A group of trustees and other active volunteer supporters of Under The Mango Tree (UTMT) visited Timboni School during January and February 2020. We are reporting back from that visit and relay the future plans discussed with the school and community.
As always, this trip was fully self-funded; no charity donations were used to help fund any part of the trip.
The visiting party was made up of:
Angela Atkinson - Secretary
Gordon Atkinson - Chair
Jean Ball - Trustee
Lorraine Dunne - Trustee
Shaun Dunne – Fund raiser
Denver Shaw – Fund raiser
We spent a number of days visiting Timboni school, meeting staff, Board of Management members and a number of representatives from statutory agencies including Kenya Teacher Services, Kilifi County education staff and local politicians.
Most importantly we also spent time with children, their parents, and local community leaders.
This investment of time is aimed at getting a real understanding of the progress being made, the true impact of our involvement to date and the future issues and priorities that need attention.
The key messages are these:
- Your support of UTMT is making a very real and measurable positive difference. Children at this school have access to facilities and educational opportunities that a few years ago could only be dreamed of.
- Strong foundations for helping these children and their community have been established and as a charity, we would like to build on these foundations and help to achieve more.
- We discussed with the school, community and government representatives that in the future the local community and local agencies will need to be more involved and to contribute even more to the school.
Timboni School now has all the classroom space required. Some of these rooms are modern high-quality buildings and provide a good learning environment. Some of the older classrooms, whilst still serviceable, would benefit from refurbishment. This is particularly the case with the concrete floors that are of poor quality and have disintegrated in parts creating craters and concrete dust. During our visit we authorised emergency funding (less than £300) to have the floor of one class room, replaced and sealed as a matter of urgency as this is to be used as the baby room (see later).
In the past Under The Mango Tree funded the building of a new toilet block used by males and the refurbishment of the girl’s original toilet block. In 2019 we funded the building of a brand new high specification toilet block for women and older girls. This block includes water points and wash basins with taps. This may seem normal in the United Kingdom but this new facility is exceptional for Kenyan schools and unheard of for rural schools. Teachers, community leaders and local politicians all told us “this is the best school toilet block in Kenya”. Whilst there may be an element of exaggeration it does indicate that the school now has standout hygienic facilities for older girls and women.
The playing field which was funded in 2018 / 2019 is also much appreciated. During our visit the school fielded teams of both boys and girls who played a demonstration football match against local village young adults. The surface area is far from premier league standard and has no grass as this has worn away, but has many stones. It was enlightening to see players sharing football boots by wearing one boot each. Other children had no footwear but all played well on a stony surface.
Ideally the area needs lorry loads of top soil and new grass but in the scheme of things this will be a low priority for available funds, unless we are able to find an organisation that is able to assist.
We were shown where the heavy rain water from the hillside behind the main classrooms gathers and causes occasional flooding of some classroom floors. The Board of Management is working with a local builder, (the one who created the high quality girls toilet block), in order to specify a low-cost solution to this problem. Trustees will consider that once the information is received.
When Headteacher Madam Agnes visited the UK in late 2019, she was surprised by the number of books, wall displays and other resources that UK schools had on hand.
The whole of Timboni School has, by comparison, very few. We learned that the Kenya Government are now providing the basic text books to meet the curriculum but additional reading books are very limited as are wall displays and other teaching and learning resources. We discussed this situation with Madam Agnes and her staff and we have been provided with a list of resources they consider to be priorities. The total cost is around £900 and trustees are keen to support this request. However we do have concerns over the lack of facilities that the school has to store and care for these items so we have requested that they (Board of Management and teaching staff) decide what additional funding / help is required to ensure that secure storage and shelving is in place before funding is granted.
The national Government is responsible for assigning and paying “Government teachers”. There are not sufficient teachers allocated to the school and this situation is a national rather than a local issue. Almost all communities are expected to help find and fund additional teachers. UTMT has been funding additional staff for some years both in the nursery (pre-primary) section and the primary school. UTMT is currently funding five staff members.
We discussed this topic with a senior representative of Kenya Teacher Services and asked if we can work in partnership with the local statutory agencies over this matter.
We have been pleasantly surprised by the positive responses. Already one additional government funded teacher has been assigned and has arrived, with a promise that a second, a deputy headteacher, will be assigned to Timboni during February 2020.
Under The Mango Tree will continue to help the community to fund further teachers. We have also agreed to work with the Headteacher and Board of Management to ensure these additional teachers are paid appropriate salaries in order to maximise the quality of teachers hired. To put this in context, a good salary for an additional teacher, probably one who is experienced but retired (all government teachers are forced to retire at sixty years of age) is less than £100 per month.
During our trip we visited Ribe Girls Secondary Boarding school because we are hoping that a bright girl from Timboni will be sponsored into higher education at Ribe in January 2021. Ribe School is a selective school and only the brightest girls may gain a place. Unfortunately, despite the promise of sponsorship for January 2020, no girl was successful in being offered a place at school this year. We are, thanks to a generous donation, sponsoring a girl from a previous year who, because of new family circumstances, would have dropped out of secondary school.
This is a school with a good reputation and considered to be in the upper reaches of boarding schools in this part of Kenya. We were impressed by the way the girls worked and went about their school day. We were however surprised by the challenges facing the Headteacher and her staff. There are around 1,100 students with many classes of 50 or more pupils to one teacher. The bedroom accommodation was overcrowded and frequently two girls were sharing a small bunk bed.
More accommodation was in the final stages of building but even so the school is very short of resources, including hygienic toilet and washing facilities.
What is remarkable is that despite these challenges girls work hard, learn well and leave this school with greater opportunities than many of their peers.
The school, local community and Under The Mango Tree trustees are all keen to explore how young people leaving Timboni can have even better opportunities, particularly those who for either financial or academic reasons will not go into secondary education.
There are two initiatives being explored and we are awaiting further information from the school before they can be taken forward but in brief comprise:
- a sewing / dressmaking workshop programme
- woodworking and basic maintenance programme
The plan is that older children at school who are interested will have the opportunity to join the programme in addition to normal school lessons but also those from the community who have already left primary education can join.
More work is required on both these ideas but it is hoped that the programmes will be starting over coming months.
All school lessons are conducted in English which is the ‘official’ language of Kenya. This is their third language after their mother tongue language and Swahili which is the national language. Examination papers are set in English and we have asked the Headteacher to consider ways in which the older pupils can have additional English lessons
We spent considerable time and effort explaining that the funds raised and sent to the school come mainly from people who, for the most part, are not themselves wealthy but who are willing to assist the children from the Timboni community have a better start in life. We also explained that trustees and other volunteers contributed many hours to this work and that they do not get paid or receive expenses.
Volunteering in this way is not part of the normal culture of people from this area; subsistence farming and survival have much greater priority.
However we pointed out that the majority of local people did have both time and a range of skills that could contribute more to the school. Currently families will gather wood and sticks to take to school as fuel for the kitchen and we did see a good stock pile of such timber.
We feel that as a community they could, with a bit of planning and coordination, pull together and do more. We have suggested some examples as to how this could happen and we await developments. Given the strong underlying culture these changes are unlikely to happen quickly but we are clear that it is an area of our partnership which must change and we will sustain our efforts in this area.
Observations from Jean
It was gratifying on entering classrooms on this visit to note that almost every child had a textbook, unlike on previous visits where there was often only one book between three or four pupils.
Each child had his/her own exercise book and it was apparent that the children clearly take a pride in their work and keep their books neat and tidy. They love to show what they have achieved. Education in Kenya is very much teacher/textbook driven and much of their learning is by rote. Nevertheless the pupils are all very eager to learn, readily shooting up their hands to answer questions or write on the blackboard.
The teacher/pupil relationships are very good and the teachers give much encouragement to their pupils. Overall there is a great atmosphere of learning in the school and it was amazing to see a class of Year 7 pupils completely absorbed in their work although there was no teacher in the room. The classrooms, particularly those of the older pupils, are still very much in need of resources and teaching aids, but it is good to see that progress is being made and it still amazes me that the children are able to cope with being taught in English, a language which is not their first.
Observations from Angela
This was my sixth visit to Timboni school and, over the years, much has changed. There are so many more classrooms, new toilet blocks and the rough rocky ground is now a level play area. Inside the classrooms all children have books and desks.
However two important things have not changed at all. We still receive a cheerful and enthusiastic welcome from the children, teachers and parents. The vast majority of homes we visit are made of sticks and mud with no power and no water but the warmth of welcome is humbling.
The other impressive point is that these children have a real thirst for education. Outside of class they are vibrant mischievous children. Inside of the classroom they are, with or without a teacher, quiet, well-disciplined and hard working.
It is a real privilege to do what little we can to help them make best use of that enthusiastic desire to learn by supporting the community with additional resources.