Laini Saba Primary and Nursery school began as a drop-in centre for street children in Kibera who came for a meal. But since 1994 when formal education began the school has flourished.
The school’s location in the midst of Africa’s second largest slum brings its own set of problems and also opportunities.
They accept students from all backgrounds – giving priority to rehabilitated street children and the poorest living in the slum.
It was very worrying for children and parents during the post-election violence in late 2007 and early 2008. The school was forced to close for two weeks until the situation eased. It’s so shocking to think a place where so much good is done was forced to take such action. Who would want to harm Laini Saba?
The school has a staggering 481 children on its roll, aged between 3-15 years-old. (It should only go up to age 14 but some students start late.)
After spending a few hours with the children it was easy to see why it was popular.
Teachers and children alike work with smiles on their faces; there is always an atmosphere of respect for one another and a willingness to share and learn together.
Children regularly wander into the staffroom at lunchtimes for advice, a chat or to be comforted which I felt was a wonderful testament to the school’s philosophy of reducing children’s vulnerability, and empowering them to approach life with confidence and hope.
At Laini Saba, which is a Swahili word for seven lines, referring to the railway that runs adjacent to the school, there are three Sacred Heart sisters working there. Sister Anastasia is the Head Teacher and she welcomed us warmly and was deeply grateful for the many gifts we left her with which practically took over her office space. From CAFOD pencils to PE kits and prospectuses from St Mary’s in Blackpool, we came bearing many presents!
I got the impression of a tree house as we walked up wooden stairs to the classrooms. With tree branches stretching across the boardwalk above it really felt like the children were learning in their very own treehouse!
We were blessed with the opportunity to take a class of about 40 nine to 11 year-olds in the morning. They, like all the children in Kenya, greeted us with what must be a stock phrase everyone learns in school, “Hello! How are you?”
We shared with the class profiles written by children at St Mary’s and the primary schools we work in back in Blackpool. The children were very excited and fascinated with these. Rosa, Rachel and I were busy explaining about Blackpool Tower and The Pleasure Beach to the children who were understandably curious.
The children wrote their own responses with a great deal of thought. It was ironic to read that one girl’s favourite food was fish and chips! I bet she would love to visit Blackpool!
We were so impressed with the children’s neat handwriting and beautiful artwork. The messages they have written for children in Blackpool are so lovely and I don’t want to spoil the surprises but so many have expressed solidarity with everyone back home and they are praying for you!
I was over the moon to have the chance to take a PE lesson in the school’s dusty playground. A chance to follow in my Dad’s footsteps (about 128 years of PE teaching experience to his name) was too good to pass up.
The children were fantastic and eventually got the hang of the Over and Under game and a few rounds of Hot Potato. Their energy and enthusiasm is limitless. What a privilege to teach such amazing children.
Rosa’s musical teaching prowess came to the fore in the creative arts class we took over in the afternoon. African children really have great rhythm and it showed in their responses to some hand clapping games and then as they sang their hearts out.
After being blown away by their knowledge of English children’s songs we did at least manage to teach them ‘Kum Ba Yah’, which they soon picked up with great gusto. And they were delighted to share a couple of Swahili songs which must have been heard by the whole of Nairobi they were so loud!
We came away appreciating the amazing work of the Sisters and all the staff at Laini Saba for their commitment, passion and love for teaching. They have certainly inspired me to follow that route and who knows maybe one day I’ll come back to Laini Saba and teach the next generation of Kenyan children.
The children clearly value education and I’m confident that when they leave school they’ll make good choices and things will improve.