By David Wandabi and Lynn Oburu
There is a reputation established for most public primary schools as schools with less creativity and imagination, but Kariobangi North Primary School is a different case altogether. The school was started in 1964 by Nairobi City Council located in Embakasi North constituency, Nairobi in the Korogocho slums. Its pupils’ catchment includes Kariobangi, Dandora, and Babadogo slums. It is a two streamed school with a population of 750 pupils. With most students coming from humble and poor backgrounds, but the school itself is more than just basic, it is a novelty, a haven of locally driven environmental management. The school has been an Eco-school since 2014. Despite the brawling, wailing and multiple socio-economic and environmental challenges surrounding the school; it has come up with some remarkable projects to make it child-friendly and environmentally conscious. The projects include; organic kitchen gardening, cookery club, beadwork, crocheting, and knitting as well as waste management.
The school is located in a slum characterized by high poverty levels, food insecurity, unreliable water supply, high student drop-outs, high illiteracy levels and high cases of teenage parents. Most of the 750 pupils are not able to afford more than one meal in a day. In most cases, children go to school hungry with the hope of getting at least a meal at school. The school used to provide lunch to the pupils under the World Food Programme School Feeding Programme. However, the programme stopped in 2017. The situation is exacerbated with erratic rainfall patterns and prolonged droughts. This weighed down on the school as it solely depended on the insufficient government funding and meagre parents’ contributions to keep the lunch feeding programme on. With the majority of the parents living under a dollar daily, most of them cannot afford the daily contribution of about 0.5 dollars to buy food and firewood for the pupils.
With such a predicament, the school resulted in initiating projects to address some of the challenges. The school decided to provide a holistic education for their students as a way to guarantee them a better life by lifting them out of the problems. The school grows vegetables in their kitchen garden to supplement the student diet. Surplus from the garden is also sold to the local community. The garden has spinach, kales, cowpeas, bananas, tomatoes, and onions. To utilize the school space, sack-gardening is also set-up to mainly grow vegetables. At its optimal, each sack can grow up to 200 shoots of vegetables. However, the farming initiative is occasionally faced with a challenge of insufficient water. The school solely relies on rainwater and water from the City Council which is often rationed.
To supplement the garden, the school involves the students in other activities for income generation. The school has a vibrant cookery club where the students learn how to prepare various foods. This includes flavored fried potatoes (bhajia), mandazis as well as baking of cakes. Despite the lack of an oven, they have improvised by using a jiko and two sufurias. The students do make lovely foods. This is to enable them to be able to use their love for food as a source of money to help in funding some of their school and home expenses.
With biting effects of dire poverty, the school also involves the pupils in beadwork, crocheting, and knitting. They make a wide variety of items including key/pen holders, mats, and necklaces, pouches, tissue holders, knitted baby clothes, among others majorly for sell. The only downside of these initiatives is a limited ready market.
The development of all the projects has students at their center. This is to help them improve all-round not just academically. Gardening is always been shunned by most urban young people. However, Kariobangi North Primary has instilled the value of hard work among its students and letting them know that working their farm can provide them with a good source of food. The students therefore wholly participate in preparing the land, planting, mulching, weeding, watering, and harvesting as well as marketing and selling the crops. To watering is done by innovative home-made sprinkler by pupils made out of plastic bottles with holes supported by a tree stump. All these initiatives develop pupils’ entrepreneurship acumen and skills. This helps them raise money to create more and surplus goes to support the children within the school.
The school also invests its time and resources in promoting sports, poetry, music, drama, and art as a way of communicating environmental information. The school has produced some exemplary students in sports and drama that have gone on to represent the school at various levels.
The school led to the start of a secondary school, Kariobangi North Secondary school to help increase the transition opportunities for students to join secondary education. They also help support some of their students to secondary by helping them acquire sponsorships. The school projects contribute to imparting vocational skills to weak students academically. They also have a mentorship programme for students every Wednesday.
The school headteacher, Mrs. Jane Njoroge says, “The school is a home and a chance for most of the students to rewrite their futures despite their difficult backgrounds. We have understanding teachers, which is one of the main reasons why they go out of their way to make sure the children explore all possibilities to achieve the greatest heights they seek to reach. And what better way than making them make use of their environment? For there is nothing as diverse and constant as the environment if people learn to use it wisely, just as our school is doing to our students. We have made it a point that no child misses a meal, whether they pay or not, and that is what a truly caring teacher does. Our pupils are now sure of having at least a meal in the day as opposed to the past when they were not sure of what they will eat in a day. The pupils can now concentrate better on their classwork as they now don’t have to worry about where to find meals.”