When I first came to Kenya in 1997, the preschool (behind the kids pictured above) was the only building on this plot of land in Lanet Umoja. The same building is still being used as a preschool today. 75 children ages 3 – 5 are enrolled here. Just across the road is Lanet Umoja Primary School. It was built in 1998 and started with 75 students in 1999. Enrollment has now reached 1040 students in grades 1 – 8. Bishop Edward Donovan Secondary School, built in 2010, is also across the road, home to 250 students in grades 9 – 12. The achievements at these schools have been many, from National awards for academic performance to government funding for new classrooms and lab equipment. But my focus for this blog is on the preschool.
When I first visited Kenya in 1997 there was no slide on this preschool playground. In fact, there were no playground toys at all. There was a swingset, but the swings had been removed because the teachers were afraid that the children would get hurt if they used them. The children often used the chains to swing from, which to me seemed far more dangerous than sitting on a seat to swing. Children played with inner tubes or old tires during recess – rolling these with a stick and pretending that this was their vehicle. They also played running games like tag or “football” (soccer) using several plastic shopping bags tied together with string. Necessity has always been the mother of invention, no matter the age or place.
Last year (2014) I noticed that the swings were up, and this past May the swings and slides were in full use during preschool. The teachers still put the swings away on weekends and during vacations, but these preschoolers now have much more access to age appropriate toys than their older siblings ever had.
Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) in rural Kenya is looked at more as using common sense than following a specific protocol. (If you research DAP Kenya online the top hit is “Drivers of Accountability Programme”). I still believe that a combination of teacher training and access to equipment accounts for this change, both of which requires funding and understanding from the government about the importance of implementing developmentally appropriate equipment and teaching techniques.
The preschool building here also needs some serious attention. Preschools in Kenya are not funded by the government, so parents are expected to pay tuition, which in turn pays the teachers and occasionally allows for limited supplies for the classrooms. Unless there is outside funding preschools often lack appropriate materials and more importantly, less than adequate space for the children and teachers. Floors, windows, walls, all the things we take for granted are severely compromised here. Teachers have told me stories of children napping on the dirt floors and having to be woken up and moved because rain was coming in through the wooden slats in the wall and soaking the floor. Although we think of Kenya as a warm climate, the temperatures in May, June and July can be chilly enough to warrant warm coats and hats throughout most of the day. Children wear their coats and hats throughout the school day because the wind comes through the slats as well. Bottom line, this preschool building is in dire need of replacement. When we think about the environment where our children are being educated today, even the most run down building is 100% more appropriate for children than this preschool.
Everyone’s Child is committed to improving the conditions for children in impoverished situations. The preschool children attending Lanet Umoja Preschool fit into this category, so our plan is to begin raising funds for a new preschool building in the coming year. If this catches your attention and you would like to join us in this effort to make a difference for small children in Kenya, please shoot me an email at [email protected]. I welcome your help!