After a treacherous matatu ride from Narok, we pulled into Nakuru more or less in one piece. I say treacherous because a matatu is a van designed to carry 14 passengers and at one point there were 20 of us crammed in there plus an old 19” CRT television, 3 large sacs of what appeared to be potatoes, and a goat. And that wasn’t even counting the driver or the conductor who hung off the side of the van encouraging more people to sardine their way inside.
We were met in town by Joab, the manager of the International Village (a small camp for visitors), and he took us to the countryside where we would be staying. The IV was pretty much adjacent to the Nakuru National Park so these were our neighbours:
We didn’t really see the need to pay the US$80/person to go inside since the view from the side of the road was pretty good.
The IV itself was a spacious compound that was very comfortable. Our rooms were brick and mortar affairs with sloping tin roofs, as were many of the buildings, and the beds were very thoughtfully outfitted with bug netting.
Our dining area, as you can see, was quite airy and spacious as well.
Only two buildings were constructed from wood and mud which was a small house that had been converted into a pub and the kitchen by the dining area where we prepared our meals either by gas hot plate or by open flame in the fire pit. We were to stay here for 11 nights so, thankfully, the accommodation and facilities, though rustic, were more than adequate.
After we got settled we headed to the school where we would be volunteering – Soar Kenya Academy and met James, the founder and director.
Our intention was to act as teaching assistants to the local teachers but there were more than a few occasions that there were teachers absent and we were just thrown in there. This school ran Pre-K through grade 5 so Barb was more than comfortable to just jump in and teach anything and everything.
I, on the other hand, was not as versatile. 1) I’m a high-school teacher, i.e., accustomed to working with older students, 2) Music, my specialty, is not a course taught in very many schools in Kenya, and 3) my resemblance to a road construction foreman was probably disconcerting for the students (more on that later). In the end I taught English, Math, and Science to the Grade 5 class.
The students were very friendly and we were a bit of a novelty so we were greeted with “Hello, how are you?” about 50 times from each child. What was even more disconcerting was the fact that, because of the different colour of our skin, the children all wanted to touch us. Caleb and Connor found this a little disturbing and encroaching on their personal space but Barb gave them strategies and ideas to avoid uncomfortable situations and to politely decline being touched. It didn’t always work but I think it helped.
Soar Kenya Academy was founded just 6 or 7 years ago by James Yegon, who had a vision of a safe, affordable place for children to go to school and have enough to eat so they could focus on their education. James has had bore holes drilled for water and helps supply the community beyond the school with fresh, clean water that has been treated to remove excess fluoride (which is known to cause problems with the teeth). Everyone from the surrounding area also brings their cows to drink from the trough of fresh water that comes from the bore holes. Soar is still in the growing stages and James is hard at work to ensure that the needs of the children are being met.
One day I ventured to the kitchen area to return my plate after lunch and met the two lovely ladies who did all the cooking for the 300+ students plus the teaching staff. I was amazed at how they could crank out that volume of food considering the facilities they had. It looked like they had two giant, fire-fuelled rice cookers and a couple of massive pots. Ugali was the staple dish that consisted of a pasty bread-like lump made from maize or millet combined with a boiled kale-like vegetable and is eaten with the hands.
One evening we were sitting around the IV and James was looking at me and speaking in Kiswahili to Joab, Jata (James Tangus), and Sammy (the night guard).
“You say you’re all from Canada Mr. Clay?”, asked James.
“Yes,” I replied, “we were all born there, why?”
“Because you look like Chinese,” said James. “All the roads in Kenya are built by a Chinese company. They hire the labour locally but send all the foremen from China. You look like a Chinese foreman we know.”
“Don’t be surprised if you get stopped in town many times and are asked for a job,” said Jata and they all laughed.
So, apparently, if teaching doesn’t work out in Kenya I could always go into the road construction business.
Another evening Joab came to ask if we would be willing to give a 2 hour talk at the local high-school about anything we wanted. I agreed but told him it may not be a whole 2 hours but he assured me that was fine since we could leave time for questions at the end. The talk took place in a Science lab with rough-hewn wooden benches and could hold about 40 people comfortably but they managed to cram in about 120. We managed to borrow a projector to show our PowerPoint and this was the only venue that had electricity.
Barb and I wracked our brains and we came up with a motivational talk referencing Spencer West to Malala Yousafzai and Iqbal Masih to Katie Stagliano. We explained the purpose of our travel and the importance of education. Even Caleb and Connor gave a couple minutes talk each to these high-schoolers as part of the presentation about what has impacted them. In the end it was very well received and the facebook comments were very complimentary about the evening. This is probably my favourite comment:
This experience has been very good for us to see. It was great for Barb and I to work with students where the vast majority truly value and appreciate the education they are receiving. It was great for the boys to see how different this Kenyan school is from their school in Oakville and how grateful the children are to have something to eat. I think this could be a future partnership with our school, St. Mildred’s.
From here we head back to Nairobi to catch a flight to Tanzania.