A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Striving to Shine- Gatoto Community Primary School

Gatoto Community Primary School, in the Mukuru Kwa Reuben area of Nairobi, is in the heart of the city’s industrial area.
For the children that go there, it is a somewhat of a sanctuary.

The industrial area is noisy, cramped and very very polluted. Walking to the school I pass a river, once a muddy brown, now an indigo blue, dyed from the washout of the surrounding factories. The fumes and stench choke. Channels of mud and raw sewage run right through the main ‘street’. A single step brings you through it all; over mango pips, rubbish, wrappers, dust and layers of it. The main thoroughfare is lined with all forms of small kiosks, each decked with variants of rusted corrugated iron. I see a young boy asleep in a wheelbarrow, another plays with a scissors. It’s a busy, bustling place. I am told the population of the slum is about 100,000, but again, no one can really get an accurate estimate.

In the heart of all this though lies Gatoto. A large open space, with trees, school buildings, a library, sanitation, and a genuine welcome. I am back to visit after two years, to say hello to the staff and pupils. I feel it fitting that my journey commenced in Nairobi, for it was really this school and the people who make the magic of it happen, which started me thinking about this project.

I arrived just in time for athletics training. There was a competition on the following day, and the kids were in serious preparation mode! They take their sports very seriously at Gatoto… and their singing… and their education.

The woman behind Gatoto is a dynamic lady called Betty Nyagoha, who has been working with the school since 1994; developing the grounds, the teachers and the pupils. Today enrolment is 990 pupils, and exam grades are improving each year. The underpinning ethos of Gatoto is a belief in the ability and potential of every child; and it is not just lip service.

Over lunch I sit outside with the school’s social worker, Rhonda, and she starts to tell me stories about each of the children as they pass by. One boy in Grade 8 had disappeared for 6 months. After a tip-off, Rhonda found him living on the streets in Nairobi. Domestic issues forced him to run away but after meeting with the family, Rhonda was able to help alleviate some of the family issues and the boy returned to school. That was just the first of many similar stories.

At two o’ clock the bell rings for the afternoon classes. At that time the main yard is still buzzing with the smaller children (the ones who only have morning classes). Rhonda tells me that the kids stay around school because there is no where else safe for them to play. Without Gatoto, she is not sure what these kids would do. With that, she turns around and tends to a child who has fallen and cut his knee.

The Gatoto model may not be changing the ways education operates in Kenya, but one thing for sure is that it is changing the lives of the pupils who attend. And perhaps the visitors too.


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