Jenny had been before, back in 2011 and we have photos and small reminders in our house, so I was prepared, or at least I thought so!
We arrived early on the Saturday evening and were soon surrounded by children and from thereon it never really changed. We stayed inside the Convent and were blessed with incredible hospitality throughout our stay. Of course, it’s basic (the power went down on Tuesday morning and didn’t return until Friday), but the love and care more than makes up for any small sacrifices.
We went to the Church across the road on Sunday and the joy of being with hundreds of others, was exhilarating. I’d explained to Sister Phina that I wanted to help with the older children and she took me at my word. Patrick, the P7 teacher, was brave enough to allow me to teach (mainly English & RE) for a few hours each day and that was an incredible experience.
The curriculum is very structured and while I loosely followed it, I also broke away. We learned some songs, we discussed life through question sessions and went into rhyme and jokes; there isn’t really time for things like this in their schedule, so they were often tough concepts for the kids to understand, but we got there.
Games started at around 4pm; Jenny & I helped most days for about 2 hours. There was never an argument; any collisions were accepted; the kids brush themselves down and carry on. It’s vigorous and tough, but free flowing and huge fun. A local girls football tournament took us with the team to another school, which was fascinating and proved that St Michael’s ethos is extremely positive, especially when taken into a local context.
Jenny worked with younger children and helped Nurse Zam, through direct support and encouragement, to bring forward the importance of mosquito nets, tooth brushing and hand washing. We helped restring dormitories, so that nets could be easily set, laminated posters (made by the children) to remind them of these key things and helped instruct on tooth brushing. Everything was done with a cheerfulness that is very inspiring.
What I could not appreciate was the huge improvement in infrastructure, whereas Jenny could. The boys dormitory; an incredible shower block (which has massively reduced infection for the children and the smell in the dormitories); a vast covered stage area which was used constantly; solar power to some classrooms and dormitories. There will be many other examples that I have missed, but the overall impression is of constant improvement.
The underlying issues are always there, but the charitable work that St Michael’s receives makes an enormous difference and it is hugely appreciated; what’s more, it is working. While we were there drought was forcing up the price of maize to new highs; the weekly banana for each child was under threat. The school has been supported during this crisis. Money is very tight, but determination and positivity is strong.
I think that our advice would be for you to engage and see, through the newsletters and maybe even by a visit, just what is being done for the children, with very little waste or loss. We had an incredible time and this brief summary doesn’t really begin to cover the experience.