These children are now role models, proving to others that the opportunity is there for them to follow.
Above:Charles Monari is head of learning at Kawanhware Primary School. A huge bear of a man and an inspiration in terms of what he achieves in his slum school.
In May 2005, I visited a school in the middle of the Mukuru slum just on the outskirts of Nairobi. The school was an oasis of calm and learning in the midst of pretty shocking poverty. Barclays Bank in Kenya supported the school and as part of this community project and in my capacity as Barclaycard's COO I was there to support by helping with the painting of a shipping container donated by Barclays.
Strange gift?, well no. The World Food Programme and the Kenyan Government had pledged to provide two meals a day and free primary education to those children up to the age of 13. As a result the school population exploded as this lifted a huge burden on the families living in Kenya's slums where the average annual income is around $250. The food donation caused a storage problem and two much needed classrooms were converted into grain and bean stores -- hence the container the Bank provided was to be used as a store thus freeing up the classrooms.
While were waiting for the painting equipment to come, I wandered off to the classrooms and found myself sharing a room with around 80 13-year-old girls. I never got out to help with the painting and sat transfixed as these bright and lively girls received sex and what I can only describe as social responsibility education. I was hugely impressed by their enthusiasm for school and learning, in fact they considered it to be a privilege to be at school -- what a contrast to the UK!
The sex education was frank and to the point, and necessary. The "social responsibility" sessions were shocking. The opening lines from the health worker were "what do we know about HIV and AIDS?", no reply offered... "well it's something you need to know about because statistically 50% of you will not see your 25th birthdays". Did he really just say that! And why are these girls sitting here so calm? My emotions went into overload. He then went on to explain that the men in the slums produce rough drugs and brew a really strong alcohol from a local plant and when fuelled up on this stuff they take to raping young girls in the slums inevitably passing on HIV/AIDS.
I was in a state of shock, and thinking of Geldof and Live Aid, I had the line from "I don't like Mondays" running through my head "...and the lesson today is how to die" and I was very close to tears.
At the end of the session I asked the girls what I would need to promise them in order that they would promise me that they would avoid all situations that could lead to rape or unprotected sex.
Clipboards was the answer that came back. Clipboards, why? Well evidently the clipboards and the rulers and geometry sets they went on to request were the essential equipment for their exams.
That's no problem I said but what do you REALLY want? One little girl named Emily put her hand up and asked "could you pay for us to go to secondary school?" I should explain here that the free education in Kenya stops at 13 and all further education is private. By UK standards the fees are small, about £300 per year, but in context that is the gross income of most of these families for two years!
I thought I can raise the money to do that and agreed that I would fund this for the top girls. Emily's hand was up again..."we could only accept this if you do the same for the boys". OK I'm on a roll now and within the next few minutes I am standing in front of 80 13 year old boys having the same set of conversations and agreeing the same mutual pledges.
Back to the girls...."Girls, the boys agree and I will undertake raising the money to send the top 5 boys and the top 5 girls to senior school." And so the fundraising began as soon as I returned to the UK and as a result, in January 2006 I was able to return to the school and present the symbolic cheque for the first years fees for the first ten children and I am delighted by the fact that the list included Emily.
Thirty Children have now completed the programme and are now at University or in good jobs. They are now role models their example and those that followed having a profound impact on their primary school and their local community.