By Tony Henthorn

Editor

07590 750128

villagetribuneeditor@mac.com

Mustard Seed Project update

Happy New Year, everyone! The ending of an old year often gives us cause to look back and, here at MSP, we have been doing just that: whoever would have believed, when we started our school eight years ago with just 17 children, that we would be where we are now with 275 children, 12 teachers and ancillary workers, all achieving such amazing results? And it's all thanks to you, our supporters and fundraisers.

The school year is about to begin in Kenya and we shall have a Standard 8 class for the first time (last year’s Standard 7 pupils): they will be taking their Kenyan Certificate of Education exams eventually, which determine the school they will be able to attend if they have the money, shoes and uniform. Shoes are a big problem for our children. Many of them come to school in shoes with trodden down backs or cut out toes to enable them to get the last bit of wear out of them. Imagine our delight and the delight of many of our children in Kenya when we took out 50 pairs of shoes! Northborough Primary School donated the shoes they were growing out of at the end of the school year. They came to school in their shoes and went home in their trainers. Amazing! A big thank you to the children and parents of Northborough School.

However, for our school to be registered for the children to take their KCPE exams, we must have adequate toilets and wash basins. With any luck, the ground floor of our school building, comprising the toilet block and kitchen, will have been completed by the time you read this. At the time of writing, the contractors had started work on the last section - they were bringing water into the school, sorting out the lighting and starting the toilet block – but we didn’t have all of the funding in place: we are hopeful that matched funding offered by the ‘Big Give’ Christmas Campaign will have raised the shortfall. We are desperate to get the work done: it will save the children trekking across in the rain to the rented building for their dinner and also relieve the pressure on the two toilets shared by 150 boys and girls.

We had an extremely fruitful visit to Kenya in November: one important task was that Geoff finally managed to obtain the 99-year lease for the land that is officially owned by Archana, an English trustee with dual nationality. It has been so difficult (more than four years) and so expensive (more than £1,000) but it means that the land for the school belongs to Mustard Seed Project and can’t be stolen at some point in the future. (It may sound a bit paranoid, but we know of two other charities who have suffered this loss.)

Geoff also managed to get of lot of influential people on-board with his project to get the youth into work. Maintaining their interest when we are not there is difficult, but we shall be back soon and hopefully it will not have lost all the momentum.

We were able to fit in six days of in-service training with the teachers, due to our school being closed because of the Kenyan election: this meant we could include crucial planning time – an opportunity to think, without distractions, about what they had learned and how they were going to put all the useful ideas into practice. Collins, our secretary, had also been giving the staff IT lessons and the difference in their skills level was amazing – they had definitely earned their Internet access ‘reward’. Another exciting development for the staff was discovering that the Kenyan government plans to change their education system – both the method of teaching and the content of the curriculum – and the changes to be introduced will match the way that they are already teaching, so they are ahead of the game!

One of the difficulties we have to face in Mgongeni occurs when parents come to the school with disabled children: we know that there is nowhere else they can afford to go but we also know that we cannot completely meet their needs. It is hard for most of us to imagine what it must feel like to live in Mgongeni and have to choose between food and education – and then, sometimes, to not have the money for either. For some like Johnny, who is very bright but profoundly deaf, getting the specialised education he needed was only a wild dream for his parents. It is not so difficult, however, to imagine their elation when they heard that one of our supporters had offered to sponsor his education at a school for the deaf: they had been so worried about how they would manage to find the fees that they were completely overwhelmed – it was heart-breaking to witness. He will now attend the same school as Hope, another former pupil who is making fantastic progress: she should get the grades that will take her to the secondary school for the deaf. You may also remember that a donor has been paying the special school fees for Halima who has cerebral palsy. She is quite severely disabled but bright, so we were delighted to see that her school report shows amazing progress: she can now feed and dress herself and use sign language to communicate. And she is still smiling!

We count our blessings that, through Mustard Seed charity, we have been able to make a difference to the quality of life of the community in Mgongeni. But we know that we could not have come so far without public support. So thank you, once again, for your generosity and please, if you can, consider making a donation: visit www.mustardseedproject.co.uk to find out how.

With grateful thanks, Geoff and Rita Fowler

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