Wednesday, July 20, 2011
# 17 Sr Cecelia’s School
Yesterday I played hooky from school to accompany Sr Cecilia to her school, Sacred Heart Primary. Off we went up the road towards SFG, but turning off before we got there. Up, up we drove, with the paved surface giving way dirt and the dirt becoming more rutted and more pot-holed. We drove for a good 40 minutes—enough to get us to the rural highlands. On either side of the road were farms with small houses, fields green with maize, potatoes, wheat and through small stands of forest. I’ve puzzled about the trees in the forest, which have no branches below about 20’. There is virtually no underbrush. Why was that? Oh, the people cut the branches and miscellaneous undergrowth for firewood. The forest is a green lawn with long stemmed trees. The sight is very different from our forests. In rural areas much of the cooking is done on small fires, with stones arranged to hold the cooking pots. It is a common sight to see women loaded down with huge bundles of sticks, emerging from the forest or walking along a road. Yes, it’s always women!
We stopped first at a maternity clinic in this relatively remote rural area. It was established by a woman name Wangu, who is now 78, who built this XXX years ago b/c she was so concerned about maternal mortality. She is a vital, energetic woman who has spent her life serving the poor. Now she would like to retire and have someone take over the clinic. Ideally it would be the local government who would take it over, but she has had no luck getting that to happen. What will happen? Who knows. I loved meeting her and had reason to be grateful to her for personal reasons, namely that she has a western-style toilet in her quite spacious house. My knee is much, much better, but I dare not stress it by squatting. In the rural areas everyone has a pit toilet. Although I maintain age is just a number, my knees have not understood that concept!
Wangu took us to the clinic, which has 15 beds, but only 2 were occupied, one with a mom and her day-old son and the other by a woman who has not given birth yet, but needs to be monitored. By Kenyan standards this is a luxury facility, clean, well attended, with separate delivery room. I was to impressed and just hope so much that this service can be continued. Sr Cecilia told me that prior to its opening women would give birth by the side of the road. It’s so remote that husbands would carry the wife in a wheelbarrow for miles, then board the matatu for a bone-crushing ride of several hours to the nearest hospital. Obviously these rural birthing centers are to maternal/child health.
Back in the car we set off on even more rough road until we came to an open field with new stone construction, very much like that of SFG. Children in red sweaters and brown skirts/shorts were running around, playing soccer—with good soccer balls! Usually when I visit schools the soccer ball is a plastic bag tightly packed with plastic bags.
The driveway was neatly outlines with whitewashed stones and the grounds were clean and uncluttered. The teachers were clustered around a small fire pit preparing tea. Lunch is also prepared outdoors like this (remind anyone of backpacking?) Sr Cecilia cooks for the teachers when she is there—otherwise they cook for themselves—the men joining the one woman and I might add they do it proudly. Children bring the lunch from home.
This is a rainy area, so crops are generally good. People have food, but no cash to speak of. While there is a fee for children to attend, most can’t pay, but are admitted. They opened just this January and already have about 100 students from class 1 to class 4. Eventually it will be a boarding school, as some children travel very far to get there. It all reminds me of SFG several years ago, construction continuing as funds become available—5 classrooms, dorms pretty much complete, but not yet painted (to be begun shortly, as someone has donated the funds).
This is a school that made my heart sing. The children were so happy, whether in or out of class, the teachers dedicated, caring, involved, lovely young people. Their pay is very low but Sr Cecilia tries to compensate as best she can. As I visited classrooms I found active teaching, students eager to respond to questions, raising hands, calling out ‘cher (short for teacher), jumping up and down as young ones are apt to do in a classroom where they are encouraged. In all the classrooms, desks were arranged in a semi-circle, not rows. Note the 2 children in the foreground look like boys, but notice the small bows at the back of their dresses! This was a first grade class
In a 4th grade math class, the teacher was introducing the concept of area. He had carefully written terms on the board, and spent a lot of time developing the concept, not just telling them it was length times width. He may have been a bit nervous to have a visitor. He kept using “diagonal” when he meant “vertical”. When I had an opportunity I quietly mentioned it so the kids wouldn’t get the wrong term. But he put so much energy and enthusiasm into the lesson I marveled he could do that all day without being exhausted. When the children began their practice problems, he handed me his red pen so I could mark their correct work, or help them see an error (there were few). After initial shyness, they were soon raising their hands (‘cher) for my mark and a pat or a “good job!”, “perfect”, or “great”. It was a great lesson and I was glad to have the opportunity to tell all the teachers (while they cooked their lunch) how impressed I was with the teaching, the lively, encouraging spirit, the positive energy I found. This is a great project, which Sr Cecelia is funding in England, but times are hard. I promised to donate some money to help.
As we were about to leave, Fr Kiriti drove in. This is not in his parish, but the mass he had celebrated earlier at an outstation wasn’t too far away. While I talked to teachers, he inspected the installation of a water tank with Cecilia. He has become quite the expert on water projects.
He arrived at lunch time, when the children tumbled out of class to line up at a small hand-washing tank. Soon the tank was empty, so Fr Kiriti grabbed up a smaller can to refill it from the big tank. I could see that it was heavy and hard to lift up to refill the washing water tank. (Aha moment) Why not move the hand-washing tank over to the big tank and perhaps put a basin beneath to catch the water for the new plantings. Sometimes new eyes see things missed by everyday viewers.
Eventually we left, bumping along that terrible road. We had decided to visit Sr Cecilia’s mother who lived not far, but “very far” over those roads. First we stopped at a little restaurant she knew about that serves very good samosas—except they didn’t have any more. RATS! We settled for a meat pie, which was fried dough with a bit of meat, tasty but definitely junk food. She didn’t want her 73-year old mom to cook, but she made the mistake to call to announce our pending arrival and mom cooked up a storm. Neither of us had much of an appetite, but we ate anyway—though not too heartily. Kenyan moms are like Jewish moms—“So eat already!” Do I look like I’m wasting away?
Her mom has a great farm, so peaceful, with fields of maize, potatoes, greens, and pastures with cows and sheep. Chickens wandered about the yard and about 10 chicks peeped loudly to be released from their protective confinement. This is a traditional family. Her brother lives nearby, with his wife, a very pleasant woman, good friend of Sr Cecilia’s.
On the way back we stopped at SFG, which Sr had never seen. She was wowed, as visitors often are. After giving her the $.25 tour, I showed her the chalk trays that were installed in the most recent rooms. Such a simple idea, but have not seen them here.
In the end, a lovely, inspirational day.