16 Aug Summer 2019 Field Notes: Laila, Kipasan & Olmusereji
The following post was written by Rachel Seftel, Programs Manager for the Unstoppable Foundation. In her role, Rachel manages day-to-day program operations, oversees program evaluation and maintains local partnerships. As such, Rachel regularly visits our Unstoppable communities and reports back on the progress being made in the field.
In late June, I returned to Kenya with our founder and CEO, Cynthia Kersey, other members of the Unstoppable team, and some our generous supporters. The purpose of our visit was to review progress in the communities and activities we support, and to provide our committed donors with the chance to get closer to the work and (literally!) dig in. Below are some updates from some of our Unstoppable communities.
Visiting Laila, our most robust Sponsor A Village community, is always a glimpse into the future of our Unstoppable communities, and into the realm of the possible. Since 2015, when we began working with Laila, an incredible array of buildings and infrastructure has been constructed or renovated, including 14 classrooms, a library, a school kitchen, a playground, safe latrines, and a borehole to provide clean, running water to the school.
Throughout our time in Laila, the barren school grounds have been replaced with paved footpaths lined with flowering bushes, and tree saplings have begun to spread their branches, offering students shelter from the fierce sun. Since my last visit, an additional 60 saplings have been planted on school grounds. These fast-growing trees will provide a cool place for students to eat lunch, as well as study and play during school breaks.
The other most visible change since my last visit was the completion of the Unstoppable Leadership Community Center. With an enthusiastic turnout from the community, we celebrated the grand opening of the building, which will serve as a hub for after-school programming, teacher training and adult education. The first activity underway in the community center is leadership and empowerment training for adults in Laila. In consultation with community members, we have launched and adapted our Unstoppable Leadership Academy, translating program materials into Kiswahili and Masaai, and customizing the content to align to the local context.
Currently, we are working on a broad-based community health strategy for Laila to reduce communicable diseases and promote good health practices. This strategy will be rolled out in the coming months. We are also constructing a new block of teacher accommodations. By providing a safe and comfortable residence for teachers during the week, the school will continue to be able to recruit and attract teaching staff that would otherwise not be able to accept a position in such a remote location.
Perhaps the most striking and visible change I observed since March was the incredible pace of construction in Kipasan. When we began to work with Kipasan, the school’s few classrooms were crumbling and desperately overcrowded, straining to accommodate students up to the sixth grade. During my earlier visit in March, the addition of seven new classrooms had allowed the school to expand up to the eighth grade. Construction of an eighth classroom had just gotten underway. Where three months earlier, a freshly-dug trench awaited a foundation, a new classroom stood, flanked by two other new buildings – all structurally complete and ready to be painted.
Other community initiatives have advanced in Kipasan throughout the spring and summer. Fifty new trees have sprung up alongside the new buildings on the school site, planted by eighth-grade students following a training on agroforestry principles and techniques. The men’s, women’s and youth opportunity groups have continued to invest in merry-go-round savings, and all have purchased goats as part of their broader income-generation strategies.
Our next big project in Kipasan will usher in a dramatic transformation in community health – community members are eagerly anticipating the start of construction this fall on a borehole that will provide clean, running water to the community. Currently, there is no permanent water source in Kipasan, and women and children walk 40 minutes to the nearest spring to access water that is unsafe for human consumption. This contaminated water supply has contributed to frequent outbreaks of disease in the community. Fourth-grader, Neema, explained how she used to miss school frequently due to serious illnesses, including typhoid. Access to our regular mobile health clinics and preventative medicine, such as regular de-worming, has improved her overall health. Community training on proper sanitation and sterilization practices has also reduced the incidence of disease.
At Olmusereji primary school, students were bursting with pride to show us their beautiful new classrooms and demonstrate what they have been able to achieve in proper learning conditions. I reconnected with Lydia, a sixth-grader who I last saw at the school in March. When she saw me, she grabbed my arm and eagerly led me around the school, pointing out her own classroom and pulling me into an eighth-grade classroom. She explained to me that her previous classrooms were so dark and overcrowded that she often couldn’t see the teacher at the front of the class, and offered to read to me from the history lesson outlined on the blackboard. She beamed as she raced through complex English sentences describing southeast Asian theaters of conflict during the Second World War. Blown away by this tiny, determined girl, I asked her what she planned to do when she finished primary school. “I will go to the Kisaruni Girls School, the top secondary school in the region,” Lydia said. “And then to college.”
Since my last visit to Olmusereji in March, I observed many signs of progress. Much of Kenya, including Narok County, where many of our Unstoppable communities are located, has been devastated by deforestation, and tree-planting is an essential element of our Food and Nutrition pillar. Agroforestry – the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into farming systems – is one of our key strategies for rehabilitating exhausted agricultural land and improving crop yields. From a health perspective, trees also provide much-needed shade for people and animals, since the blazing sun is a year-round health hazard at a latitude less than 100 miles from the equator. Early in the year, the community planted 150 saplings around the school and in the community. These fast-growing local tree varieties have already begun to offer families, animals and crops some relief from the relentless afternoon heat.
Looking ahead, construction on an additional block of teacher accommodation will begin shortly. Since the local communities surrounding the school are spread out over miles, and few have access to transportation, getting to school can involve several hours of travel on foot before and after dark. Providing accommodations to teachers is vital to ensuring that schools are able to hire and retain adequate staff – ensuring every child has access not only to a classroom, but to a teacher.