what we were doing with the foundation. It was a great learning experience on both ends. One of the first things I sought to learn was some signs – I was happy to learn that even though the language is slightly different, many signs are the same as they are in ASL. Waaaaay back in college – one of my cross-country teammates had a deaf younger brother, and he taught me several words. Surprisingly, I still remember quite a bit, and look forward to learning more so we can communicate with the deaf children we come in contact with while on the campus and at church (Kaaga Methodist actually has a deaf service and signing classes).
After tea, we met the librarian at the community library and perused the holdings. I was impressed – there are some really good books there, and some we can really make use of in Riley’s education. Dale and I also grabbed several Kenyan education resources for national exams in agriculture, history, math, and science. I’ve learned a ton reading the agriculture book, and look forward to reading the history to help me understand the Kenyan background better. The other books are great for us to see what students are tested on, so we can better target our educational activities. I really enjoyed talking with the librarian, and he offered some ideas in engaging students at the library over the break. The school year ends in a couple of weeks, then won’t resume until January, so we have an opportunity for some community projects if we can get plans together in time.
On the way out, we passed a school bus with the slogan “Disability is not Inability” on the back. Love it!