My first school visit was to Ngwata Primary School, Mlolongo Township, Machakos. To say I was unprepared for what lay before me would be an understatement. Now don’t get me wrong, having visited rural schools in my life before Amara Charitable Trust, I am familiar with the lack of facilities and poor infrastructure that exists in under-serviced communities and informal settlements.
Call me an idealist but in my mind a school, in the middle of a thriving community, bordering Nairobi should at the very least have proper structures.
My first question when we arrived at the school compound was, “are we here already?’
You will understand why when you see the sight that greeted me on arrival.
Quite shocking, when you look closer and see that these are classrooms all filled to overflowing with eager young learners.
The gloomy, overcast day just got even darker.
Majority of the students come from the neighbouring informal settlements and their families have placed great value on education as they know it is the only way to break the cycle of poverty.
As we walked through the classrooms and met the students, I realised one thing, they were excited to have visitors in their midst and proud to be in school. Most are not in the school uniform, but they are united their desire to learn. Their joy was contagious and quickly lifted my gloom. Against all odds, they are probably one of the most well-behaved group of students I have ever come across. This is a testament to the school’s principal and teachers.
Crowded classrooms, lack of desk space or reading tables in the library has not deterred their enthusiasm to learn.
Students are happy to sit on the floor in the library as long as they get the opportunity to read.
We believe reading helps students feel more hopeful of the future and see a world in which they can achieve their dreams in addition to improving their literacy.
Students were eager to show off what they were learning, and others were bold enough to speak on behalf of the class. Perminus a 13-year-old student came forward to say a few words and this moment has made a lasting impression on me and will forever be etched in my mind. That a young boy with nothing could be so grateful was a humbling experience.
Young Perminus was found looking for food at a dumpsite by the school’s deputy principal instead of being at school. She has since taken personal responsibility for him by providing him with a uniform and occasionally food to take home so that he can remain in school.
Amara Charitable Trust supports a feeding program here and the school serves a staggering 3100 lunches daily. The school lunch is what brings most of the children to school. Yes, a simple meal of maize and beans makes a huge difference in some of their lives – not being in school would mean going hungry or being forced to scour for food scrapes in nearby dumpsites. If it is not food they go in search of, it would be waste plastic or metal which they would collect and sell.
There is a glaring lack of facilities at the school – no playground, insufficient ablutions forcing the school to schedule comfort breaks, issues with staffing, the list goes on. You would think there would be a feeling of hopelessness here. You couldn’t be more wrong – hope permeates through the school. The teachers have ignited a love for learning among the pupils which in itself is a miracle!
For many children in the country access to education is not always possible and that is why what we, and other organization like us, do is so important.
Amara Charitable Trust, through its Education Fund Program offers scholarship opportunities to underprivileged students to further their education and learn a technical skill, while the Feeding Program not only keeps them in school but provides them with what is probably the only nourishing meal of the day.
Also, with the assistance of generous donors we have constructed six classrooms, a kitchen with energy saving stoves, donated desks, provided piped water to the school and built a fully functional library.
I may have been a little naïve in my thinking that learning could only happen in a brick-and-mortar classroom. While we are still a long way from having equity in some of the public learning institutions, the students of Ngwata showed me that they were willing to learn if someone cared enough to teach.
I started my visit with sadness that children were being forced to learn in such deplorable conditions but as we came to the end of our visit, that sadness was dispelled by the students’ hopeful faces and attitude of gratitude and the knowledge that they were getting an education and that the education was molding them into kind individuals who were accepting of each other.
Every opportunity I get, I speak of the indomitable spirit of the students and teachers at Ngwata Primary School. How could I not, when they have left an indelible mark on me? Theirs is a story of hope not despair, a story that is yet unfinished.
So, the lessons learnt are invaluable: to be grateful for all things big or small; be present in every situation so that the fleeting moments of happiness are not lost, if nothing else – be kind and always, always have grace no matter what your circumstances.