In this latest blog post our new Chairman, Chris Ott, who was appointed at the end of last year, shares some observations from his recent first-time visit to Kasigau to see the work of the charity at first-hand.
I was excited to assume my role in AP at the end of December. Charlie suggested to me that the most valuable use of my immediate time would be to view the work of the charity on the ground and through my own eyes. I spent five days in Kasigau from the 31st January. The experience was mind changing and I shall be forever grateful to Charlie for recommending this as my best induction.
As a friend of the family, I have known Charlie for all of his life and therefore have watched AP grow from its genesis. I say this as context. From the relative comfort of our own lives, the practical issues faced by AP and our partner schools and local employees and suppliers are not easily imagined. I feel it may be helpful to share my experiences and impressions of this first visit to Kasigau.
I was struck by how rural and isolated is the area. This isolation is brought more into perspective as a result of the severe drought conditions that prevail in many parts of Kenya and specifically around Kasigau. The impact is immense. Villagers must travel each morning, often on foot, often for more than ten kilometres to fill water containers for their family’s daily needs. Herds of cattle and goats are having to be taken similar distances to find any grazing that is minimal at best. Cattle are hopelessly and visibly undernourished. For most of the local population, subsistence farming is their livelihood and this is very much at risk. Should the rains fail again in April and May, one worries for the existence of many communities.
Of course, these issues are in sharp focus in our partner schools. Reserves from rainwater harvesting dried many weeks ago. AP successfully launched an appeal to fund fresh water supplies to be shipped to our schools to replenish their water tanks. Our funders have generously supported this call but this will be an ongoing cost while these drought conditions prevail. The schools could not operate without this basic provision. The laws of supply and demand are impacting the cost of water together with the cost of beans, rice and maize – the staples of our schools’ feeding programmes.
There is so much we take for granted in the comfort of our homes and yet these basics for us are luxuries for the people of Kasigau. It is very humbling.
I was given the opportunity to visit four of our seven partner schools – Kiteghe, Kisimenyi, Ngambenyi and Bungule. Our visits were not announced in advance and we just viewed the schools in normal operation – having talks with head teachers where it was not intrusive. The construction of the schools is so impressive! As AP builds more experience in the construction and ongoing maintenance of these schools, the design evolves with new innovation visible in each project. It is honestly an incredibly impressive footprint that is being left in these villages.
Whilst each of the schools is a little different from one another, either because of locality or the innovation just mentioned, there are common themes that are branding the schools uniquely as AP. The basics of sanitation for the children is thoughtfully and adequately provided, the rainwater harvesting is cleverly evident and the crisp quality of the build stands out from any others.
Increasingly we are moving towards a campus style development – where the land allows – gathered around a central area that has connecting pathways through what will become planted gardens to improve aesthetics and reduce dust. The feeding programme is enabled with the building of school kitchens and where possible, dining halls. These elements increase the feeling of the school providing a modern and safe environment which allows the children to focus upon learning. I promise you, the atmosphere in the classrooms is one of noisy enthusiasm for learning.
I think my overwhelming feeling was that the charity has brought dignity to the lives of the children and they, together with their parents and teachers, realise that there are many of us who care deeply about offering them the first step to improve their lives through education. There is no hope of them struggling out of poverty without this basic need.
Charlie is a cunning lad! On our last day he took me to visit a school where we have no partnership as yet, Mkamenyi. The newly appointed Headteacher, Nicholas, was previously at Kisimenyi. I was shocked by the contrast with those schools I had seen before. It was stepping back in time. Buildings that should probably be condemned, classrooms that were dark, dusty and with simple mud floors. Little or no furniture for the children. Classes hopelessly overcrowded. It’s difficult to imagine the children believing that education is important when nobody cares for the learning environment. From a personal viewpoint, I couldn’t take any photos simply because I was so embarrassed by what I saw. It was this visit that really clarified my understanding of the transforming quality that AP delivers.
Nicholas is clearly a gifted leader and respected by his local peers. He has proven to be a very knowledgeable and reliable person to work with in the past. Mkamenyi has a school roll of nearly 600 including pre school classes. We have such a wonderful opportunity to transform all of these lives if we can afford to bring Mkamenyi as our 8th partner school.
Some other observations. Everything that Charlie has established for AP in Kasigau, screams of partnership. All of the local suppliers have grown with and become partly dependent upon AP and as a result we are getting good deals at the same time as supporting important local businesses. This sense of true partnership runs through all of the school relationships. I found it incredible that these valuable characteristics could be established so consistently and so effectively in such a far away place. Huge credit to Charlie for his vision and determination.
A couple of words about our local colleagues, Denis and Brian, who are responsible day to day to serve the school needs and oversee and organise construction. Both are so knowledgeable, respected locally in the community, diligent and fabulous ambassadors for AP. We are lucky to have them. And they are fun to be around, too!
It is probably not practical for all of our supporters to see the achievements that AP has brought to Kasigau. That is sad, in a way, because until it is seen though one’s own eyes, it is difficult to appreciate how deeply AP is embedded within the communities. We could never have achieved these goals without the tireless enthusiasm and moral vision of Charlie. And of course, none of it would be possible without the continuous generosity of our supporters. Each and every one should be so proud of the impact you have made on so many little lives. I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to now be a part of our future. Thank you, Charlie!