Gratitude from Mweru Primary School

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Update from the FHF Safe Inclusive Schools team visiting Mweru Primary School in Kenya

You can imagine the excitement at Mweru Primary School when we arrived by car with Gerald Kariuki, our Farmers Helping Farmers organizer in Mukurwe-ini. When Gerald opened the trunk there were ‘ooo’s’ and ‘wow’s’ from the head teacher, Veronica Maina.

Gerald unloaded two large bags and a box of early childhood learning materials for teachers to work particularly with special needs pupils.

With Carolyn Thorne, Carolyn Francis and Liz Townsend unpacking, materials were set out on long tables in the Staff Room. Teachers gathered to try them out – blowing bubbles; learning dominoes; rejoicing at donations of tooth brushes and tooth paste. We tried putting puzzles together while having fun too!  There were paint sets, boxes with various shapes, games to learn about time and more.

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The school expressed gratitude with singing and dancing for us. One wonderful dance by the grade 8 class portrayed  a story of grandparents caring for a baby that was actually a blanket rolled up and passed back and forth while other pupils danced. We ate an incredible array of fruits: paw paw, mango, banana, and orange.

This is our Pilot primary school to build resources for special needs pupils in the Mukurwe-ini district. We chose this school because it is very well organized and clean. They have a large cabinet with a lock to ensure that the materials we left with them will be safe for repeated use in with special needs pupils.

Thanks so much to our Farmers Helping Farmers Holiday Campaign donors for contributions that we used for much needed resources.

To read more about Safe Inclusive Schools, visit our Farmers Helping Farmers website!

http://www.farmershelpingfarmers.ca/projects/safe-inclusive-schools-project/

 

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Career conversations and special needs successes

Update from the FHF Safe Inclusive Schools team visiting Ichamara School in Kenya

March 8, 2019

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Liz Townsend, Carolyn Thorne and Carolyn Francis visited the school and met with the deputy Head, Grace Ndaini. Veronicah Mwangi, the head teacher, was away at a meeting about the KCP examinations which will be written by all Standard 8 students in mid-October.

The school has 245 pupils in grades 1 to 8 and also kindergarten pupils.

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We delivered letters from Mr. Acorn’s Grade 7 class at Stonepark Intermediate.  The deputy and the grade 7 teacher found the letters very interesting and read some of them right away.  

A short discussion about what careers students in Kenya often selected such as doctor, nurse, pilot, or engineer without knowledge of what these careers entailed.

This was prompted by a P.E.I. student who had indicated a desire to be a carpenter. The deputy said that carpenters were needed in Kenya but the career did not have a high profile, but should have as there was such a shortage of skilled workers. The class 7 teacher will  have students write reply letters to the P.E.I. students.

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We also visited the special needs class which currently had four students and others who were integrated into the regular classroom. Mrs. Munyi, the special class teacher, had several former students who were now at a technical school learning trades.

There was a strong belief that all students could learn to some extent and be of value to their community.  An example given was one student who was unable to learn to read but still was able to gather leaves for the goats.

To read more about Safe Inclusive Schools, visit our Farmers Helping Farmers website!

http://www.farmershelpingfarmers.ca/projects/safe-inclusive-schools-project/

 

Sharing the joy

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Krystal with a group of upper year girls on her last day. They were sad to hear she was leaving but glad they got to spend the past few weeks together.

March 15, 2019

By Krystal Woodside
Where has the time gone? Today marked the end of my teaching time at Rugetene primary school. I have been so lucky to have been given the opportunity to work with so many incredible people these past few weeks. The students have been better than I could have ever imagined. Their genuine curiosity and willingness to learn has made my job so much easier. I hope that I have been able to make a fraction of the impact on everyone here as they have made on me.

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Krystal with her cooperating teacher Lucy who she says has been like a mother to her while at the school
The week has been a busy one with many highlights so I apologize in advance if this blog is a little longer but I think the read will be worth it. On Tuesday much to my excitement I was given a Kenyan name from my fellow teachers here at Rugetene. The name is Kagwiri and from what I was told it means Joy or the one who is always happy. I am so honoured to have been accepted into my community this way and I am proud that this trait is how they view me. There is much to be happy about when I am in this incredible country surrounded by some amazing people. This event may seem small to these teachers but to me it really does mean the world.

This week I also had the opportunity to serve lunch to the students. I have worked as a server in Canada so it was easy to get back into the swing of things. Like many of the schools here in Kenya, Rugatene has a food program so students are fed everyday at 11:00 break and also at lunch. The meal I was serving was rice and beef which is almost everyone’s favourite. The ladies in the kitchen were fast and efficient and the students all waited patiently. I had a lot of fun and I think the students were happy to see me there too. I appreciate how when I am at the school I have opportunities to invest myself in more than just teaching.

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The kitchen staff and Krystal preparing lunch

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Krystal serving the rice and beef to a couple of students
Another day this week I had the opportunity to spend time outside playing with the students. This is something I have done so many times and will always cherish these memories. On this particular day the students were skipping rope using a vine they had found. After some coaxing on their part they were able to convince me and Hailey to try jumping. I was no where near as good as them at it but it was still a lot of fun. We took turns jumping and turning the rope and there were smiles all around. I think this will be what I will miss the most from my time at the school. Just playing and laughing with the students. This is where I really get to know the students and I feel as though they get a better sense of me.

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 One of the students jumping rope while Krystal turned it for them. The rest of the students were looking on while enjoying their porridge.
We finished the week off with the zones for athletics. This meant that 8 primary schools from the area came together to compete in many events. The event was held at Michogomone primary school which gave me a chance to visit Brent and Maude at the secondary school. It was wonderful to meet the people there and get a better sense of what the others have been doing for the past few weeks. After visiting the secondary school we went down to the primary school field to watch the athletics. If you remember my post from a few weeks ago my students had been hard at work practising for the competition. Although only some of the students compete every student comes to cheer so there were students everywhere. Rugetene did well, especially some of the girls in the running events and we took home many metals. More importantly the kids had fun competing and also talking to the students from other schools.

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One of the senior boys from Rugetene participating in shot put
Because the schools are so close many of the students have friends and family attending the other schools. This means it was a chance for everyone to catch up and spend the day together. I was also able to meet lots of new people. My students were very excited for me to meet their friends and I think those other students were also excited to meet me. As always there were lots of hand shakes, high fives, and first bumps. I spoke to lots of teachers from other schools as well. It was nice to hear more about the other schools in the area and their perspective on education. I also had the chance to tell them a bit about Canada and how our education works.

Finishing at Rugetene has been bittersweet. Although I am sad to leave I am also looking forward to what is ahead. Our plans for next week include attending the workshop run by Farmers Helping Farmers surrounding safe and inclusive schools, working on the days for girls project which provides reusable menstruation products, and also attending the event to distribute the mosquito nets to the students of Rugetene. I know it will be a jam packed week and I can’t wait to share some of my experiences with you all in my next blog post!

 

Of leaps and lions and letters

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By Brett Roche

This past week was amazing! The students were preparing for their athletics meet on most of the week, so much of our days were spent watching and helping organize the track and field events. It is great to see how involved and excited the students get for athletics, and they are all very enthusiastic and supportive of their peers who are competing, with lots of cheering and encouragement.

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It is so interesting to compare track and field in Canada with Kenya, as we have more equipment and resources, so Kenyan schools have to get creative to put on their events. They use wooden branches that have been carved for high jump and pole vault, and they use a pit of sawdust instead of mats for their jumping events, but the students are do not skip a beat and happily proceed without hesitation, and perform very well.

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The students under grade 3 also do the track and field but they have different events, which in my opinion are much more fun! These younger students do things like sack races, potato collecting races, skiprope races, and spoon and egg races, and they are extremely entertaining and funny to watch.

The athletics meet was on Friday morning at Kiirua Primary, and we were able to go watch before we went on safari for the weekend. Our students from Mitoone performed extremely well, and made me, the other teachers, and their fellow students very proud. By 11 o’clock, when we had to leave, Mitoone students had already won 5 events, and the day was not even half over! I really enjoyed watching the students show so much support and school spirit for their friends who were competing, and reminded me just how effective sports are in bringing people together.

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After the meet, we went to Samburu Game Park for safari for the weekend and had a truly incredible experience. We saw almost all the animals I was hoping to see, including five lions, three leopards, one crocodile, and countless giraffes, elephants, oryxes, gazelles, impalas, zebras, ostriches, and countless other beautiful and unique mammals and birds. The game lodge was beautiful, with very nice “tents” (which were really like luxury hotel rooms), an awesome pool, great food, and helpful and friendly staff. There were also countless monkeys around the lodge which could wreak havoc, but could also provide some laughs. Overall the safari was a fantastic experience which I would recommend to anybody, and I hope I will be able to go on another one some day.

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Finally, this week, I got my students to complete a small assignment for me, which will really be for my next teaching placement. I wanted to give them some practice after teachig them about composition writing in multiple verb tenses in English, so I came up with an idea of something they would enjoy, and could connect with my next practicum.

My next teaching placement is at Stonepark Intermediate, where I will once again be teaching grade 7, so I had my students each write a letter to a grade 7 student on PEI. These letters had them talk about themselves, what they enjoyed, and where they came from, as well as what they hope to do in the future. They then were able to write out some questions for the students, and I will now bring them back to PEI, give them to my next students, then have them respond and send them back to Mitoone. The students loved the idea, and really loved writing them, decorating them with colouring and drawings, as well as the prospect of making a friend who is their age on the other side of the world! They have already written letters to West Kent, their twinned school in Charlottetown, but they were excited with this assignment because they will receive a response within a month or two, instead of a year thanks to email and the help of Mr. Kiirinya at Mitoone.
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I am continuing to love my time in the community and at the school in Meru, and I think this was my favourite week yet!

‘Our hearts were dancing’

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By Maude Bertrand

Last week, we had the wonderful opportunity to go to a Kenyan wedding. Irene, a friend of Jennifer, was getting married. Well, the couple had been married for a few years, but wanted to make it official it in front of friends and family.

We met the couple at the Kiirua Catholic Church for the ceremony. The succession of events was mostly the same than the one we have in Canada (exchange of vows, communion, the choir,… ). Well, I think it was… the ceremony was all in the Kimeru language! What struck us what the festive attitude people had in the church. Everything was about dancing and singing: from the dancing processions in the aisle, the cries of joy from the assistance, the almost-techno-dance music played on the stereo to the cheerful singing by the choir. The ceremony was lively, happy and colourful!

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After the church ceremony, we drove to the venue. Several tents had been erected to receive the wedding party and the guests. We were welcomed warmly, and served a (big!) meal of beef stew, roasted meat, rice and potatoes. When the happy couple arrived, they were welcomed by singers and dancers, who danced around the decorated car for several minutes. The couple started dancing the moment they set foot on the ground. A long line of men and women joined and danced in unison. They looped several times around the installations. We were invited to join the dancers, and let me tell you that it must have been very entertaining for the guests! They were smiling and laughing…we are obviously not as talented as the Kenyans when it comes to moving our hips!

 

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The rest of the celebration was similar to what we know, but with more dancing: the couple dancing to go cut the cake, more dancing to meet the guests, guests dancing before making a speech. People were also dancing and singing while presenting their gifts to the couple. We also had a gift to offer, but stood pretty still when it came time to present it.

We felt very lucky and grateful to have been invited to the celebration. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between the two cultures. When we left the party, all of our hearts were…well, dancing!

Reflections from a Kenyan classroom

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Rugby team group photo from first practice

By Brent Woodside

This was the final week of teaching for us at each of our individual schools.  It has been amazing getting to know the students and staff here in Kenya. Everyone always has a smile on and makes sure to make time to enjoy their tea and good conversations.

 

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Rugby training

One thing I have found is that students are invested in their learning and their extracurriculars.  Students value learning both in the classroom and on the field. I have had the pleasure of starting up a rugby team at the school I am at Michogomene secondary and it has been a great experience.

 

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Form 2 students at Michogomene

From getting to know the students I have learned is that students here are not much different then students back in Canada.  They still like to play tricks on their teachers, have some foolish moments, enjoy their sports, worry about their grades, and occasionally misbehave but overall are incredibly talented and welcoming.

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Me with supervising teachers Gituma and David

I have really learned a lot from teaching in Kenya, from learning a bit of a new language(Swahili), handling large classroom sizes at around 60 students, and teaching with very little resources (often just a piece of chalk) but more than that they have taught me about their land, culture and customs, the value of friendship, helping one another and how to find joy in the little things in life. I consider myself very lucky having the opportunity to have met such wonderful people here.

 

 

 

 

A field trip with a view

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By Brett Roche

In my second week of teaching at Mitoone, I am beginning to get more comfortable with the schedule, classes, staff, and the students. I have started visiting other classes, to both observe other teachers, and teach some lessons for them, to go along with my own assigned classes. The teachers and staff have been extraordinarily helpful and open to offering advice, asking questions, and welcoming me into their classes.

I am really enjoying getting to know the students better, and it is great to see both the formal and disciplined in-class side of my grade 7s,  along with the more informal, competitive and fun side that they show in PE class.

They love playing games and sports, and really excel when it comes to physical activity and competition. I tried to teach my class how to play “soccer baseball” in PE on Friday, but unfortunately there seemed to be too much of a learning curve as there are so many rules, and most of the students have never seen baseball being played.

Because of the lack of understanding I decided to scrap the game after about 20 minutes, but fortunately, the students were not phased as they transitioned easily back to playing a game of football without question or frustration. This just goes to show the relaxed and carefree attitude many people, including students, have in Kenya, as they rarely get upset or frustrated. This really backs up the “hakuna matata” philosophy I had heard so much about before arriving, which is something I would love to see more of in Canada.

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One morning, we arrived at school early enough to be able to take in the assembly that happens every morning at 8 o’clock. At assembly, a chosen grade or group of students are asked to perform a song or dance or both, coupled with a prayer or speech of some type to start the day.

It was great to see the students get involved in such a fun, interactive, and spirit building type of activity so early in the morning, as this seems like the kind of thing that students in Canada would try to avoid at all costs for fear of embarrassment or ridicule from their peers. But here in Kenya everyone is supported and it is expected that everyone does assembly on their assigned day, so there is no judgment or negativity around it, as students are actually proud and happy to perform or speak to their peers and teachers.

The highlight of my week would definitely be taking the grade 7 and 8 classes up the nearby Mai Tei mountain for a hike on Tuesday morning, with a few of the other teachers. The side of the mountain we climbed had little to no path, and it was very steep, but the students showed up without hesitation or complaint. I could not help but thinking how much planning and red tape there would need to be in Canada to organize a field trip like this, while in Kenya, the student showed up like any other day, and we’re excited to find out they would be hiking a mountain that morning, with no questions asked.

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This was a wonderful experience and it was great getting to interact with the students and such a fun and informal setting, while getting some physical activity and sharing in some breathtaking views. The students love teaching us sweet healing words, phrases and songs as we walked and it was very fun to trade roles as students and teachers for a short while. They were very excited when I took out my camera, and got some great photos of the group on the walk, and I even let some of the students try taking some pictures with the camera, and taught them how to use it.

It was amazing to get to talk to the students more about their personal lives and interests, tell them some things about Canada in my own life, and overall I felt that this morning helped me to make a better connection with my class. This is the day I will always remember fondly, and I’m very happy I have so many great photos and memories to keep forever.

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The Kenya immersion

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By Brent Woodside

Hello again from Kenya!

This week was the first full week spent in classrooms.  I have been given the opportunity of teaching 3 physics classes and 3 math classes across forms 1-4 (grade 9-12).  It has been a wonderful experience getting to know the students and learning from them as much as they are learning from me.

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The education system is much different here in Kenya.  More emphasis is placed on memorization than application.  For this reason students have incredible rote memory and an ability to quickly pick things up in the classes such as the French we are teaching them but have difficulty connecting the learning outside of the classroom.

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In addition, the staff in the school have been incredible and extremely welcoming.  They have treated us to local cuisine such as roasted maize, oogali, and mokey. In addition, they are quick to jump in to teach us Swahili words and about their customs.

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They also have a keen interest in our culture and education system from Canada. This exchange of information wouldn’t be possible without completely immersing yourself in the area.

Any free periods we have during the day are spent at the primary school across the road.  Here the kids swarm you as soon as you walk onto the grounds. I have never seen the type of excitement they have.  You could be stuck shaking hands and giving high fives for hours.brent 32

Overall the teaching experience has been wonderful.  I have been given a unique opportunity to learn about the Kenyan education system and also learn about their culture and way of life.  I am excited to see what the next couple of weeks have in store for us.

Making memories at the Meru market

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By Maude Bertrand

We get most of our food from the supermarket in Meru. Every Saturday, we make sure to stop and pick up food for the week : maize flour, wheat flour, pasta, bread, chicken, coconut cream. We also buy some treats for ourselves (mostly chips, cookies and chocolate)!  However, the fruits and vegetable are expensive there, and that is why we also need to make a stop at the open market (what would be like the farmer’s market).

Most of the time, we walk to the Kiirua market, which is about three kilometres from our house. Our cooks Alfred and Boniface are always good guides, and they know where to find the right produce at a good price. Going to the market is always a great way to interact with the locals. We even know some shop keepers, and we happily visit them during our weekly shopping.

This week, we had a very different market experience. After school on Monday, Krystal, Erica, Alfred and I drove to Meru to get our fruits and vegetables from the Meru open market. And what a market! One can find everything : clothes, jewellery, shoes, electronics, fabrics, mirrors, and so on! We only had time to walk through the produce section, which had hundreds of vendors within it. There were mountains of potatoes, green peppers, delicious looking carrots, ripe bananas, juicy mangoes, beans of all colours, and numerous fruits that I could not recognize.

The colours were beautiful, and looking at all this freshness was mouth watering.  But it  was a very different experience than the Kiirua market… If the people in Kiirua are used to seeing white people, I think it’s not as frequent in Meru. We were a novelty for sure.

When we stepped out of the car, many vendors were already showing us their products, and 3 and 4 wheelbarrows were at our service to transport our groceries (they were very disappointed in our strong muscles – we were able to carry everything ourselves). I was however glad to have Alfred with us. He guided us through the maze of fruits and vegetables, knowing exactly what was a fair price, and which ones had been inflated.

All our senses were already stimulated and then, it began to rain. Not just a nice summer rain! A torrential pre-monsoon rain! It was one of the biggest rainstorms I had ever seen!  We were glad to be under a big metal roof at that moment (most vendors were not as lucky, they had to use tarps and umbrellas to cover their precious items).

So, the  adventure ended under the rain, with gorgeous produce to bring back home and anecdotes to tell our colleagues! It was quite the adventure, and I am glad we got to experience it.

There’s a cow in the soccer field and other lessons from Kenya

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Krystal with some of the students during the 11:00 break. During this break students take porridge every day.

By Krystal Woodside

March 9th 2019

Two weeks at Rugatene primary school down and one to go! I cannot believe how quickly this teaching placement is going. One thing I love about this school is no two days ever seem to be the same and there are always surprises waiting around every corner. I am starting to really get to know the students and their personalities are starting to show through. During lunch and breaks I have been taking the opportunity to just be with the students outside and learn from them. Luckily they take the time to teach me lots about Kenya and I try to return the favour by teaching them about Canada. On Thursday I taught them a handshake and their faces just lit up. It really is the little things that makes them so happy. There are always lots of laughs and lots of questions from everyone.

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 Two of the upper year girls posing for a photo during one of their breaks

This week, I was fortunate to have the standard 4 (grade 4 in Canada) class for science everyday. We were working on the soil unit. What I love about Kenyan curriculum is that so many of the lessons focus on activities and learning by doing. The way the textbook is designed really allows connections to the outside world and to things that are of relevance to the students.

In order to learn more about the soil we spent lots of time outside analyzing it. The students were quick to show me the different soils Kenya has and all the animals that live in it. They even showed me the safari ant which is bigger than ants in Canada and also bites. Unfortunately for my fellow pre-service teacher Hailey, she found this fact out the hard way one morning before school.

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A group of grade 4 and 5 boys sharing the football field with the cattle.

One of my other favourite classes to help teach is the physical education class. Although we are in the athletics unit this term the students always want to play football and we often oblige.

We share the field with the Rugatene secondary school’s cattle but no one seems to mind the arrangement. The students will be running up and down the field and the cows just add an extra challenge to the game. Surprisingly the cows don’t seem to mind the commotion either. I have even seen a cow get hit by the ball and just continue grazing.

Moments like this make this whole experience seem surreal. Where else would kids playing football around a group a cattle be such a common experience. That is one thing I love about Kenya. They often don’t have the same resources as we have in Canada but they still have just as much if not more fun! I am really going to miss these kids when I head back to Canada but I’m looking forward to one more week with them!