Harriet is one of our lovely volunteers currently out in East Africa who has kept us entertained with her two previous blogs on settling in to the ways of Maasai life. We now have the third installment where she evaluates the impact of the new classrooms and kitchen funded by COCO and goes on a very exciting hippo hunt!
I am now halfway through my stay in Maasai land and it really does feel like home! My past week has been spent discussing budgets, spending time at the Maasai Academy and going exploring for hippos! After reading case studies and writing funding proposals in COCO’s office in Newcastle it is great to be able to visit the projects I’ve read so much about, and get a real understanding of just how important and beneficial they are to the community.
The Maasai Academy was originally established by parents from the community who wanted their children to receive an education. The school had only 20 students and lessons were held in a small church which was dark and cramped. Six years later, and the school now has 140 students beginning at nursery and going right up to class 6 with 7 teachers, one classroom assistant and a cook. Discussing with Hennie and Becca about how the school originally was made me realise just how far they have come in developing it into a great primary school that they and the community can be very proud of. The next couple of years are looking to be very busy at the Maasai Academy with classrooms 7 and 8 among the many projects Hennie and Becca hope to complete. Discussing future projects which COCO could potentially be part of has been extremely interesting and provided me with an insight into the process of developing a school that can deliver quality education whilst being closely involved with the local community.
I had originally planned to carry out health checks of the students this week but decided to post-pone until next week, instead focusing on monitoring and evaluating the impact of the classrooms and kitchen funded by COCO. The kitchen build was completed in May 2014 and has been hugely beneficial to the school. Before the kitchen the cook, Simel, was preparing the children’s lunches over an open fire with the only protection from the elements being the branches of the tree it was under. Simel told me how, during the rainy season (and when it rains here it rains hard!) preparing the food was almost impossible and the fire would frequently go out due to the rain meaning that the students would have to wait to eat until dry firewood was found, or occasionally not eat at all. Furthermore, food had to be carried across the school grounds from the storage room to the fire on a daily basis which was time consuming and the food would be easily damaged in the rain. Now the academy has a large kitchen with space inside to store, prepare, cook and serve the food meaning that the students are guaranteed a good meal every day.
The old kitchen v the new kitchen
I made sure I visited the school just before lunch so I could talk to the cook and see the kitchen in action! It really is a great, bright space with a cooking area large enough for two pots and a serving area. When the bell goes for lunch break the children all queue up, the youngest classes first, to wash their hands overseen by an older student before heading to the kitchen to collect their food. It was a very efficient system and I couldn’t believe how orderly all the students were…no pushing or queue jumping but maybe that was just because I was there with my camera! It has also been great seeing the new classrooms in use. They are bright and airy with large open windows covered with thin mesh to let in light and a constant breeze to keep the rooms cool, with additional light provided by skylights. The rooms are finished to a very high standard with smooth white walls and blackboards at both ends of the room.
Whilst I was visiting the school work had begun on the road below erecting electricity poles. The electricity cables had been delivered to the area a few months ago but there had been no more progress so it was very exciting to see the first poles go up and the community becoming a step closer to having power! Electricity will also be hugely beneficial to the school! The academy would have the opportunity to use projectors which would give the teachers much more flexibility in the way they deliver lessons and also allow the students to watch educational media and see the world outside of their small community. In the future Hennie hopes to build a library and computer room for the students which would also be open to the community, so receiving electricity is a step closer to achieving that goal!
Over the weekend I got the chance to go exploring into the bush again, this time with the Marais family in search of hippos! We walked across open plains and through the forest before we came to a pool of water often frequented by hippos. On the walk down we saw hippo prints in the mud so I was hopeful we’d get to see one! When we reached the pool it took a while to spot them but we were lucky enough to see two! They were asleep in the water so I could only see their backs but I was still happy with that!
I also bought my first souvenirs of my trip…two wooden Maasai clubs. They are hand-carved by an elderly man named Ole Kirok Olker who is completely blind and walks the 17 mile each way trip to Hennie’s compound led by his young son to deliver them. I was fortunate enough to be in the compound when he visited so was able to watch him at work. He is very skilled and has produced some beautifully carved pieces and I feel very grateful to be able to take some back home with me!