For 12 days in October 2008 a team of 11 from West Sussex stayed in the remote village of Chemakeu in West Pokot, Kenya. Here's my review:
My personal role on the team was teaching in two schools. This was my first experience of teaching in a classroom and I really enjoyed it. The children sit in the mud-walled classrooms (or under a tree!) wanting to learn, waiting patiently for a teacher to come to them. I mostly taught Maths, along with some lessons in Science, R.E. and (bizarrely!) Kenyan Agriculture. The latter highlights the way we needed to adapt very quickly to teaching any subject presented to us in the textbook. One memorable experience involves being handed an R.E. text book whilst walking to the classroom. It was open on the page explaining the death of Jesus, giving me the opportunity to explain the depth of God’s love and portray the Gospel message using a simple illustration.
The top priority of the teaching team was to encourage and develop the Kenyan teachers working in the schools, to leave a lasting long-term benefit from our visit. Though we took many resources, unless the Kenyan teachers understand how to use the teaching aids they will simply sit gathering dust. We also tried to demonstrate a more interactive style of teaching, with an emphasis on checking a child’s understanding rather than simply desiring a child to repeat the right answer.
While progress in these ambitions was made, it proved to be a much more challenging prospect than we first anticipated. Other more elementary needs came to the fore, such as encouraging teachers to actually leave the staff room when it was time for lessons! This highlighted for me the need to understand an area before deciding how you can best help. One moment which hammered this home came when enquiring about the location of the parachutes taken by last year’s team. After an initial coy response we later discovered that the parachute was being used in the teacher’s living area as a roof. The parachute had been intended to introduce fun into lessons but instead was being used as a shelter – a much more fundamentally important purpose! The image of the parachute offering shade acts as a classic reminder of the difference between what we thought was needed and what was actually needed.
Living in extremely basic conditions has indeed helped me appreciate my comparative luxury in England. 12 days in Chemakeu was long enough to begin to appreciate the difficulty of everyday life in the area. The ease at which I picked up an illness - or the thought of not having any more relatively clean water to drink unless it rains tonight - emphasised this for me. Rain water collection tanks in Chemakeu have been a major feature of our efforts so far, but the second school we worked at (a 2 hour walk from Chemakeu) currently has no such facilities. Watching a young child digging a hole in a dry river bed to reach the water table and scooping out muddy water to drink, served as the most emotionally moving moment of the trip for me. To then hear a Pokot Pastor describe the situation as a blessing from God further shocked.
The strongest lasting impression from the visit will be being moved by the abundance of faith in the area. The area may lack access to clean water; the crops may have failed; the majority won’t know what electricity is; a few years of a sketchy Primary education will be the limit of most aspirations; and yet these people know how to be joyful! They are full of so much of God’s Spirit. Christianity is currently thriving in West Pokot, breaking down many of the negative aspects of the area’s traditional tribal culture. On the final Sunday of our trip the Pastors on our team baptised 62 people in the river! What a tremendous privilege to witness!!