Of welcomes and work: an update from Jennifer Taylor

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Jambo Everyone,

This is Jennifer Taylor, a foods and nutrition professor at UPEI, and a proud Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) member!

I have been travelling to Kenya with Foods & Nutrition students/dietetic interns since 2010- this is my eighth trip, which is hard to believe.  I was reluctant to come since I felt I would have nothing to offer, but started coming thanks to current FHF President Colleen Walton.

I normally do not have time to write a post in the day time. However, today I was visiting schools with our friend and lifetime FHF member Jennifer Murogocho.  Michogomene school was beginning construction on a new cookhouse, and Jennifer asked me to come with her. My Foods & Nutrition students Haley MacKenzie and Julia Heckbert went to nearby Kibirichia to interview some members of the Gatima women’s group concerning their food and their shamba (farm). They were accompanied by Salome, an amazing FHF employee, and our new translator Dorcas, so they were in very good hands (They completed four interviews in one day, which is our target!).  We finished by 2, so I am able to catch up on writing. AND the internet is working on my laptop! Woo hoo!

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I will leave it up to my nutrition students (funded through the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program) to tell you the details about our nutrition work. For this blog, I will tell you about our home, and my visits to schools this week.

We have a clean, safe house which is very fancy by rural Kenya standards (hot water, electricity, beds with mattresses, etc).  We considered looking for another place closer to Kibirichia (where we are working this year) but I am so glad we stayed with the Rose house, as we call it. It is owned by Mrs. Rose who also owns a restaurant and hotel in nearby Meru town.  Our cooks Boni and Alfred are both from her restaurant, so they cook off the menu. We are being fed like kings!  Last night, we had delicious butternut squash soup and amazing pizza with pineapple, julienned vegs and ground beef. So good! The vegetarians will eat fish so they had tuna on theirs. The other night we had FRIED bananas with our dinner. They were so good no one spoke for some time. We just looked at each other and shook our head. We have a huge platter of fresh fruit every day- in the morning and evening.  And silky avocado at most meals. THAT is one thing I miss when I go home!  While I was sitting here writing this post at 3 p.m., Alfred set a plate of fried potatoes and a sandwich on the table for me. I said “You eat it, Alfred! I have already had something.”    Jennifer and I talked today about how perfect this house is for us. Mrs. Rose who owns the house is so very kind to us. We saw her at lunch on Monday (we were there with Salome planning our work) and she hugged me so tight. And told the girls “I am your Mum while you are here”.  Last year, she treated the students to a free night and a swim in the pool.

The showers are also nice and hot this year, which is a real blessing.  I remind myself that we are very spoiled compared to so many here that don’t have a latrine let alone a hot shower. Outhouses are the most common things we see with pit toilets.  And, we have barnyard friends: yesterday we all were howling laughing at the little black lamb in our yard who was chasing the chickens. The rooster came along and chased the lamb back to his parents. It was adorable.  The vet students (whom you will soon meet) Hanna and Chantal have been trying to get close to the sheep, but they are very shy. Those students love, love animals.

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We have visited three schools this week which is unusual for me.  We are usually focusing on getting interviews done with the women to assess their baseline nutrition and knowledge of good farming practices. This year, I delivered the letters to schools from PEI kids early so we can get them back in time for John and I to return with them in two weeks.  The two schools we visited were Mitoone Primary, twinned with West Kent school  and Michogomone Primary (twinned with Mt Stewart School).    We also visited a fourth school today (Thurs) (Muruguma) and delivered letters from Three Oaks Senior High.   Another school, Ndunyu, also had letters but these were delivered by Stephen Mwenda, one of the amazing FHF staff.The students and staff love to see the letters coming and very much appreciate the fund raising that the PEI schools do on their behalf.  When we visited Mitoone Primary and Michogomone Primary schools on Monday, we were welcomed as if we were royalty! Head teachers assembled the children, who sang for us. And we took pictures with representatives from each grade.

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Celebrating letters from West Kent School at Mitoone Primary

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Celebrating letters from Mount Stewart School at Michogomone Primary 

Of course, when we visit schools, we are welcomed like royalty. Jennifer is kind of royalty here anyway: she is the one that does the arrangements for every school cookhouse and that is a huge job. She has to convince parents to bring large stones to the school, to dig the hole for the foundation by hand AND donate maize and beans from their home so the kids can eat.  So I helped her with that today. I told them I had seen the benefits of the cookhouses and the school meals since I first came in 2010. They seem interested when I tell them that I have worked in Kiirua, Naari and now Kibirichia (all within 30 min of each other). I told them that teachers and head teachers (principals) tell us that school attendance increases when a school meal is offered. Some kids don’t get another meal in the day which is hard to think about.  I also told them that children have more energy and learn better when they eat a good meal which is true. The deputy head teacher, a woman, said she has seen that herself.  Educational achievement is huge here- schools compete with each other to get the highest achievement on standard tests.

Jennifer murogocho cookhouseJennifer did a great job explaining to the 67 parents why they need to help build the cookhouse, supply the large stones and contribute maize and beans for the children’s meals. And there are cows at most schoolyards so there is cow pie there too!

This morning, there were over 65 parents at Michogomone school, with some trickling near the end. When Jennifer and I arrived, the parents were digging the foundation of the school cookhouse by hand. Backbreaking work, and both men and women were taking turns.

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As always, everyone sitting in chairs at the front speaks to the crowd (all are sitting on the grass, many with babies or toddlers).  First, the Chairman of the School Board spoke. He was great- he is a retired teacher and is clearly quite passionate about helping kids. He told me that he used to teach biology and he really understood why nutrition matters!  Then the head teacher Frederik (not sure of spelling) talked for quite a while about the importance of parents committing to the cookhouse.  He is so gracious- invited my students to come anytime and participate in sports day or the music festival

They were genuinely appreciative of FHF’s efforts at their school- that is so clear.  When I went earlier this week to Michogomone Primary to drop off the letters from Mt Stewart school kids, I saw that they were adding kale and carrots to the githeri, which my students Hannah and Madi had recommended last year. That was very satisfying to see and I am going to send them a pic!  When it was my turn to speak, Jennifer translated for me and I had to stop a few times and say “What are you saying?” because they were laughing.

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She was telling the parents that I love to cook. That isn’t a bad thing here as all the women have to learn to cook at a very early age.  I told them I have to leave in 2 weeks (1 week gone already!), or my husband would divorce me. Gales of laughter ensued, especially from the women. It always amazes me how much we have in common. They love nothing more than a humorous comment about husbands!  Finally, a young mother got up and spoke as well, telling the parents they all needed to work together and be on the same page in order to make this big project work.  She was very bright and also quite passionate. Jennifer was pleased.

We finished with banana, Kenyan tea and mandazi (a fried dough) in the teacher’s room.  The bananas are just incredible- tangy and so fresh. One young male teacher was grading workbooks and we shared that marking is the most miserable part of teaching. He was grinning when I told him I often fall asleep marking (which my husband can attest to!).  That was a great moment where we both realized that, in the end, we are just teachers trying our best.

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This week reminded me of how importance the FHF school programming is, and how amazing it is to have the partnerships we have between Farmers Helping Farmers and the Souris Village Feast.  These cookhouses are not “handouts”, however.  Our Kenyan partners engage with the parents and the school administrators to make sure these cookhouses are put in place and are effective.  To make sure the meals make the most of vegetables from the school garden, nutrition interns Haley and Julia will, like past nutrition interns, be assessing the quality of the meals being offered at Kibirichia school this year and making recommendations for when they get their water tanks and cookhouses.

Stay tuned for posts from the nutrition team!





Experience of a lifetime

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By Krystal Woodside

March 27, 2019

All good things must come to an end! Today marks our last day in beautiful Kenya. After finishing teaching and the projects in the Meru area we travelled to Nairobi for a few days. It was amazing to play tourist for a while and see a different area. While in Nairobi we visited lots of areas including an elephant orphanage, the Kazuri bead factory and the national museum. I love getting to see more of the culture and amazing wildlife that this country has to offer.

The Kazuri bead factory was especially interesting as it employs over 300 single women and provides them with consistent work and also medical care. These women make the gorgeous beads and pottery that is shipped all around the world. It was interesting to hear more about the factory and speak to the women who benefit from this place.

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One of the women at the Kazuri bead factory hand rolling the beads for their jewellery

Today has been a day of reminiscing. I am so lucky that I was able to complete my six week teaching placement here in Kenya. Working with Farmers Helping Farmers and their projects has made the experience that much more special. While here I was able to see first hand the impact that Farmers Helping Farmers projects have on the people of Kenya and also on the people of P.E.I. I feel as though I have learned just as much from my time here as I was able to teach others. I have grown not only as an educator but also as an individual. This practicum has taught me more about patience, compassion, flexibility and also about the importance of respecting others. All of these lessons have come from Kenyan people and their culture and for that I will be forever grateful.

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From left to right Brent, Maude, Jennifer, Hailey, Erica, and me. Jennifer was our Kenyan mother for the time we were here in Kenya.

Although this blog feels so final I know that it is not the end. When I am back in Canada I am looking forward to finding more ways to become involved with Farmers Helping Farmers and their projects. I have already expressed interest in finding ways to make the days for girls project more sustainable here in Kenya.

Another aspect of Farmers Helping Farmers I would like to get more involved in is their school twinning program. Currently there are no schools in their western end of the Island where I am from and I would like to see if I can change that. I am not sure where the rest of my life will take me but I hope that at some point I will have the opportunity to return to Kenya.

Until then Kenya asante sana for everything. This has been an experience of a lifetime and I will not forget the amazing friends I have made along the way.


Farewell photo

By Hailey Hennessey

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My fellow classmates and I have completed our teaching practicums. This week we have been participating in various workshops. Since I have finished teaching there are so many things that I am missing about teaching at Rugetene. I miss arriving to the school every morning and seeing all the smiling faces of the students and staff. I miss the excitement of the students and their ambition to participate very actively in class. Most of all I miss being able to talk with the students and staff at lunch time and learning more about their culture and also teaching them about ours. I hope that someday I can return to Kenya and cross paths with those who have made this experience so memorable and positive. Kenya will always hold a special place in my heart and so will Rugetene.

Saying goodbye

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With some of the students of Michogomone Primary special class. They gave us nice necklaces. They were also very proud of their Canada stickers!!

By Maude Bertrand

This week’s blog entry is pretty simple, but at the same time, very complex. It is about saying goodbye. Indeed, last week was a lot of goodbyes. It started with the schools- we had to say goodbye to the staff and students. It was very difficult to express how grateful I was for the experience in their school. It was hard to find the right words to thank our colleagues for their warm welcome, thank you for having so kindly rearranged their teaching schedule for us, thank you for their trust, thank you for their cheerful hellos in the morning. I feel that I have learnt immensely from them, and they have certainly given me a lot of food for thoughts- thoughts that will make me grow and hopefully help me become a better educator. But how do you find the way to thank people for something that precious…

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Bye Michogomone Secondary!

Saying bye to the students was also difficult. During our time in their school, they had been amazing : always curious, engaged and motivated in the classroom. Every morning, they had welcomed us warmly, had discussed with us during the break, asking lots of questions about Canada and answering many of ours about Kenya. It had been such a joy to discuss with such intelligent young adults. I really hope I was able to bring a little something into their lives.

And so we said goodbye to the students on Wednesday, after our Days for Girls workshop, but we still had many friends to see: Mwenda, Tonie, David our driver, Jennifer, and so on… Sunday was a very sad day. Brent, Brett, Krystal and Hailey had already left for Nairobi in the morning, but Erica and I wanted to stay an extra day at the house to enjoy Naari with Alfred and Boniface, our cooks, who had became very close friends. We shared stories, met Boniface’s family, had a lovely walk and a nice meal together: it was the perfect way to say goodbye. But again… To these two amazing people who have given us so much, who have always gone above and beyond to make us feel at home, who had become friends and running partners… how do you say goodbye…

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Boni and Alfred

I don’t know if I’ll be back in Kenya. I would love too, but it is always a matter of timing and opportunities. Therefore, I don’t know if I will ever see these people again. But what I know is that all the memories are forever tattooed on my heart. I will never forget Kenya. I will never forget the amazing friends that I have meet in that beautiful country.

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Last run with Boni. Joined by our little neighbours, Alex and Munene


Receiving Mosquito Bed Nets

Update from the FHF Safe Inclusive Schools team in Kenya

Carolyn Francis, Carolyn Thorne, and Liz Townsend are in Kenya from March 6 to 26 to lead workshops and school visits on Positive Learning for All, the third stage in the SIS Project.


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Wonderful celebrations took place with the distribution of 250 mosquito bed nets at Rugetene Primary School.

On Saturday March 23rd, pupils, teachers, parents and Board of Management gathered with great enthusiasm. Jennifer Murogocho, Carolyn Francis, Liz Townsend & Carolyn Thorne were joined by 6 practice teachers to distribute the nets. Hailey Hennessey and Krystal Woodside had taught at the school.

How joyous it was to be greeted with dancing, singing, and innovative drama on the school compound!

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A wonderful visit at Nkando Primary

Update from the FHF Safe Inclusive Schools team in Kenya

Carolyn Francis, Carolyn Thorne, and Liz Townsend are in Kenya from March 6 to 26 to lead workshops and school visits on Positive Learning for All, the third stage in the SIS Project.

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One of the most outlying, dusty, and needy schools is Nkando Primary, twinned with Margate Pastoral Charge.

After driving for more than an hour from Meru, we were greeted with marching and dancing by the school’s Scout troop. We went for a Celebration to announce a significant donation from Margate Pastoral Charge. We joined pupils, parents, and teachers in a large circle under an acacia tree. Everyone including the SIS team was included in the traditional singing and dancing.

There was great excitement due to the improvements to the school that could be made with the donation. The head master made an impassioned speech to acknowledge the contributions that have been made by Farmers Helping Farmers through the twinning program.

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Planned improvements include an additional water tank, gutters linking to the new tank, payment for water line maintenance fees, and an extension to the screen house for the garden.

Perhaps the most significant assistance with this donation will be the provision of maize and beans to sustain the pupils during this time of severe drought.

The hospitality of Kenyans is ever present, and we were provided a wonderful meal before our departure.

To read more about the great work of the Margate Pastoral Charge, visit our website. They are one of the groups celebrated during the 2019 International Development Week on P.E.I.



Successful Workshops on Positive Learning for All in Meru

Update from the FHF Safe Inclusive Schools team in Kenya

Carolyn Francis, Carolyn Thorne, and Liz Townsend are in Kenya from March 6 to 26 to lead workshops and school visits on Positive Learning for All, the third stage in the SIS Project.

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The Safe Inclusive Schools Project seems to excite everyone we encounter. Our two-day workshop in Meru sparked deep discussions with 37 head teachers and others including Jennifer Makena Murogocho, our Meru host and key local organizer.

Jennifer, an important Farmers Helping Farmers Kenyan partner in Meru, had invited participants from primary and secondary schools twinned past and present. From 9 AM to 4 PM each of the two days Carolyn Francis, Liz Townsend and Carolyn Thorne explored positive discipline and creating more inclusive schools in keeping with Kenyan laws and policies.

The days were filled with many experiential learning activities. An added bonus for participants was the introduction of a 25 page draft ‘Positive Discipline and Learning for All’ guide created by the SIS team.

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Participants gave lots of feedback for developing the four chapters, positive discipline and learning, inclusion and differentiated instruction, instructional strategies, and accessibility in schools.

If you’re wondering how the workshops were received, evaluations were all positive.

Here are a few comments: “If we completely implement all that we have learned in the workshop our schools will improve”; “The same workshop should continue to all teachers so that positive change can be experienced by all – to all Kenyan schools”; and, “Very useful guide to be able to digest the workshop after reflection and flashing back..”

Thanks to Farmers Helping Farmers for supporting the SIS Project since 2017!

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


Thinking about the future

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By Brent Woodside
This week we attended the workshops put on by the Safe Inclusive School team from Farmers Helping Farmers.
Our role as pre-service teachers was to assist the attending teachers from Kenya with instructions, demonstrate teaching methods, as well as draw from our experiences as students. 

It was a wonderful seminar focusing on positive discipline and inclusion in the classroom. From listening to the inclusion section of the presentation they talked about children with physical needs not having the resources they need to attend school.

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I have seen this first hand in my school with the latrines and steps leading into the classroom.

Before becoming a teacher, I worked as an engineer for three years so I began to think of solutions. It would be quite easy to build a ramp system with materials found from the local area or extend one of the latrines, add a bench, and add some rails to allow students with physical disabilities the opportunity to get the education they deserve.

From my undergraduate degree at UNB, I have seen universities partner with non-profit organizations to allow students to get some hands-on projects that have a purpose and allows the organization access to knowledge that may be outside of their expertise.

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I know first hand how valuable these types of projects are to both sides and could see a future project for the new school of sustainable engineering at UPEI. All that would be needed is a contact person from Farmers Helping Farmers that could answer student questions.

If Farmers Helping Farmers is interested in pursuing this project, I would really enjoy helping to sit down with them and the UPEI engineering department to develop some future projects that could change many lives.

Helping girls in Kenya stay in school

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By Krystal Woodside

March 21, 2019

Our time in Kenya is coming to an end! In less than a week we will be getting on our plane back to Canada. These past few days have been very busy but also a great experience. Over the weekend we travelled to Samburu for an amazing safari. We were able to see so many animals and had a great time. As pre-service teachers we also had the opportunity to be a part of the Safe Inclusive Schools project that was put on by Carolyn, Carolyn, and Elizabeth. This was a great experience and I felt as though I learnt just as much as the teachers from Kenya did.

The real highlight for me this week though has been the Days for Girls project we were involved in. Between the four female pre-service teachers we were able to give this workshop at 5 different schools which equalled over 200 girls!

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On Wednesday, Hailey and I went back to Rugetene to present this workshop to the standard 6, 7, and 8 girls.

Volunteers in Canada sew these beautiful kits for us to give the girls. In the kits are reusable pads, soap, a wash cloth and the instructions. The night before the workshop we had an opportunity to look through the materials and marvel at the amazing work these volunteers did.

They are so beautiful with their many colours and are so well made. If the girls take care of them they can last for up to 4 years!

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The standard 6 & 7 girls posing with their new Days for Girls kits. Everyone was very excited and appreciative of these products.

During the workshops we focused on the kits and how to properly use and clean them which is very important for the students to know. Other topics we covered included female and male anatomy, puberty, safe sex, and consent. It was funny as presenting this program reminded me of my sexual education class in grade 6. Everyone was a little awkward but also very open and inquisitive and that’s what I saw with the Rugetene girls. They started the day off a little slow but by the end we could barely keep up with all the questions. I am glad they were given a safe space to ask some questions they may not have otherwise been comfortable asking.

This workshop also illustrated some stark differences between Canada and Kenya. Growing up in Canada I think girls often take advantage of having access to menstruation products. We learnt that in Kenya they can be hard to come by and many girls have to make due by using other materials they can find around their house. This made this experience even more precious. I know that the girls really appreciate these kits and will take good care of them.

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This project got me thinking about how Farmers Helping Farmers can continue their work with Days For Girls and providing menstruation products to women. It is not only school aged girls who could benefit from this program. We talked to many women in the area who said they could use these kits and some students even told us their female family members don’t have access to menstruation products. Farmers helping Farmers really tries to work on sustainability and this project in my opinion is an opportunity for that.

I was speaking to Carolyn Francis this week about how it would amazing to see a sewing project here in Kenya where women with proper training could actually make these kits. They could then distribute the kits and educate other women in Kenya on how to use them. I am a strong believer in women’s rights and access to feminine products is an issue that many women in Kenya struggle with. If we can find a way to provide more kits to females here in Kenya without always having to transport them from Canada that would be ideal. During these workshops I was able to see first hand how valuable and appreciated these kits are. The girls were so excited and proud of what we had given them. I look forward to seeing if there are ways to make them more accessible so we can continue to empower women here in Kenya.

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To read more about the Days for Girls project, visit the Farmers Helping Farmers website.  The packages distributed by Farmers Helping Farmers are created by the Empower Sewing Group in Guelph, Ontario, who have donated more than 1,000 of the kits!  Their work was celebrated as part of 2019 International Development Week.



A special place in our hearts

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By Hailey Hennessey

Krystal and I had an amazing last day at our school, Rugetene Primary. We started off the day by teaching a few lessons and then we went to the cookhouse to help with the preparation for the special meal they had planned for us. We peeled potatoes and assisted the cook in making a stew. Spending this quality time with the two chefs and our cooperating teachers was a lot of fun. We all shared a laugh at how much longer it took us to peel a potato in comparison to them.

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After helping in the cookhouse we went out to the field during break and skipped rope with the students. They all seemed to enjoy watching us try to keep up with their excellent skipping abilities.

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We then went around and gave some small gifts to the students we had the pleasure of teaching. Some of the gifts were candy, others were erasers, pencils, or PEI pins.

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After passing out some gifts we had lunch with the entire teaching staff. The food was absolutely delicious and it was so kind of them to give us such a special meal. Each teacher gave a special speech after lunch thanking us for our time and wishing us well in the future. We gave all of the teachers pens and Canada pins and the female teachers put them in their ears as earrings.

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The head teacher also presented us with shawls that were the colours of Kenya’s flag. This was an extremely kind gesture. We then had a school assembly where the students sang for us and we went around to each of the 200 students and pinned a Canada pin onto their school uniform. The students were so excited and so proud to wear the pins we gave them.

Krystal and I were both very sad to leave our school but we left with so much more knowledge and a special place in our hearts for the students at Rugetene Primary.