Rachel Asquith looks back at the recent Oliver & Learn trip
Back at work, driving around in snow and de-icing my windscreen I’ve had time to reflect on everything I’ve recently been fortunate enough to be part of. The events of last the few weeks in Kenya now seem a little surreal.
It was a real privilege to meet and interview so many wonderful people who welcomed us into their lives with open arms. We spent time in the homes of those with not nothing as well as those with a little but no matter their situation, everyone had such an energy. What really strikes you is the absolute friendship and community spirit that runs deep throughout, something I think we have long since forgotten.
A few things I learnt during our visit:
- Kenyan time is not like UK time.
Never trust a Kenyan about distance or journey time as they could mean anything. Across the next road could mean the next tarmac road 50km away! Round the corner could be a few hills in the distance. Always double what you are told plus some, it took us a few days to adjust to Kenyan time.
- Everything in Kenya takes longer.
So many formalities and they simply LOVE public speaking. Meetings don’t have agendas, contact reports or minutes. Things are done on a handshake (or should I say not done!!) It takes a while to try and slow down to the Kenyan pace, we all work so fast that we are already onto the next task in our heads before starting the first. In Kenya they are still going around the room so everyone has time to speak. Yes, it is absolutely frustrating when you spend four hours in a hot meeting room to get one partial action point at the end and still have a fully day’s schedule to fulfil. Perhaps however we could take something back out of the Kenya formalities and add a little more time in our working lives for polite introductions and conversations?
- In Kenya it is always time for tea.
Now I am a tea lover but nothing can start, happen or finish without tea no matter how busy you are. Tea, which also means food, more speeches and prayers, is more important than anything else. And you can’t talk about work over tea, this time is for personal conversation and introductions.
- That children still laugh, smile and love to play with anyone and everyone.
The smallest thing is great fun and IT is not required! Walking into a school and getting mobbed by children who just want to run and play with you is a very strange yet amazing experience. The one thing that will never leave me are the eyes of the children that seem to look straight inside you in such an innocent, yet understanding way. It is hard to put into words.
- School is seen as a privilege.
Children want to learn and absolutely believe they can do or be anything, girls don’t seem to have the preconceived ideas of career paths like in the UK. I was surprised by the answers given when you ask them what they want to be, engineer came up an awful lot.
Education means everything to the younger generation in Kenya. They are positive and genuinely believe if they work hard they can succeed with a very clear vision of what they want their lives to be like. They certainly shoot for the stars!
In Kenya the government fund very basic primary education but not secondary. I found it surprising that a school with nearly 300 children in the primary only has 50 in the secondary due to the fees. And if you ask a secondary student what they think they would be doing if they were not in education the answers are a little scary and not things I would want to write down.
We set off on our journey back in February not really knowing what to expect but with the aim of making a short film to depict what Oliver and Learn is helping to achieve. This will undoubtedly be our greatest task. How do you honestly portray such fight, passion, determination and friendship in a few minutes of footage?
Make a difference
Each year, Oliver & Learn sponsors students from 11 schools in the rural Kianjai area of Kenya. We help to pay for school fees, books and uniforms – all of the vital things that keep these secondary students in school. Many of these students are orphans. Without this support, they would have to drop out of school and work in subsistence jobs to survive. School fees are only £135 per year, but to many, this is simply unaffordable.
Help Winifred set up her business
We’ve helped students like Winifred set up a business on graduating, by providing them with the tools of their trade. This donation of a sewing machine or plumbing equipment can make a huge difference, whether it’s to young people just starting out in their working lives, or to their family.
Help the community improve their farming techniques
The Kianjai region is subject to regular droughts. This has a disasterous impact on the local community. To improve drought resiliency, a community teaching farm is being developed. The farm will teach techniques for selecting and planting drought resistant crops and encourage the community to develop greater yeilding crops.