Head Teacher (Principal) Sasi Kabaka first arrived to take the reigns at Gosese Primary School in Western Kenya back in 2007. At that time, Gosese was a “school” in name only.
“The pictures that one could perceive of this place were horrifying,” Kabaka recalled.
Students were being instructed under the shade of trees; what few classrooms did stand were only barely doing so.
“There were just small structures, in fact, structures that were supposed to be condemned. They were just five feet by four.”
Merely 47 students were enrolled that year—taught by 3 instructors. Upon the sight of the crumbling and secluded campus, newly placed educators were instantly discouraged. An assignment to this school felt like a punishment.
Consequently, “there were no role models here,” Head Teacher Kabaka languished.
Kenyan primary institutions typically provide classes up to eighth grade, but Gosese did not accommodate children beyond fourth. The government used Gosese as a “feeder school,” whereby students were expected to enroll in one of the more distant institutions when it became time to advance to fifth grade. Unfortunately, these other schools were never fed for long.
“Once they were moved to other schools, after a few months they would drop [out],” Kabaka explained.
Due to the decrepit infrastructure and unmotivated teachers, the four years students spent at Gosese set them up for failure. Fredrick Mwita is the senior teacher and the only staff member who has been at Gosese longer than Kabaka.
“We had very muddy classrooms,” Mwita remembered. “Our learners were sitting on stones . . . and that was making learning very difficult.”
Disgusted by the grave neglect suffered by the resilient students of Gosese Primary School, Head Teacher Kabaka vowed to finally give the children the role model they had long been deprived of. Shortly thereafter, Kabaka and his staff had a meeting with administrators from the Ministry of Education in which the officials reiterated their intention to continue using Gosese as a feeder. Principal Kabaka protested and proceeded to present his proposal to revitalize the school.
“He said we are going to remain firm to make sure that this school grows to higher levels,” Fredrick Mwita reminisced.
Were the government officials offended by this objection?
“No, In fact they were impressed,” Kabaka laughed. “Yeah, they were impressed, and they gave us support. We convinced them. We told them that these kids equally need quality education, and we had the will to assist them. In fact, they were very positive, and they accepted. So, the idea of making it a feeder school was shelved, and they are really supporting us.”
With this green light, Sasi Kabaka and his band of teachers embarked on a reformation. They solicited the help of the government, businesses, and NGO’s, including the CWS Africa School Safe Zones program.
CWS recognized the potential in Kabaka and his fellow teachers, and felt that with the proper encouragement and training, Gosese Primary School had the ability to completely transform. Head Teacher Kabaka and his subordinates were very determined, but how long could their ambition endure without adequate resources and support?
Thanks to its compassionate donors, CWS was able to fan the flames of their fire by providing the school with necessities including desks and a seed grant of 4,500 USD towards the construction of classrooms. CWS also organized helpful training sessions for the small staff and school management committee (parent teacher organization).
CWS Africa and teachers worked with parents to persuade them of the significance of a good education and the need to fundraise to improve the school’s infrastructure. They lobbied the community to convince them of the importance of female instruction in this rural village accustomed to marrying off girls as young as 12. Gosese finally began to offer fifth grade instead of sending children away after fourth.
CWS organized peer learning events for teachers and parents, sending them to other CWS School Safe Zones to learn strategies for improvement from those who had also gone through the struggle to rehabilitate their own institutions already. Teachers, specifically, were trained on child centered learning and motivational skills.
The school management committee was trained on accounting skills and fundraising strategies. As a consequence of the CWS seed grant and fundraising training, parents were able to solicit most of the money required for classroom construction themselves by obtaining grants from the government, area businesses, and the community.
Added encouragement came in 2010; that year, for the first time, a Gosese alumnus advanced to secondary school. Recently, the Kenyan Government supported Gosese by honoring its request for an additional teacher, bringing the staff to eight. Most impressively, the school grew from 47 students in 2007 to 271 students by 2013.
With valuable resources and encouragement from CWS, Head Teacher Sasi Kabaka and his colleagues have achieved something their predecessors were too apathetic or dispirited to accomplish. Some of them got temporarily lost along the way, but together they remembered the selfless aims that first drove them to their humble profession.
Alongside CWS, they changed the lives of everyone in the community—and for the first time, gave their students role models.
Joel Cooper serves as a Global Mission Intern with Church World Service Africa in Nairobi, Kenya.