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.

Breaking New Ground

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As 2018 whizzes by, our thoughts turn to the start of the Kenyan school year in January 2019. Our goal is to raise the registration to 80 pupils at Shalom Academy—that means building more classrooms, more desks and sourcing more educational supplies.

That’s why Alan recently made a flying visit to Irovo to oversee the building of 3 more temporary classrooms plus a staff room and kitchen.

Shovels out!

It was 17 days of frantic measuring, building, bricklaying, plastering, hammering, sawing and pouring concrete — in the middle of the rainy season.

Good job he brought his wellies.


Saintly intervention

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St Gregory’s Catholic Primary School in Preston invited Strive for Excellence to their Send a Friend to School fundraiser. (St Gregory is the patron saint of musicians, singers – and rather appropriately – students and teachers.)

After a tour of the school (including the ‘Kenya corner’) with head girl Mariyah and head boy Adam, afternoon assembly took place in the playground and featured songs and (short) speeches and dedications.

We were then presented with a cheque for a whopping £490, which the children raised in a bring-and-buy sale. The children also donated a further £70 earlier this year. That’s enough to cover the expenses for 8 lucky children at Shalom Academy for the whole year.

One last, precious gift was a scrapbook with self-portraits and dedications from every one of St Gregory’s 210 children. We know that Shalom Academy children will be wonderfully surprised and can’t wait to show it to them in January next year.


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.