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Unfurl the Flag

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The Kenyan flag is raised on Mondays and Friday mornings and lowered after school. It’s the one and only time there is silence at Shalom Academy.

Once the flag is up the children sing the national anthem (‘O God, Our strength’). After lowering the flag a teacher leads them in a short prayer and encourages them to improve themselves by preparing for the next day –

‘Do not play on the road’

‘Wash your clothes tonight’

‘Ask your parents to buy you a uniform’

‘Get a haircut!’

Unsung Hero

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May I introduce Mary, Shalom Academy’s cook for the last few years.

Never complaining, always on time, in blistering heat and pouring rain, working in a smoky mud hut, every morsel she cooks eaten with relish by the pupils, that’s Mary.

Before this week when we started collecting our own rainwater, she often walked a kilometre to the river for water to make ugali porridge or beans for the children, and sometimes both. Where does she get the energy?

If she were British she’d probably get an MBE.

Water Babies

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One of our primary goals this year was to bring running water to Shalom Academy.

We’ve done it.

After the mains water pipe was damaged by road contractors and disconnected the whole village, we decided to collect our own water using a series of gutters and pipes that drains rainwater from the roof to two 1,000-litre water butts. It’s enough to keep children clean and healthy, and for the cook to prepare lunch each day without having to walk a kilometre to the river.

We also built two hand-wash stations – one next to the long-drop latrines and one next to the kitchen.

I’ve a feeling we’re going to go through a LOT of soap in the next few weeks.

Precious Cargo

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It is surprising how far some children walk to Shalom Academy each morning (7.30am start) – and home each evening.

So it’s a special joy when someone’s dad offers a ride.

Room for another?

Sowing Seeds and Gathering in

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With the new bike at our disposal, Vitalis and I were able to visit parents and children in what he calls ‘the interior’, a densely wooded area accessible down narrow footpaths towards the river.

We met parents who were clearly struggling financially and whose aimless children had missed the first 3 weeks of the school term. We invited everybody to an open meeting to show them the new school and all the supplies we brought from Lancashire ‘that are not available anywhere else in Kakamega’, which drew impressive gasps.

The result? Eight new children registered within a couple of days – and Shalom Academy is a lot noisier!

New Arrivals

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Shalom Academy welcomed many new pupils this week (it’s the fourth week of term, but parents are slow to cotton on around here), bringing the total number to 41, including our youngest pupil, Francis, who has quickly become attached to a football donated by Blackburn Rovers FC.

We also welcomed some reliable transport – a new Honda motorbike, modelled by Vitalis and Olive – which should make life a bit easier for Vitalis and the teachers.

Bricking it

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Our collective feet hit the ground running when we arrived in Irovo last week. There is plenty of building work to complete, none more important than constructing some secure cupboards for all our precious school supplies.

The school is too remote to leave the supplies overnight, which has meant either transporting them by Shanks’s pony every night after class or storing them with our helpful and ever patient neighbour, Elizabeth. So we decided to build a fort knox for books, pens, pencils, calculators, chalkboards and sports equipment.

First, bricks. Easier said than done. The pictures should give you some idea of what is involved in a simple bit of DIY in Kakamega county.

If you’re curious, the bricks are 7 bob each, about 5p.

Where the Axe Falls

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Vitalis and friends have made some improvements to Shalom Academy during the last couple of months. Tree stumps that were interrupting play have been dug up, trees have been planted for shade, and a hedge tended to define the playground boundary.

It’s amazing what one man and an axe can do.

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.