One of the first teachers I met at the school was George. He appeared to be my age and had a golden smile and one of the most cheerful demeanors I have ever come across. Every time he spoke to me, or anyone for that matter, it was accompanied by an ear-to-ear smile, direct eye contact, and often he would hold your hand (which is a traditional custom among many Luo people). In fact, the hand holding wasn’t just limited to conversation, but as he led me around to show me the school he did so hand in hand which admittedly was a bit awkward for me as I don’t think I walked around hand in hand with a man since I was a kid at the zoo, but it appeared to be a natural part of his culture and for that reason the initial weirdness soon dissipated.
George showed me not just the school, but how the work of Millennium Promise was helping the school. First, we stopped at a couple of the 6 classrooms at the school. The rooms were pretty much concrete boxes with sheet metal roofs, most but not all had wood doors, and again most but not all had glass windows with bars. The rooms without windows and doors just had holes where they once were or perhaps never were.
Next, we walked about 50 yards back behind the school through some brush, down a path, and to a ridge on the rocky, mountainous terrain that the school is on. After a few minutes of walking we got to an algae and sediment filled puddle that appeared to be the sources of a natural spring. George explained to me that when the school doesn’t have a clean water system and that it relies on students to rotate bringing in whatever water they have at home. When homes don’t have any water, they often use this spring for their water sources. Often times they boil this water or put purifying pills in it to help kill bacteria, but not always. He also explained that while the water they drink likely contains some bacteria many of their bodies were used to it. In reality though, water borne diseases take the lives of many in this area but when the option is not having water at all its easy to justify drinking this.
Next, George took me to the latrines, which weren’t really the highlight of the tour. The latrines were what most Americans would envision when they think of 1800’s outhouses; small wood structures built around holes in the ground. There were elevated buckets of water outside the latrines that had a string tied to them, the other side of the string tied to a stick hanging near the drown. The idea being if you step on the stick you will tilt the bucket and water will come out so you can wash your hands. Millennium Promise just recently helped build a latrine just for the girls at this school that was more private so they could take care of feminine needs as they arise. Combined with the distribution of tampons, this setting helps promote both proper feminine care and provides incentive for young women to come to school instead of missing school for a week each month when their period comes.
Next on our stop was the kitchen. This is one of the most important additions to schools in Africa. The reason being most moments of ones life living in Africa is in pursuit of food and water. This quest is what commonly keeps young people from attending school as they help their families survive. The kitchen at this school provides all the school students with a free lunch each day. Aside from the obvious nutritionally benefits, it also is a recruitment and retention tool as families will happily send their kids to school now because they are not only getting an education but they are getting fed. This helps take pressure off the families. The entire community contributes to make this happen however as families are asked on a rotating basis to contribute beans, maize, or water to help fuel the program.