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Alan Whelan

Nobody said it was easy…

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… as Coldplay sang once.

The build of the extra classrooms, staff room and kitchen was not planned with the weather in mind. It’s raining. But really there should another word for the stuff that falls out of the sky at a ferocious clip. Everything stops when the heavens open—except our team of builders who seem to be impervious to the blistering sun and thrashing rain. If the job isn’t finished on time it won’t be for want of trying, and that includes the children in between classes.

Meanwhile School Lane (as it will soon be Christened) is a quagmire. Even trucks delivering materials get stuck in the mud and have to be pushed the last few hundred metres to the school. When they leave the drivers all utter the same refrain: ‘I’m not coming here again!’

Termite, or it might not

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One morning I noticed Vitalis preparing a stripped blue gum tree in the spot assembly is usually held.

‘What’s doing?’

‘I am making a new flagpole.’

‘What happened to the last one?’

‘The termites ate it.’

Mary, Mary

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Mary gets a new Jiko stove to help cut down on the amount of firewood she has to cut for our lunches.

Mary is the first to wear our new school polo shirts with the uniform badge.

Despite all the building work going on around her, Mary continued to cook school lunches for everyone. The new Jiko stove should reduce the amount of firewood necessary to cook the beans and maize and provide a concentrated source of heat. We’ll see!

Meanwhile she fashioned the new school uniform (white for teachers; blue for children). The blue polo shirts should arrive in time for the start of the 2019 school year. Can’t wait.

Up and Away

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The masons and fundis are making great progress on both the 6th, 7th and 8th classrooms but also on the mud-brick staff room and kitchen, which has now reached shoulder height.

Sometimes when I return from another buying spree in town or in the forest I find the school build has been transformed once more, as if someone has waved a magic wand.

The walls are going up, the iron sheeting is being applied and the morale on site is fantastic. The children like it too.

 

Open the door and let us in…

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Not only are the bricks for the walls made by hand but also the doors and windows are manufactured by tradesmen on the side of the road.

We are excited that the first weatherproof doors will soon be fitted to the staff room and kitchen.

The doors and windows were made a few miles away so had to be transported to the school by boda-boda (the door fell off the bike in the middle of a busy street but we soon recovered the door and carried on). The driver was very understanding.

Soon the new doors will be welcoming teachers and Mary the cook into their new building. Just open the door and let us in…

The Wall

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A few days into the build we could hardly keep pace with the thirst for materials. Some days we had 18 men working on the site, all demanding timber, bricks, cement, sand, ballast—and food!

Once the first 60cm of wall was built it was time to mix some concrete, and how.

The concrete pour for the floor—12.5 X 4.5 metres—was done in almost constant rain, but once they began they could not turn back. Not one word of complaint was heard—except from the photographer.

Remember, there is no electricity at the school so everything has to be mixed by hand.

Rock On

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…meanwhile the build continues.

We have now decided to build the staff room and kitchen out of mud brick and the floor in concrete—a major step up the building food chain for us. All the materials have to be bought locally, which means buying split rocks from neighbours who have spent days on end smashing large rocks into smaller ones (they’re used as foundations for the footings and the floors).

A lot of locals have already benefited from the build and we hope many more can be either employed or paid for their labour in some way.

We have also taken the opportunity to spruce up the place with a lick of paint. The picture shows Vitalis’s brother Emanuel painting the latrines.

Keep the Motor Running

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Our investment last year in some two-wheeled transport for Shalom Academy has paid off handsomely. Vitalis not only has a handy means of getting educational supplies and equipment to the school, he can also ride to the internet cafe to download all the school accounts and other documents for the charity and bring children to the clinic whenever there is an illness or accident at school.

The Honda bike has also been a godsend while sourcing all the building supplies needed for the construction of the three extra classrooms. Some of the materials have been sourced from the forest so the little bike is the only transport that can get there.

It’s also been comical to see the looks on locals’ faces when they see a white guy riding a bike with a black guy on pillion, bodo-boda style.

He’s a Brick

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Success on a project like building a school relies as much on who-you-know as what-you-know. Which certainly came in handy when we went looking for bricks in the middle of the rainy season. The bricks—made one at a time from mud by hand—are left out to dry in the sun and then fired outdoors by creating a bonfire inside a huge pile of bricks. Of course this is not possibly in the rainy season, which was a problem I had not anticipated. Many people had unfired bricks in their homes ready for the rains to end, but unsuitable for building.

Eventually Vitalis asked a friend who asked a friend who knew someone who just might have the five thousand bricks we needed. And so it was. The lady bargained hard but I was glad to hand over the cash as it looked like she could use it.

Then we had the small problem of shifting the bricks seven miles down the road. Another friend of a friend knew someone with a tractor, and the job was soon done.

Now we just need someone to go to the river for sand.

Future Customers

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All the building activity at the school has attracted plenty of curious looks from children in the village.

This photograph was taken on a weekday, so none of these children attend school. This is the reason Vitalis began Shalom Academy nine years ago. We see them as future customers, and hope they will take their paces alongside their friends next term, once the extra classrooms are built.

First, though, we have to find where they live and have a quiet word with their parents about the importance of education rather than expecting them to do farm work (as can be seen from the hoe one child is carrying) on a school day. Once their parents know we do not discriminate according to income, we’re sure they will send them to school in January.