The new year began mid January, and so far all is well. There have been a few issues to resolve, but we are managing. I will give all the good news first, THE KIDS ARE DOING VERY WELL! We have 3 wonderful preschool teachers; Pascalina teaches the 4 to 5 year olds, Martha has the middle kids who are 5 to 6 and Pasiana takes the oldest group who are 6 to 7. You need to understand that all ages are relative. Parents want their kids here, and will fudge the ages to get them in. Some of our youngest ones look suspiciously like 3 year olds. We have a number of 9 and 10 year olds in the oldest preschool class, but these kids came from the government schools, so had to be put back. They are doing fine, but it does present some problems that you will not see in a class of similarly aged children.
By the time these preschool kids come to Std 1, they will know more than the Std 1 kids from the govt schools at the end of the year. They will know how to read and write in English and Kiswahili, add and subtract simple sums, count to well over 100, write these numbers when called out so many things. We were well into the middle of the syllabus when the kids arrived on the first day. We are all about foundation; this is our strength.
We try to fill from the bottom, taking only younger kids and raising them up in our system. This is not always what happens. Parents come to us, desperate to have their kids join up. Kids are hard to turn down, so we do take older kids and put them back so they can catch up. The good news is that after a year with us, we have been able to move each of those kids up a year. They are still older than their classmates, but now in an older, more competitive environment. These are motivated kids, and it's so good to see them working so hard and achieving so much. One day, when we have a big school, we will have a separate remedial class where kids can come and catch up, then rejoin their age mates.
We have 102 kids at St. Mary's, with fully one third on full or partial scholarship. These kids would never be able to get a decent education without help from outside, so thank you all for helping. Help comes to us in many forms. Some of you send money for sponsorship, and hopefully you will keep your particular kids for the duration of their school years. Some send money for books, and we have been able to get enough primers so that we can all read the same book, as a class. We try to have no more than 2 kids to a book, and we read every day. Reading and reading comprehension are one of our primary goals. To read without understanding is like chewing your food without swallowing.
A woman from the UK, named Chrissie, ran a marathon last year and sent us 600 pounds, specifically for furniture. We have lots of furniture now, and even some stashed for next year. We are hoping she will run for us every year. While students in the govt schools sit 5 or 6 to a seat, we try to keep it at 2, sometimes 3 with the bigger desks. Students need room to write and move. So thank you, Chrissie. Nashukuru sana.
Sometimes help comes in human form, volunteers who come to work with the kids, and who routinely bring pencils, erasers, books, shoes..... We need it all. Currently my son Asa is here, with his wife Sarah and their kids Ayla and Jove. They are helping with the kids, reading to them, teaching English and Math, and their kids will be in our school for the three months they will live in Berega. Asa told me that he was shocked by how much our kids know, and can do. They're having a great time, as most folks do who come to work with the kids. The kids are quite a draw, and I should know, I just started my fourth year.
I think that it's important to hear about the kids, but equally important to hear about the issues we face every day. You are our supporters, so I won't tell you everything is fine, that would be less than honest. I need you to have faith in me, so I will not hold back. Our biggest issue is space, we don't have enough. We are in the same rooms with 102 kids as when we started with six. We have been extremely creative with our limited space, and have put in a temporary wall to separate Std1 from Std 2. It is certainly not soundproof, but we are managing. Std 3 is housed in what was the teachers office. It's a room about 15 ft by 5 feet. We have 4 student desks and a teachers desk. This room also serves as the supply storeroom. We will be bringing 4 kids into the class, the older kids I spoke of earlier, so there will be 12 kids and a teacher. I've seen bathrooms bigger than this, I personally have had a bathroom bigger than this.
Another issue is school fees. We have been trying to keep our fees down, as well as providing breakfast and lunch. This has not worked out as well as planned. We have had to raise the fees, which will be reflected in next years contributions. For now, the parents have agreed to make up the shortfall. It was either that or stop the lunch program, which would leave most of the kids hungry until evening, or maybe the next morning.
Another issue regarding school fees is the parents ability to pay. I am amazed that some parents will enroll their child, fully aware of the fees, but with no reasonable expectation of the means to pay. This is how desperate they are for their kids to achieve, and should in some small way demonstrate how bad the govt schools are.
I will be writing about individual kids soon, with pictures and reports on their progress, but I wanted to give you some basics first. I want you to understand that, unlike some sponsorship programs, the kids you sponsor will pass, will learn,and will, most definitely, succeed.
I also want to thank you for your help, and to remind you that educated people educate their kids. These dusty, barefoot little kids you help will one day be able to put their own kids through school. They will do this without help, because they will be able to pay with money they earned because you helped educate them. And so it goes...