Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069

18th April 2013

Mid-term report by Sarah Croxford

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How can I summarise the last six or seven months in Kenya? Exciting, scary, tough, amazing, sad, joyful, a dream come true, a life-changing experience All of these and more!

I began my time at Mahali Pa Watoto in Nairobi by spending a week in each class, observing and helping. I wanted to get to know the staff, children and routines as well as start to identify the areas that I thought we could work on together, my brief being to help raise standards. After those three weeks we held a meeting and identified what the teachers thought were the school strengths and weaknesses, and at their request I also gave individual feedback to each teacher. This was a new and slightly daunting experience for me as a teacher in the UK Im only used to getting feedback, not giving it!

After this I really wanted to get stuck in! I started doing a choir each day with the top class, which they seem to enjoy; our debut performance was at the Christmas party! I also began to do maths and language groups with the children who were struggling from each class, making our sessions fun and hands-on. It was a steep learning curve for me as well, finding ways to communicate and working out what works and what doesnt its not the same as teaching in England!!

I organised for the teachers to visit a local Montessori nursery, so that they could experience this very different approach to learning. Mahali has a lot of great Montessori equipment, but the teachers are not confident using it nor do they really understand the theory behind it; this is something I wanted to focus on improving. They all seemed to enjoy the opportunity to go on a visit and we discussed the aspects that we can use at Mahali afterwards. While the teachers were on their visits I covered their classes, which was again very much a learning process for me!

During the rest of the term I continued with my groups and also getting involved with some administrational tasks, including designing a brochure to advertise Mahali Pa Watoto to parents who could afford to pay fees for their children. We normally only take the most needy cases and there are no fees, only a small contribution towards food, but we were expanding and we took in two baby classes in January rather than one. The hope was that around 50% would be fee-paying pupils; however, this didnt happen, and we actually only have one fee-paying pupil. But its a start, and we know there is a demand because parents have asked for fee-paying places in the past, as they know how good the school is and wanted to get their children in. The thinking behind this is mainly to increase local involvement, making this a more sustainable project and not wholly reliant on funding from overseas.

We ended the term, and the school year (in Kenya it runs from January to December), with a fantastic Christmas party. The children who were leaving us had a graduation ceremony as part of the day they wore special costumes and paraded up one by one to collect their certificates, walking along as if they were on a catwalk! The day also included visitors, a Christmas performance, presents from Father Christmas and sausages, chips and ice cream what a treat!

I flew back to the UK and spent Christmas with my family, then returned in January for the new term. The first few days were very busy, handing out uniforms to our leavers who were going on to primary school, doing the registration of new children, and going on home visits for all those who werent paying fees, as we had to check that they really were the needy cases. Having been to some children’s houses before, I knew what to expect… but it’s still quite a difficult experience. Most live in one-room houses made of readily available materials such as mbati (corrugated metal sheets) and wood. The houses are divided into rooms using fabric hung from washing lines which are strung across from one wall to another. Entering the house it is usually dark and very hot, as there is often just one window at the front, which may or may not have glass in it. Sometimes there was washing lying around waiting to be done, by hand of course, as many of the mums take in washing from other people to make a small living for their families. Other houses were full of flies or even had chickens wandering in and out. It is hard to imagine how a family of five or more (which most of them were) manage to exist in these conditions, but I know others in the biggest slums have it a lot worse. We did pass communal toilets in several places which is good to see – I know in Kibera slum they are few and far between. Many of the houses were clean and tidy with nice details such as a plant in a pot hung outside the front door; although they had little these people were determined to make the best of what they had. I felt more admiration than pity.

Once we were settled into the new term my main project was to set up a spare classroom as a Montessori room where we now keep all the Montessori equipment together so that classes can take turns to have a lesson in there. The classroom is set out much like the rooms at the nursery that the teachers visited, and there are no tables and chairs, just a carpet to sit on. This idea came from the teachers at one of our meetings, and I felt it was good as it enables them to try out different teaching methods without disrupting their normal classroom environment. I have learned that I have to take things slowly and ensure that the teachers dont feel undermined or threatened by any changes we are making. Anyway, once the classroom was ready I timetabled in slots for each class to use it and I have been leading sessions in there alongside the teachers. We have also had some staff meetings in there learning how to present and use the different equipment. I am hopeful that this room will continue to be used once I have left.

This has been my main focus, but I have also continued to do some administration for the school, lead a choir for the top class and generally do anything else that comes up! As well as my work in Mahali Ive got involved in visiting patients on a childrens ward in Kenyatta National Hospital with a group from my church, which has been challenging but rewarding too.

Another exciting event this term was our trip to the national park. Nairobi is unique in that its the only capital city to have a national park, and there is an animal orphanage and safari walk that were ideal to take our children to. Thanks to some people from church who raised the funds, we were able to have a great morning there and the children got to see many animals that theyd never seen before lions, cheetahs, baboons (their favourite!), rhinos, giraffe, zebras and so on.

I want to thank Hazels Footprints for supporting me and helping to enable my trip here. I love being a part of Mahali Pa Watoto and will be sad when its time for me to leave. Ive also enjoyed living in a totally different country and culture; its good to have your eyes opened and your views challenged! Im starting to think now about what next but Im really hoping to continue my involvement with Mahali in some way when I return to the UK.

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