Monthly Archives

January 2017

The extra mile for the photo we’ve been waiting for

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We left Vitalis and the fundis a mountain of work to complete as we headed for Nairobi, then home.

He knew that the sooner he could get the basics completed, the sooner the children could leave their existing, unsafe school building. Consequently he worked like an inspired Kenyan building a school to finish the job.

So we were delighted when he sent these photographs showing the almost-ready latrines, the school signs erected on the roadside, a front door and, joy of all joys, the photo we’ve been waiting for, the children sitting at desks in the new school.

Hats off to Vitalis who has ‘gone the extra mile to finish the floors’ as he says in his latest email. He’s travelled plenty of miles already, and there are plenty more to go. And what a pleasure it is to travel with him.

Good Effort

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As we approach the end of the build, we are sad to leave Irovo and return to South Africa.

Although there is still much to do — put the roof on the ‘open’ classrooms, dig the second latrine, level the floors, and probably a thousand other tasks — we have made a big enough start for the children to begin using their new school in a few days.

It may not look much (cameras can be very unforgiving), but considering the lack of tools, paucity of materials, logistics of deliveries and the blistering heat, we are happy enough with the first effort of Strive for Excellence to bring education to the remarkable village of Irovo, Kakamega county, Kenya.

Sports Day

By | news

After the children made a mad dash for the Blackpool-donated jerseys and shorts, Sports Day on the new land turned into a combined football/tennis/badminton match. I’m not sure who won, but the game ended with lollipops so perhaps it didn’t matter.

Once the adults were worn out, the children were keen to get the measure of the new (unfinished) school.

Sports Day also turned out to be the best advert for the new school as mothers and children from surrounding houses came out to gawp, join in and generally be madly jealous of the sports equipment.

All Shook Up

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While the new, somewhat shaky school building took shape a kilometre away, teacher Bridgit welcomed the pupils to the new term at the old school – the termite infested one. The atmosphere was relaxed and nobody seemed to know how many children would show up, but they were sure the number would increase exponentially as the week progressed, and as parents knew they could not afford the fees/supplies/uniforms at other schools.

Of course, that’s why they come to Shalom Academy – and why we’re here.

The fundis – fuelled by Robina and neighbour Elizabeth’s cooking – finished the frame and began fitting iron sheeting to the walls and roof. The sheets gave a little shade, very welcome in the blistering heat.

Meanwhile, local artist Elvis painted the school signs to be placed on the roadway and at the school entrance, and Vitalis got to grips with his new camera and solar charger – donated by trustee John Entwistle.

Fundis dig Foundations

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The build proper couldn’t begin until we found a man with a chainsaw who cut up the trees we bought a couple of days ago. Once they were cut into 10′ and 12′ lengths they were carried one by one to the build site. While the fundis – and a few underage helpers – dug the holes for the support posts, we found a man with a tractor who trundled to the river for sand and picked up a load of aggregate for the foundations.

It was hot, sweaty work, but very gratifying to see some progress on site.

The Build Continues

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And so the build continued. We employed some local women to bring water from the river for the concrete mix and the fundis began erecting the support posts. It seemed a little haphazard at times but we thought it best to leave them organise the build their own way – the main squeeze says he has been building in these parts for around 30 years, so I’m sure he knows what he is doing.

It was clear that by the end of the first full day , we had overlooked something very important: the guys were hungry. Very hungry. The following day Vitalis’s wife Robina offered to make mandazis and chai for breakfast and ugali and greens with a little meat for lunch. Smiles all round, and the pace of work sped up.

A Stake in the Future

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Once the decision was made to build a temporary building to house the Shalom Academy, Vitalis clicked into gear. The building will be timber framed and clad with what’s called iron sheeting. First stop, find a tree. A neighbour had recently felled a couple of trees and sold them to us for a reasonable sum. Then the newly hired builders – or funds as they’re known – staked out the upper part of the land with stakes Vitalis has fashioned from a nearby tree.

Nobody seemed to mind that overnight a local had brought two of his cows to graze on the part of our land that will become the playground. Our policy is to get on well with all the neighbours who will be crucial to the success of the school, so the cows will remain for the time being.

Temporary Beauty

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A recurring difficulty for school director Vitalis is finding the rent every month. A few months ago the children once again arrived at school (the blue painted one seen in earlier posts) to find the door padlocked by the landlord who demanded money. The result? They managed to pay him off then found another building, which, while unsuitable, gave them a temporary place to call home and continue lessons.

Unfortunately, a major problem with this mud building is the infestation of termites, seen in the picture below, which eat their way through everything – the floor, desks, what little equipment they have.

While we were planning the build of the David Cox designed brick building, it dawned on everyone that we quickly needed to move the children away from the termites and into some sort of structure on the beautiful, newly purchased land. It is quite common for locals to plant or graze on unused land, so it seemed important to build something, however temporary, to show the school’s future plans, and give the school a permanent home.

Everybody concerned came up with a compromise to build 4 timber framed, tin clad classrooms, some shelters from the sun and rain, and 3 latrines. Just need to dig some holes in the ground and find some trees.

Measure for Measure

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First things first.

We bought a tape measure, twine, a hammer and made some stakes to mark out the footprint of the proposed school designed by David Cox on the odd-shaped piece of land. It did, with room to spare for a playground.

The activity on the land attracted a lot of attention from neighbours who all wanted to help in some small way. By the end of the afternoon we must have had 25 people following us, watching us or discussing us – most of whom told us to hurry up and build the school as their children were looking forward to coming. Very encouraging.

Most of the mamas passing on the footpath were carrying firewood on their heads to a funeral that was happening 100 metres away – everybody should donate something. It was poignant that almost in the next field we were planning a school for children who were not yet born. The cycle of life.