Dispatch 13: St. Gregory students help build Kenyan schoolby kenya on May. 15, 2010, under Life
By Fred Roberts
May 13, 2010
I can’t believe that I am uttering these words, but I wouldn’t mind it if it stopped raining! Yesterday afternoon the rain slowly began at 4 p.m. and then came down in buckets for a good 90 minutes. We were huddled in the library at Batian’s View playing cards and yelling at each other so we could hear over the thunder of the rain hitting the tin roof. The outside lawn resembled a marshy lake and there were mini rivers leading down different trails.
Thankfully the deluge let up and at 6 p.m., we departed Batian’s View for the home of Linus Mwangi, one of the Board of Trustees at Irigithathi Secondary School and a practicing minister. The dirt road was in rare form, the washboard surface now filled with mud and serious currents flowing on either side. Where the road took a little dip, it was totally submerged. We bumped, slid, skidded and fishtailed along, but as usual, Mwaniki drove like a champion and delivered us to our destination.
Linus and his wife, Mary, welcomed us into their home as they would their own children. We crowded into their main sitting room, the walls adorned with old calendars, a posters or Mwai Kibaki, Kenya’s current president, and old photos of Linus and Mary on their wedding day and many more of their two daughters. Their humble home was quite cozy and full of family history. The daughters are now in university, of which their parents are very proud.
St. Gregory students enjoy dinner at the home of Linus and Mary Mwangi
Neither of Linus’s daughters went to Irigithathi, but the school is a short walk away. Long ago he was talking with others of his age and wondering what they could do to help the graduating students from the primary school. This was seven years ago and before the secondary school was founded. While many of the 8th graders at Irigithathi Primary School did well enough to attend secondary school, few could afford the fees. An added challenge was that the two public schools in the area were both five miles away. Getting to and from these schools daily was a tremendous burden for those who made the effort, and many did, as it was the only option. In the rainy season the students often remained at home and hoped the road would be clear the next day.
Linus and Mary Mwangi open their home to St. Gregory students.
To help prosperous students move on to better boarding schools, Linus and four others began the Irigithathi Welfare Fund. They solicited parents and community members to contribute to the fund, and each year a deserving and needy student would receive a scholarship to attend a prestigious school. To date three students have taken advantage of the scholarship that covers all four years of the student’s secondary school education.
The demand far exceeded the need, and so Linus and his partners sat down again to come up with Plan B. Thus, the seed for Irigithathi Secondary School was sown. Their thinking was that rather than sending students away from Naro Moru, why not begin a secondary school here? Using a spare classroom from the primary school and with the small tuition the parents chipped in to pay a teacher, eight students showed up for the first day of class on January 5, 2007. The first year was shaky for the young school. Money was always tight but as the months passed, more and more students joined the school, thereby bringing in more tuition. There was also the realization that in the second year a new class would start, and the need for another classroom. Fortunately a new kindergarten was built at the primary school, freeing up the two-room structure the toddlers used before.
Fast forward to May of 2010. The secondary school was certified by the government in early 2009, allowing them funding based on their student population. A principal was hired a year ago and there are now six full time teachers. Thanks to the fund raising efforts of the St. Gregory community, a third classroom was constructed last year, and we began the construction of a fourth last Saturday. In the Form 4 class (seniors) there are 38 students, 28 in the Form 3 class, 45 in the Form 2 class and 84 students in the Form 1 class. The Form 1 students currently use one classroom made of scrap wood lined with plastic sheeting to keep out the wind, and a compacted dirt floor. The students sit three to a desk, a common occurrence for primary students, but this is quite cramped for the larger secondary school students. By July, however, this situation will be rectified when the new classroom is complete.
The success of Irigithathi Secondary School is another example of the spirit of Harambee, Kiswahili for community effort, and the hard work of everyone involved. The parents work hard to pay the government subsidized school fees, which for many is a sacrifice. They also volunteer their time to maintain the school grounds, and are very involved with any major project, such as the current classroom construction. The students do all they can to be successful. I commonly see students on their way to school before sunrise, taking advantage of the one teacher who comes early each day to offer extra help. The teacher isn’t paid for these two-hour tutorial sessions, and no one is forcing the students to attend. They are all there because they want to be successful and keep their doors of opportunity wide open in the future.
Oh, yeah, the rain. Today the heavens opened up again precisely at 4 p.m. and we received another downpour. Just when things were drying out from yesterday, the deluge returned. That was four hours ago and now there is a quiet drumming coming from my tin roof and I am hoping I will have half a chance of taking a run tomorrow morning. At the same time I can recall many more times where I wished it would rain, all in vain. So I take back what I said before and will welcome any moisture that comes to this fertile land and provides a livelihood and healthy lifestyle for so many hard working Kenyans.