I visited the libraries at the beginning of April 2019. It is over 3 years since I was last there and it was good to be back. I was made very welcome by the management of local schools as well as the libraries, as everyone appreciates the contribution Akili makes to the communities of Dabaso and Kakuyuni.
The young children have really enjoyed the recent purchase of storybooks in Kiswahili and English and they have been very effective in teaching the children to read.
There was some particularly encouraging news at Kakuyuni. The primary school increased its KCPE score by 27 points last year. Michael Maridadi, the deputy head, claimed ‘the library has been instrumental in raising standards’ The school and library are working closely together. The teachers find it a quiet place to mark and plan work as well as using the books and computers. The school still faces enormous challenges, not least the acute shortage of classrooms, class sizes can be up to 70.
The benefits of the library are also spread further afield with a number of other local primary schools loaning books for their pupils.
It was encouraging to see educational provision in Kakuyuni improving in general. The local boys’ high school, which opened a few years ago, has progressed from a sub-county to a county school and a new national girls’ high school will open in a year’s time.
The last shipment of books (in January) was divided between the libraries at Kakuyuni and Dabaso and Watamu primary school. The latter is a particularly poorly resourced school and we have been trying to support it in recent years. I met the new deputy head at the school who used to work at Kakuyuni and is an old friend of Akili. The books are much appreciated and used but they do not have a dedicated library in which to display them. A new classroom has recently been built at the school and they hope to use this as a library but it is currently without shelving.
I was there during the Easter school holidays and saw the libraries full of secondary school students studying. For many the library provides the only available quiet space for study, as well as a source of school books and revision guides. Cornelius, the assistant librarian at Dabaso, spoke of the need to manage the distribution of limited resources amongst students, encouraging group work and timetabling the use of certain books.
The Dabaso library committee is now chaired by one of Akili’s first bursary students, Lawrence Nzai. Lawrence has a degree in environmental health and now works for World Vision. He has re-energised the committee and it now includes two young female members and the chair of the Dabaso school management committee also attends. They are a committed and energetic group of people who we are sure will ably support and develop the library.
My son, Jack who is a primary school teacher in London, joined me for the second week and we were able to spend some considerable time with the bursary students.
On one day I ran a workshop at Kakuyuni for the girls on ’Telling my story.’ This was in response to requests made by the girls in the Debatemate research we conducted two years ago. It allowed the girls to discuss their school experiences and develop their presentation skills. We will report more detail in a future newsletter, focussing on girls’ educational achievement.
Jack, Fred and Cornelius lead a similar workshop for the boys at Dabaso which concluded with a great game of football.
The following day, all the bursary students, together with some ex bursary students, met at Dabaso for what has now become the annual bursary students’ meeting. The librarians devised a quiz and spelling test for the students and they were addressed by a number of motivational speakers.These meetings have forged a network of support and friendship between the students who identify themselves as part of the ‘Akili family’. They are very aware of the opportunities that the bursary programme has opened up for them and it was a delight to get to know them better. The librarians have excellent relationships with the bursary students and their support for the programme is of huge value. This was brought home to me particularly in the case of one student who had to suspend her studies last year for mental health reasons. With the support of Janet, Erickson and Francis (at Kakuyuni) she is now well settled in a new school, nearer home and attended all the bursary student activities. The 2018 report of the bursary programme is available elsewhere on the website.
-- Jenny Pitkin