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FAQs about Kenya and Mustard Seed Project

I hear primary education in Kenya is free. Why do they need your support?

That is quite true. In 2003 the Kenyan Government made primary education for 6 – 14 year olds free but only if: they have uniform and shoes and have received pre-primary education elsewhere, which is not free and can pay for afternoon tuition, books and stationery.  

So is your school free?

Most parents pay fees. These fees represent about 25% of the true running cost of the school and are less than the cost of the feeding programme. We ask them to pay because education is not really free in Kenya and contributing towards their fees gives them ownership of their child’s education. Some people cannot contribute at all but that is a private arrangement with the school.

At what age do children start education at your school?

We have a nursery class which takes children the January after they are 3 years old. It is well equipped and run along the lines of a nursery class in the UK. There are lots of educational toys and opportunities for children to learn through play. This is very unusual in Kenya where children as young as three years of age are expected to sit at a desk with a pencil and paper and are drilled until they learn something. 

What curriculum do you follow

Children follow the Kenyan curriculum but the method of teaching is very like the UK. Initially it was very difficult for our teachers, who had previously  taught everything by rote, to appreciate the benefits of learning through experience and understanding but they have done an amazing job. Then last year the Kenyan Government decided that this was in fact a better way of learning and this is what they want their teachers to do now. Of course it is very difficult to make such drastic changes but luckily for our teachers they are already there. 

What happens at your school if children have no shoes or uniform?

Most people manage to provide uniform. If they cannot we provide it for their child. Very many parents cannot provide shoes for their child. We take donated second hand shoes out in our luggage when we go to Kenya for these children. We also provide socks.

Do you have a feeding programme?

We realised very early on that most of these children were malnourished and that some were actually starving. Since 2011 we have provided them with porridge in the morning and a balanced mid-day meal. In the early days this was entirely funded by the Herrod Foundation when our numbers were smaller. More recently Souter Charitable Trust has also contributed towards this. Unfortunately the Herrod Foundation has now closed and we are left with a problem for this year.

So is your school better than the government schools?

In 2003 the government of Kenya made primary education free but they did not train any more teachers and they did not build additional schools. As a result teachers are working in classes of 80 – 120 children with very few resources. Unsuprisingly the standard of education is very low. Our school takes just 25 children into a class and is well resourced. Our teachers are committed to working with these children and they try to make sure that every child achieves the very best they can. The aim of our school is to provide quality education that will make a difference. Our first group of children reached 14 and took their KCPE (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in 2018. The mean score for the class was B-. In 2019, again the mean score was B- but this included one child who achieved an A grade putting him in the top 1% in the country

Are your teachers qualified?

Yes. All the teachers in lower school have an ECD (Early Childhood Development) Certificate or Diploma. Those teaching the older children have a P1 (Primary 1) Certificate. Some have done in-service training to gain their ECD Certificate paid for by Mustard Seed Project. Additionally they receive in-service training from Rita, a retired primary school teacher and one of the founding trustees. And of course they  have help from carefully selected volunteers. A small amount of in-service training is available locally. 

How do you know what is happening in your school?

The UK trustees spend two months of the year in Kenya. Rita spends most of this time working in the school. One of the Kenyan trustees is also the school manager as well as running his own school which is owned by another UK charity. He visits the school regularly and feeds back to the UK trustees when necessary. Additionally,  thanks to WhatsApp , email and phone, Rita is able to deal with any issues that the local team are having difficulty resolving. The school also sends a report and the accounts every month

How do you choose the children who come to your school?

This is very much on a first come first served basis BUT the children must come from the local area and they must be poor. We accept children regardless of any special needs they may have provided we can meet those needs physically. We only take 25 children in a class. Most of the children are either Muslim or Christian as this represents the local community. 

What do children do when they leave your school at 14 years old?

Our children have had a great start in life. We have given them opportunities that just would not have been available to them. Two of our girls who have achieved very well in their KCPE exams have a sponsor paying for them to go to high level secondary school. Hopefully they will go to university eventually. All our children exceeded government expectations for their age including those who had been receiving additional support. The Kenyan government has recently made secondary education ‘free’ and compulsory. Unfortunately parents are still expected to pay for the feeding programme, books, stationery etc which is very difficult for many parents. We try to find donors for our children.

What special needs have you coped with in your school?

Our first child with special needs was Hope. She is profoundly deaf. We took her in, obtained hearing aids for her and all teachers and children learnt to sign. We then took in two other profoundly deaf children. They made great progress and stayed with us for three years until it became obvious that we could no longer meet their needs. We then found sponsors for them to attend a special school in Mombasa. We have also found sponsors for Halima who has cerebral palsy and Joshua who has moderated learning difficulties to enable them to go to special schools which support their difficulties.

What will happen to your school in the future?

Future sustainability of the project has always been high on our agenda. That is one of the reasons for building our own school. It will mean that there is no rent to pay and we shall require fewer staff for cooking and clearning. We also have a large board of enthusiastic trustees many of whom are young and keen to carry on our work. The completed building which is being built to a high specification will be available to hire by colleges and community groups in the evening and during closure time. Finally, we hope to adopt the sustainability model used by SOS, an international charity. We are expecting that the quality education we are providing will attract wealthier parents. We shall then take in a small number of these children to subsidise the poor children we are supporting. 

How do you help menstruating girls to stay in school?

This is a very big problem in Kenya, and other parts of the world. Parents cannot afford sanitary protection for their girls who then stay at home. This means that they miss lots of schooling, fall behind and then drop out of school. We did not want this to happen to our girls. In our school building we have two private toilets which are available just for the girls. They have the opportunity to wash themselves and also their washable sanitary towels which are made by one of our women’s groups. The girls are in school full-time just like the boys. They have also been supported in making these changes by Flora, one of our Kenyan trustees who is a qualified nurse.

Do you support the community?

A really good question. During the course of the last eleven years we have done a lot of work with women and youths in order to get them into paid employment. 80% of youths (aged 18 – 35) are unemployed. Many young men sit around the community doing not a lot. The women in the same situation generally have a baby and spend their time trying to feed their child. We have had a number of projects aimed at changing this situation. We have given health training and business training to women and have provided them with loans to set up their own business. We support the youth through sport and are trying to get them into college to do vocational training. 

Do you provide healthcare?

We have done a number of things to prevent ill-health. We provided mosquito nets to every family in the community, We dug a well for the community. We have given health training. Most importantly we have a clinic in our school which monitors the health of our children. The nursing assistant in our clinic goes round the community advising mothers on how best to keep their children healthy. Healthcare is available in Mombasa and our nursing assistant is able to direct people to the appropriate care. Of course the thing that keeps our children healthy is the good food they recieve in school.

Is education just for the children?

No! Absolutely not. We provide adult education classes, mainly for women to learn to read and write Swahili. We also deliver business training and provide them with a loan to set up their own business. In addition we do health training.