Kenya Group Return – Fr. John O’Callaghan

Dear Readers,

We are just back from Kenya and, contrary to what could have been a series of mishaps in our new kind of school project, nearly everything worked out better than expected.

The ‘Kenya crew’ was really outstanding. They merged with the young people in the school in which we worked, Oloibortoto, not only during I.T. and conversational English classes but outside class time, throwing frisbees, playing cards, blowing tin whistles or simply by talk and joking. They approached their new friends spontaneously, ‘with a will’, and enjoyed it! They did achieve something concrete though in the scheduled classes of which there were three I.T. and three English everyday. During the former Word, Excel, Presentation and Paint, quite apart from the Rapid Touch typing course, were all introduced and after twelve classes it was time for the young Kenyans to take over the teaching role and impart their newly acquired skills to their own friends. It was then that Camara also arrived on the scene. This Irish NGO which now has a hub in Mombasa sent one of their number to make a provisional assessment of Oloibortoto’s readiness to receive some laptops, in addition to the fourteen that we brought, and thus establish a ‘computer room’ in the school. Time will probably bring this to fruition and also for other schools in the area. English classes proceeded as they have done in our previous projects in Tanzania: reading ‘time’ and giving/following directions, etc. in English, checking verb tenses, studying posters, doing spelling tests with ‘hangman’, etc. were our regular techniques for improving English. We could yet embellish our methods if we had a good teacher for ourselves.

We all found the young Kenyans to be impressive, so bright, so lively and so cheerful. And that is despite their difficult living conditions to say the least. They are Maasai and already use their own language as well as Swahili every day in addition to elementary English at school. Some of the children at Oloibortoto school live in the village of that name but others live up to two hours walk away and they do that trek, coming and going every day, often on limited food. There is no food, nor water, available except in the local village to which most go for their midday meal of rice and beans. The school buildings have been ‘transformed’, they say, by our €12000. They have been changed from a delapidated to an acceptable working environment. We thank all who contributed financially to the fund-raising. We tried to transfer this money in advance but banking procedures prevented it till we arrived. By that time the brave building contractor, Shanni Leboo, had thrown his hat in the ring and, taking on the risk of not being paid, had almost completed the renovation job to a very high standard. You will be able to see this in the photos: new latrines (for girls, boys, & staff), new cement floors for classrooms, walls freshly painted, etc. The thirty new desks are due to arrive soon as well as a water tank. We had a chance to discuss possible future projects with school management. They gave us a great welcome at the start, with splendid Maasai dancing, and a great send-off at the end (cf. video clips) to say nothing of a very sincere and accommodating approach throughout.

We lodged at Lale’enok Resource Centre. This is located about five kms away from Oloibortoto and is where Glenstal’s former student, Peadar Brehony, has been working for the last three years. We were provided with excellent tent accommodation and food. I’m convinced these factors were essential in energyzing tbe boys and keeping us healthy and in good spirits throughout. There was also a river and an airstrip nearby, which allowed for some after-school swimming and/or running. Several UK and US students, often PhD friends of Peadar, spent a few nights in the camp and proved most interesting and valuable conversations – especially as the Glenstal students are at a career decision-making time in their lives. The level of conversation, of reading (eg. Plato, Tolstoy, et al!), etc. was higher than on former trips! Guy, a carnivore researcher, brought us for wildgame drives (lion, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, impala, etc but not elephant), and Sisco for baboon walks, Gweyn was our ornithologist and Marianne and Dan scouted us up the Rift Valley escarpement. A highlight of our explorations was a visit to Africa’s largest Soda Ash manufacturer at Lake Magadi; we also saw flamingos and hot springs at that time and watched President Obama on t.v. We also visited local Maasai markets (cf. photos) and even had a Maasai party (killed a goat, ate cake, chanted and had dancing/jumping competitions around a campfire) on the occasion of Patrick Hayes’ eighteenth birthday.

Our best friend on the trip was Joel, the young ‘Education coordinator’ at Lale’enok. He accompanied us most places, extended our contacts in the area and was a model for a gentle and peaceable adaption in our cross-cultural contact with everyone. Maina was a great friend to the boys as well as an awesomely skilled landrover driver. Samantha Du Toit made the whole visit possible, on the Kenyan side. On the last day, in Nairobi, we were delighted and relieved to meet the Irish ambassador and his wife Bróna (who had helped us with organisation) and to enjoy their swimming pool and cuisine! Very many more people, especially behind the scenes, made this trip so good for one and all. We are appreciative of them and we thank God!

He who is unable to dance says that the yard is stony.” Maasai proverb

Photographs of the Kenyan Trip are in the Photos Section