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We often hear it said that the world is becoming smaller, as travel, trade and communications across the globe get ever easier and faster. However, for the children attending the UK and Kenyan primary schools I have recently had the great pleasure of visiting and photographing, life and circumstances could not be more different.
|UK primary school June 2015|
A school day for a Kenyan child will mean leaving the house early, often without breakfast, and a long walk to school through streets that are dirt tracks with open sewers. Many children carry a smaller sibling on their back (and will continue to care for their younger brother or sister at school, wiping noses and sharing meagre amounts of food at lunchtime).
|Walking through the slums of Nakuru|
The children must wear uniform to attend school and it is patently obvious that these are handed on from child to child, until they fall apart. I was very surprised to see that the uniforms are usually very clean (at least at the start of the day) and it was nothing short of miraculous that Kenyan women seem to get their whites whiter than Vanish!
|Uniforms don’t have to fit or be intact, just as long as they are worn|
Education is highly valued in the slums and most parents ensure that their children go to primary school, to give their children a chance to better themselves and have future outside of slum life. The children themselves love being at school, as it’s often the best part of their day, with a focus on play, songs and lessons.
“The best thing we can give these children is love”
Katherine, head teacher at Ungarna School.
|Basic teaching facilities|
Many teachers are unqualified volunteers who do the best they can with, well, very little. There are no interactive white boards and libraries of The Oxford Reading Tree here. Paper and pencils are a very valuable commodity; exercise books are battered and falling apart and many children put their stub of a pencil in their shoe to keep it safe when they are not using it. Surprisingly, homework is issued each evening and parents will ask questions if it’s not given. The teacher writes out the homework in every child’s exercise book – there are often 40 or more children in a class. this was one of the tasks I helped with and a callus I haven’t had since college developed again on my finger.
Playtime is universally a fun time for young children and this is where the UK and Kenyan schools were at their most similar (if you overlook the gazillion health and safety hazards in the playground in Kenya and accept that we are wrapped in cotton wool and fear of litigation in the UK).
|Fun at playtime|
The schools do their best to give the children food and drink whilst they are in school. Despite very crude facilities – cold water and open fires – they provide a basic kind of porridge in the morning and a simple meal of stew and rice or maize at lunchtime. This, sadly, wasn’t always the case and we did see small children crying because they were hungry at one of the schools.
|This was actually the best of the three school kitchens I saw|
In the UK primary school’s dining room I watched sadly as children said “no thank you” one after the other to the offer of vegetables and it was hard to see the waste at the end of the meal. The Kenyan children ate every last morsel of what they were offered.
|I think the funny face is for my benefit and not about the food!|
I can’t finish without mentioning toilets… We fussy Mzungu (westerners) held our bladders at all costs to avoid having to use the facilities that the kids have no choice but to use. From halfway across the playground there’s a stench of urine and as you get nearer it gets worse. The little children do their best to toilet themselves but could be seen squatting in the earth outside the actual sheds and then struggling to pull up underwear, leggings and pyjamas (it’s Winter so they wear a lot of layers!). In pre-school in the UK helpers take little ones to the loo one by one and help them. I walked into one classroom to find the Kenyan head teacher demonstrating to a class how they needed to squat and take aim! I had no choice one day but to use the “staff” hole in the ground and actually it wasn’t all that bad and better for your calf muscles!
|I’ve never seen a UK head teacher do this lesson!|
Despite the hardship the children suffer, they genuinely love life and are grateful for the very little they have. They are loving, affectionate, funny, cheeky, energetic, competitive, clever, caring and immensely lovable.
There’s no short, medium or long term answer to this huge problem of poverty in third world countries, but I take my hat off to the many charities and individuals that are doing their best to make some kind of a difference. I am extremely proud and grateful to have worked alongside such people in Kenya and, cliche ridden though it is, I really believe I’ve come back a better person. I am determined to return and will be doing my best to raise awareness for the schools and for African Adventures and Derby County Community Trust. Thank you to all the amazing people involved in making #RamsInKenya 2015 happen.
A very special thank you to my personal supporters – Nic, Abii and Sam and our friends and family. Thank you to Stovefitters Warehouse and to all the families who bought one of my fundraising photo shoots.