After an inspirational talk by an Old Ardinian Harry Vialou Clark in 2008, to mark the 150th Anniversary of Ardingly College it was decided to raise enough money to help build Ndogo Primary School in Kenya. The school is in a remote rural part of the country where the people are in desperate need of help to break the poverty cycle.
A group of eight L6th pupils and three members of staff visited the school when it was under construction in 2009, and since then the adventure has become a regular service trip often proving to be a life changing experience for the students. This year was no different when 21 students and 4 staff, after months of preparation and fund raising, flew to Kenya ready to continue the service legacy and to embrace the challenges which lay ahead.
Meeting the children for the first time at Ndogo Primary School is always a memorable experience as their instinctive curiosity, infectious smiles and energy for life, despite their difficult backgrounds, is humbling. This year we officially spent our time teaching lessons, painting classrooms, and playing sport. Geography, English, Maths, Biology and Physics all featured on the “temporary new timetable” and classes 7 and 8 were astounded and super excited when they were allowed to race two model cars powered by solar panels! At lunchtime, we were also able to see the feeding programme in action. Watching the pupils line up in a very orderly fashion – youngest first - and to see the beans and rice piled onto their plates made the long hours selling teas and coffees on a Sunday morning all the more worthwhile. For many this is their only food of the day. However, the experience for all of us went way beyond all of this. The pupils of Ndogo at every opportunity are eager to learn about our lives and to share their hopes and dreams, to play any game we can think up, and to spend time plaiting hair, holding hands and stroking the unusual white skin. They have so little, but have a determination to make the most of every opportunity which comes their way. As we pulled away from Ndogo after our last day, we all reflected that although the days were long and tiring they were hugely rewarding and we left much richer in our understanding of life than when we first arrived.
Beyond the feeding programme at Ndogo, our big fund raising project was to provide some desks for Kamande Primary School – another remote school set in the Aberdare Highlands. Following the building of brand new classrooms the pupils needed somewhere to sit and it was exciting to see a lorry draw up during our welcoming ceremony loaded with the desks we had purchased. After lifting and installing these into the classrooms we then set about either teaching some lessons or wielding a sledge hammer to demolish what was left of the old teaching block! Although we were only there for a couple of days, it was soon apparent that although better nourished than the pupils of Ndogo, the pupils of Kamande are just as hungry for education.
Our exposure to the challenges faced by many Kenyan children continued and was heightened when we visited Saidia Orphanage and the Restart Centre. As both organisations help children and babies who have lost both parents, or have faced abuse some of the stories made us all very emotional; what was evident was the resilience and positive outlook of all the children. We were met with smiles, warm handshakes, song and dance; their determination to make the most of the opportunities given to them was palpable and after joining in with the songs and dances there was definitely a lesson for us all to take away.
Our trip concluded with a trip to the Masai Mara where we enjoyed searching for the Big Five. Although not totally successful this year we did enjoy seeing the grandeur of the scenery, huge numbers of wildebeest signalling the start of the migration, 3 male lion feeding on a carcass, large herds of buffalo and several cheetahs.
There is no doubt that this trip is a special one and the reflections of a member of staff experiencing it for the first time sums it up well:-
Miss Joan Gall, Housemistress, Woodard Girls
"The Kenya trip is an extraordinary experience in the true sense of the word. It takes staff and pupils out of their comfort zone and exposes them to a country, a people and an education system vastly different to what we experience on a daily basis. Being in Kenya teaches pupils to work as a team when they teach, exposes them to an enthusiasm for learning in the classroom that might make them reflect with some shame on their own apathy at times, allows them to see a level of poverty that they will rarely have experienced but at the same time bolsters them with stories of hope and aspiration as well, and even shows them how to use a sledge-hammer safely. It is an emotional roller coaster and one of the most rewarding fortnights you could ever wish to experience. What makes it really special is its longevity and the continued commitment that this school has shown to a particular project at Ndogo. So many charitable projects might be seen as transitory but this one, so far, has stood the test of time and every pupil that goes is soon aware of the history of the relationship between Ardingly and Ndogo. Let us hope it is a relationship that will continue for many years to come."
Mr James Johnson, Deputy Headmaster