Last year, we welcomed Gary Shiels to the Board of Trustees as our new Treasurer. Gary has spoken to us about his motivations for getting involved in the charity and, following his first visit to Kenya a few months ago, about some of his reflections on the charity’s work, and his hopes for the future.
Can you tell us more about your background?
I joined PwC (then Price Waterhouse) in 1982 as a property and insurance specialist and worked in audit and tax as a senior manager before becoming a partner 10 years later and ultimately a founding partner of the Gatwick office. I retired at 53 and have subsequently shared my expertise with HMRC GAAR Panel, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and as Non-Executive Director and Trustee to a number of private companies and family settlements.
What was your motivation for getting involved in African Promise?
Chris (African Promise’s Chair of Trustees) is my neighbour in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. That was the initial link to the charity, but the motivation to get involved – other than the charity’s cause – came from discovering more about Charles’s (our founder) story. He kept his promise to rebuild a school. He is driven and dedicated. I like that in someone and I found it really inspiring to see what he has achieved.
What were your first impressions of Kasigau?
Kasigau is a really impoverished area about a 45-minute drive along a dirt track off the main Nairobi to Mombasa highway. When I was there it rained for the first time in a year and the road completely disappeared. It’s only when you are there you appreciate how hard it is for anything to get done and how impressive it is what has been achieved by Charles and his team in the charity’s first 10 years.
What would say are the charity’s key strengths, having seen the work on the ground?
One of the strengths of African Promise is the charity’s model of school redevelopment, which focuses on co-working with its communities and on building long-term partnerships. We have a proven way of building and know how to build a school so that it doesn’t become a dustbowl; our schools are regarded by the Kenyan authorities as a model to follow. We engage with the school and its community at every stage of the design and implementation of any project. We use people and suppliers from the local area and provide a regular flow of work, and we’ve been able to help them build their businesses on the back of that.
We don’t just build the school, or part of it, and disappear though; we also finance extra teachers, pay for food, and provide water if necessary. We want to do as much as we can to ensure that the children’s long walk to school is a worthwhile one.
What was your abiding memory from your visit?
We visited Mkamenyi Primary, which is planned will become the charity’s eighth partner school in 2019. What struck me most was the eagerness of the school and community to partner with African Promise. I was delighted to see that the parents were already helping by collecting stone aggregate, clearing trees and scrub to make way for the new buildings, and levelling the ground. It would be wonderful if we were able to deliver them and their children a new school.
*You can support our fundraising appeal for this project at www.africanpromise.org.uk/new-school
What do you hope to bring to African Promise as a Trustee/Treasurer and how do you hope to help the charity grow and develop?
African Promise has delivered so many great benefits to the Kasigau community, largely through the dedicated work of Charles and his team. The current network of 7 schools continues to flourish with the support of African Promise and there are a further 8 schools in the region that would like to partner with us. The Trustees recognise the challenges involved in raising finance to support both our current partner schools and to respond positively to this demand for our expertise.
I therefore see my primary role as assisting with the financial governance of African Promise. Beyond this I will also be doing what I can to help build the level of financial support from our donors so that African Promise’s future plans are affordable and we can expand our network whilst maintaining long-term support of our existing partner schools.
Gary (back left in striped shirt) with our Chairman and Founder/CEO and the headteacher and Chairperson of Mkamenyi Primary School