We delayed sending this newsletter because of the tragic incident in Garissa University on 2 April. It came as a terrible shock to all of us in the Akili community and to the world. The FO travel advisories are now in force over a much wider area of the Coast and our notes of optimism and hope for a summer programme will probably now be curtailed.
Visit in February 2015
In February, we were able to make the visit which was postponed last year because of Foreign Office restrictions on travel. We were delighted to find the area around the libraries pretty much the same as it has always been. It was quite busy with people on holiday from Nairobi and over-wintering English tourists and the atmosphere is generally upbeat and optimistic. Kenyan Airways are increasing the number of flights into Malindi to avoid the Mombasa embargo so travel is reasonably smooth. The Akili Team on this visit were Pam and Dan, trustees, and Jess, Pam’s daughter, and her friend Carly. Here are some of their observations on what was a first visit for each of them.
Having been involved with Akili for nearly two years but not yet visiting, it was so wonderful to go and put faces to names and to see what a beautiful part of the world Kilifi County is. I was humbled and amazed by the extent of work and care that the librarians and local supporters of Akili put into keeping the libraries thriving, and the wider community benefitting from them. The positive effect the libraries, and the bursary students who come through them, are having on people’s education is really being felt by the community, and it’s so exciting to think about how we can continue to support other schools and students in the area and increase people’s opportunities.
I was so excited to finally visit Kenya and see the amazing work that Akili has been doing as I have been so close to everything through my mum’s, Pam, involvement. I was very excited to see everything first hand and meet the people that I had heard about, seen photos of and read emails and accounts by. From the morning that we arrived at the tiny Malindi airport we were all stunned by the surroundings. The African air, the noises and the tropical environment was unlike anything else and being greeted by the two smiling faces of Fred (librarian) and Peter (driver) was a great start Peter knows everyone and it was clear how well respected he is in the community, which helped make us feel really safe. Straightaway I was struck by the respect that they had for my mum and Dan as Akili trustees and by the mutual happiness of being reunited. I could feel the relief and excitement of everyone to see her back. By the end Fred, Peter and the other librarians and some of the heads were our close friends too.
Fred’s was keen to plan our whole trip very carefully and had worked out an itinerary that he talked through with us in Peter’s very tranquil garden. We were so excited to meet the teachers and the children! The next morning we drove down the paths to Dabaso School with the buzz of the community around us and the first thing you see on arrival is the bright mural of the school. We noticed how well respected Pam and Dan were in the school and it was clear that the charity has set up a sustainable library, where the staff are supported but not controlled from London and as a result the library is flourishing. It was the same at Kakuyuni the next day where the library was so obviously well used by the school and the community. It was incredible to see what an important part of the community Akili is and how much genuine enthusiasm there is for spending time in the libraries.
The spirit and passion for learning is what we experienced from the students as we ran debates in all of the schools, visited the student leader programme and also visited Ngala Girls School to meet some of the Akili bursary students. They were so happy and grateful and it feels crazy to think that without Akili’s support these girls would not be in school they were so passionate about learning and so bright. We debated challenging subjects with the students – something that they do each week – and they were really engrossed and keen to participate.
Visiting Malindi with my friends from the Akili Trust was an incredible experience and one I will never forget. It was great to see the libraries in action, teeming with children at any given opportunity whether at break time or after lessons on schooldays. We didn’t get to see the Kakuyuni library at the weekend but it’s a real hub for the community, if our trip had been longer it would have been great to go down there on a Saturday just to hang out and read the papers with the locals, people like Francis who I could have sat and heard stories from all day. The relationship between the trust and the local community is clearly a very special one and it was great to be part of it.
News about the projects
Since the last visit, the library staff have maintained an excellent standard and the libraries were very busy, with visitor numbers ever increasing. The newspapers continue to be very well read by both students and ‘outside’ visitors and the revision guides that we were bought with a grant from the Cassel Trust have been invaluable for students – and for staff! The Kiswahili books that the librarians selected in 2013 have been used so much that Janet, one of the librarians, said ‘it is almost as if they have never been’. This will clearly be the focus for their book spending again this year.
What was most pleasing about this visit is that all of our meetings and discussions focused on real issues of development and forward planning. The library management committees are keen to explore ways in which the Akili Trust can help improve student motivation and engagement with their learning. A small sub-committee has been set up to look at this in more detail. There was genuine pleasure that the overall performance of girls has improved, though this is not the case in all local schools.
One of the key issues that the community raised with us is that the Akili schools are developing well and this can be to the detriment of other schools in the area. We were asked if we could provide some level of support to a few other local schools. We have agreed in the first instance to provide additional books to help the very embryonic libraries in two new schools – Kakuyuni Boys and Watamu Primary. Sebastian Muye, the headteacher of the latter school, and in post for only 9 months has already started a library but it is so small that students have to share two to a book. His commitment is very clear – ‘once the students have tasted the sweetness in reading, they will want to learn’.
Our next shipment of books is leaving the UK in late April. We particularly want to thank both Walker Books and Hachette (Franklin Watts) for the very generous donations that they have made.
The computers in both libraries are starting to wear out and Cornelius, our IT library assistant, has been doing a great job keeping them running. Some of them definitely need to be replaced and we are exploring the most cost effective way of doing this. We will use this opportunity to look at establishing internet connections.
Bursary students and results and costs
It has been a year of considerable unrest in the secondary school system. There have been some long-term teacher disputes and strikes and indeed two of our bursary students have negotiated school changes because they felt that they were not learning.
The school fees have increased considerably this year and the average cost of a bursary is now £322. The total bursary budget for Akili is now over 1 million shillings (approximately £7,300) and this is really valued by the local community.
Our students generally continue to do well and are well supported by the librarians. Celestina, one of our star students, who had gained a place at a national school, has graduated with a very high mark and we are thrilled by the commitment to learning that she has shown throughout her secondary school. Of our other three who graduated this year, one did well and two were very disappointed with their final grades but again the librarian is helping them to plan their next stage.
Organiser, Ruth Beedle, writes Akili joined forces with fellow charity the North London Hospice to hold a Blues Evening. A capacity audience were treated to a full evening of non-stop music hosted by the Blues Filled Saucepan and friends who presented all styles of this popular genre to the highly enthusiast and appreciative audience, conjuring up the atmosphere of a blues club in the Free Church Hall. The evening was a sell out and raised over £3000, which is to be shared equally between the two charities. Thanks to all the Musicians for contributing their services for free.
Many thanks again from the Akili trustees for all the support you give us and for everything that you do. You will see from the above that the work that we are doing is expanding and we have the challenge of funding all that is requested. Thanks to those of you who do give so generously – and if you don’t, please can you consider making a donation or organising a fund raising event. All of your money goes directly to support the work in Kenya.