Rural Kenya: Baitigitu Primary School
by Janet Lee, Regis University
I was invited to join colleague, M.D. Kinoti, Associate Professor in the Masters in Nonprofit Management program at Regis University, to join him and his family for a trek to Kenya. One of his enticements was the opportunity to meet his mother. Joining us would be Roberta Bourn a member of a local Rotary Club, and her grandson Chris. We would each carry a 50 pound suitcase of medical supplies furnished by Project Cure, located in Denver. Kinoti grew up in rural Meru Kenya, where he attended primary and secondary school. Upon graduation from high school, he attended and graduated from Moi University in Nairobi where he met his future wife, Victoria. After working for several years, he took his family, now including son Timothy, to California to attend Fuller Seminary where he went on to earn two masters degrees and a PhD.
As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Ethiopia, I longed to return to this part of the world and the opportunity to explore rural schools and especially rural libraries. By planning carefully, I would also be able to hop on over to Ethiopia on my return. In preparation for the trip, Kinoti and I Skyped with an organization called Worldreader, which utilizes Kindles as a delivery method of distributing books. Worldreader began its program in Ghana and is now in Kenya. Although we hoped to visit a school that had a program, ultimately we made do with meeting a rep on the last evening.
It would not be possible to visit Kenya for the first time and not go on safari. This was my second visit to Kenya and my third opportunity to go on safari in East Africa, but there is still a thrill to see animals in their natural habitat. We saw three of the Big Five the first evening and repeat sightings of many different animals on the second day.
The universities in Nairobi have modern libraries complete with databases and other resources, but the main point of the trip was to visit schools in rural Meru, Kinoti’s ancestral home. Over the course of several days we visited a tea plantation, met with local Rotary Club members, met with local farmers who belonged to a farming co-op, and three schools: Kaubau Primary school, Uruku Girls School, and Baitigitu Primary School, Kinoti’s school when he was a boy.
In this posting, I will focus on Baitigitu Primary School. All three schools mentioned had many similar challenges: inadequate toilet facilities, insufficient number of textbooks for students, and lack of water. Kaubau had a library, but it had not been maintained and in fact the books were disintegrating from lack of care. Uruku Girls School was a boarding school, typical for rural secondary schools in Kenya, did not have a library and had a more pressing need for a dining facility and improved kitchen. One set of pit latrines had collapsed and more latrines were needed. The dormitories were built of stone with the interior walls exposed. In time, it would be aesthetically pleasing to have the walls finished, but for now the dormitories appeared solid and functional.
Through photos I will include the reader on my journey.
Baitigitu Primary School is about 15 kilometers on a very bumpy road outside the town of Nkubu. The red dust was on everything, including the tall banana trees aligning the road. One wonders how they survive with such a heavy coating. We were welcomed by the children and the Assistant Headmaster, Mwende, who immediately escorted us to the computer room. Over time, different organizations have contributed computers and expertise. Most of the computers in this room were still functional. Through the generosity of others, Kinoti presented Mwende with six computers, which had been cleaned and loaded with up to date software. A high school student from the neighborhood was utilizing one of the computers.
Water, toilet facilities, and sanitation are huge needs in Africa. Especially important is the ability to wash hands frequently. Baitigitu had many handwashing stations spread over the compound within easy reach of the children. It is Kenya’s winter and many of the children were coughing, whether it was from illness or the persistent dust might be debatable. I know I was personally affected by the dust and coughed frequently. During Kinoti’s last visit, he suggested that they capture and store rainfall from the roof and use it for irrigating the nearby garden. He was gratified that they took his advice.
Baitigitu had a small but well maintained library, with a collection of about 500-1000 books. It was organized by a 3rd grade student from Dallas, Joy Kendi Muchai, the daughter of a Kenyan doctor, who was also a graduate of the school. She had asked about their options for reading books and when she discovered they had none, took it upon herself to fundraise and collect books. It does have closed stacks, but there are sturdy tables in the reading room to read the books that are fetched for them by staff.
The shelving in the library was also sturdy with ample space for growth. The books were organized by general categories, similar to what might be found in a bookstore, and reflected the curriculum. The shelf for dictionaries was visibly empty. One of our future projects might be to put together a reading list of relevant books, and purchase them through an entity like Better World Books, which ships to Africa for free.
The students, girls included, were quick to take advantage of the new soccer ball. Since it was lunch time, many students availed themselves of a lunch of maize and beans that was served nearby. Special needs students had their own classroom, expertly taught by a teacher. She is working with them to develop skills such as jewelry making, but is having difficulty finding a market for the items. Perhaps, this could be a project by the local Rotary club. Much of her focus on students is to teach them survival skills because they are frequently taken advantage of by others.
At both primary schools, we were met by an assembly of students as we departed. Kinoti, his son Wega, and Kinoti’s wife Victoria spoke to the assembly encouraging them to study hard, stay in school, and dream for the future. It was especially relevant since this was Kinoti’s home school.
In addition to the soccer ball, we presented the school pencils and pens furnished by the Westminster (CO) Rotary, and a number of African-themed books, including two specifically about Kenya. The special ed teacher received the large, colorful book bag.
At the end, Kinoti visited his seventh grade classroom, now serving one of the lower grades. It may have been nostalgic for him, but it was an inspiration for the students. Although this desk seems full of books, most students share their basic texts on up to a 5 to 1 ratio. There is still much work to be done.
As we departed, we took a look at the adjoining greenhouse, this one actually functional and growing a variety of plants. Kinoti took the opportunity to plant one more tree, an avocado, for the future.
It was good to be back in Africa, to visit a school similar to one in which I taught so many years ago. Now on to Ethiopia!