Nyakasumbi Primary School

By Vincent Too

Nyakasumbi Primary School

I walk past Nyakasumbi Primary School every day on my way to classes at neighboring Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (JOOUST). Pupils with their smart uniforms are always playing in their school compound, enjoying a game they call “street football.” Nice, low-slung buildings line the edge of the small school yard.

The pupils and students at Nyakasumbi primary school have benefitted significantly from foreign and local donations. Its current infrastructure was almost entirely built through charitable assistance.

Emily Awour is a senior teacher of Nyakasumbi primary school, where she has been teaching for the last twenty-two years. She describes what the school looked like when she started in May 1991.

“The teachers were sitting under a tree, which was our staff room. Pupils of class one, two, and three were taught in the shade. It was only the pupils of class four who were being taught in one semi-structure building. The parents contributed money for the purchase of second-hand iron sheets which were used in roofing the structure and the walls were made of mud. This kind of structure was made by pupils who were assisted by their teachers.”

There were no desks in the school but stone blocks were used as desks by pupils. For sanitation, the school had only one pit latrine that was used by both the teachers and the pupils. It had three walls and a sack as its door. The teachers had to use this facility during class times. They had to go there in pairs so that they could protect their privacy from pupils. Male and female teachers alike used to go in pairs. During break times, female pupils were allowed to go to this pit latrine while male pupils were restricted to other times. Water was a problem in the school; pupils had to go on foot to fetch from a nearby pond using their jerry cans.

Nyakasumbi primary school was started in 1987 and its history provides a good example of how local and foreign philanthropists have contributed to its development. The school is situated in Bondo district, Siaya county of Kenya. The land on which the school is situated belonged to one of the residents called Washington Ayiro. The school was initially situated on land where JOOUST, a new public university started in 2010, is now located. In this original site, which was the chief’s camp, the government of Kenya, through the government Constituency Development Fund, built one classroom. The school was moved to its new site in 1991 when the government decided to build a teachers college (which later became JOUSST) on the land. Kenya Freedom from Hunger sponsored the building of one additional pit latrine in 2000.

Former student, Stephen Ochieng’, who graduated in 2002 and is now a teacher himself at another school, described the learning environment:

“Under trees were our classrooms then we graduated to grass-thatched classrooms. We used to smear the floors and walls with cow dung. Smearing the floors with cow dung would help to reduce jigger infection. This is because dusty floors were a good environment for jiggers [a tiny sand flea that burrows into the sole of the human or animal foot and causes severe itching and can progress to ulceration]. We used to do this on Fridays so that it could dry on the weekend.”

In 2009, the European Union through Community Development Trust Fund provided funding to build six classrooms, two toilets for the teachers, six for female pupils, and four for male pupils. It also provided the school with two water storage tanks, fifty desks for the pupils, ten chairs, and ten tables for the teachers. The new classrooms were spacious enough for learning. The Community Development Trust Fund had identified the school to be funded because teaching facilities were so poor. Pupil enrolment was increasing every year; thus it required some support.

Despite the difficult circumstances during its first 22 years, the students performed well, as noted by Ochieng’, “Although we had these challenges, the school performed well and we were number three in Bondo district and one in English subject.”

Nyakasumbi has also received funding from Friends from Canada, a small private charity started by Mark and Jennifer Dull in conjunction with a donor umbrella organization called Innovative Communities. They were introduced to the school by the head teacher who also manages the nearby Foundation Stone Trust Children Centre where the Dulls had visited. They started their assistance by designing a tournament called Together We Can, providing the school with sports items such as balls and trophies for the wining classes. Apart from this, they also gave the school two sewing machines that were used to make pupils’ uniforms, especially for those who were orphans or otherwise vulnerable. Parents who were tailors donated their labor by volunteering to sew 320 school uniforms.

Friends from Canada also provided the school with a ten-thousand litre storage tank to help in water harvesting, a modern stove for cooking, a fence, and they are ready to install electricity in the school once the government agrees on a payment policy. They are planning to establish a lunch program for poor students, and have established a student-to-student to exchange between children in Canada and at Nyakasumbi. Their biggest project to date, however, is a new library which will also be open to students from other schools and the people of the community at large.

George Ojwang’, the schools’ head teacher, described the library project:

“They are in the process of building a library for which they will provide ten laptops, chairs, tables and the book shelves. In conjunction to these, they want the parents and the community around to donate books for the school library. The school in turn has organized for a book donation day. If a person will come with money, we have organized with booksellers so that they can buy the books.”

The school now has spacious classrooms with desks for students. It has cement floors and stone block walls. Pupils don’t need to smear cow dung any more. There are now enough toilets, and teachers have their own both for men and women. Female pupils have a total of ten toilets while male pupils have six toilets and one urinal. There are three water storage tanks which enable pupils to quench their thirst and to use on general cleanliness such as washing their hands after going to the toilet. The school administration is planning to start poultry farming to help generate funds.

The students and teachers have benefitted greatly from the assistance they have received from neighbors, parents, and these foreign donors; however, many challenges remain. The school harvests water in the tanks but they feel that it is not safe for drinking by children and needs to be chlorinated. The compound of the school is small and the pupil enrollment is getting higher and higher every year as improvements attract new students. This has caused the once grassy field to now be dry and dusty. It has also increased the number of students in each class and the workload of teachers: an example is a class which has ninety-three students. Teachers find that the salaries being paid by the government are not enough for them to support their families. Mrs. Awour describes the difficulties she faces in making ends meet:

“Money is not enough, I have to eat, and dress and also I take care of other people in paying school fees.”

In 2003, the government of Kenya introduced free primary education. This has been followed by high enrollment of pupils in public primary schools. The high enrollment of pupils has not been followed by employment of more teachers. This has led to high workload on teachers.

In 2010, the country promulgated the new constitution. This constitution defines how the devolved government should function; an example is that the county government will govern their resources in all sectors such as education. Pre-school and kindergarten teachers will be paid by the county government, and primary teachers will continue to be paid by the national government. Ideally, the government will increase its support for rural schools like Nyakasumbi primary, thus reducing the reliance on donor support.