There’s a hill that you have to go over when approaching FOCUSSA Primary School. As you reach the brow of the hill, you can look down at the school site. On my bus journey to Matayos, in western Kenya, I was imagining reaching the brow of the hill and seeing how much had changed since my last visit in 2015.
I arrived at Matayos market hot, tired and wondering why I’d had to get three buses when the first driver had told me I was on the right one. However, I was snapped out of my irritated daze by Phaustine emerging from bodies filling the market square to greet me. Phaustine is the co-founder of FOCUSSA, an organisation which COCO began working with last year to develop FOCUSSA Primary School.
Immediately, Phaustine and I set off to the school site and within 10 minutes arrived at the brow of the hill. Two years ago I had been at this very spot and seen a school with great potential, but with dangerous and derelict facilities. This time, I looked down and saw a thriving school; the bright blue of the new classrooms and the solar panels on the roof immediately caught my eye.
We pulled up at the school and I saw even more of the transformation. As I had arrived on the first day of the new term, local children were milling around eager to enroll. After a long journey, nature called so I visited the new school composting toilets; “wee goes down this hole and poo goes down this one” I was helpfully told; both are used to aid the school farm in different ways, which is why they are kept separate, “we don’t want anything to be wasted” Phaustine explained.
COCO has invested heavily in FOCUSSA Primary over the last 12 months, constructing 4 classrooms as well as the composting toilets. The need for COCO’s work was accelerated when the derelict, dangerous classrooms I had encountered on my last visit were finished off by a storm. COCO supporters rallied and they have now been replaced with excellent new classes.
Head teacher, Joseph Mukadi, is clearly a fan. “The children are very secure in the new classrooms. Before it could rain and lessons were interrupted as the roofs leaked and the walls were delicate. The classrooms are also very spacious, which means that students have enough air and light to work comfortably. On the walls we teachers can now hang charts, paint learning materials and the blackboards are very big. Important information can stay on the blackboard for 1 week without us needing to wipe it off, which means that students have the opportunity to memorise.”
As, it seems, is the local community. Having seen the investment in the new site, the community has been further engaged in the school. Whilst the majority of the students in the school are orphans, there’s a real sense in the community that the children belong to the community as a whole and are everyone’s collective responsibility.
In December, the community raised a total of 400,000 Kenya Schillings to enable the school to start a poultry project. That’s approximately £3,200, which is a phenomenal total given the difficulties faced by local people. The school now has a poultry farm with 1,000 chickens, which it is hoped will yield over 300,000 eggs, the proceeds from which will go a long way to making the school self-sustainable.
The view from the brow of that hill has been utterly transformed in the last 12 months. With an engaged and passionate community, there really is no limit to how far the school and the local area as a whole can develop.