Monday, July 9, 2012

July 9: USD visits Ol Girigiri

A typical public school classroom
Mondays are exceptional days at Daraja because they are assembly days.  The whole school congregates around the flag pole to pay tribute to their country and to address news, motivate each other to remain on track, and to also celebrate life with song and dance. 

On this occasion we had a special treat – the new Form 1 (Freshman) group of girls led the assembly. Forms 3 and 4 were in Nanyuki attending Set Books, an all day event in which a professional acting troop performs scenes from the books that they are required to read in those Forms, those books that will play a prominent role in the looming Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (K.C.S.E.) examination. One of the books being performed was Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s The River Between.  Thiongo is a famous Kenyan writer known for his fearless pursuits of highly controversial sociopolitical topics, which he surreptitiously (and sometimes not so surreptitiously) weaves into his plot lines, cleverly avoiding naming names. 

After the flag was ceremoniously and solemnly hoisted (an event complete with rigid salutes and synchronous marched steps), their pledge of allegiance recited, and the country song expertly sang, a group of Form 1’s performed a traditional song and dance and zipped off a motivation quote.  Principal Jason Doherty then offered some enthusiastic words of encouragement.  Matron on Duty, teacher Mercy (biology), concluded; she was her usual eloquent and captivating self. 

Kathleen and I spent the morning clumsily hopping from classroom to classroom, observing best teaching practices and student reaction to teacher methodology.  I conspicuously sat in a corner video recording with an iPad.  Kahleen diligently took notes and transcribed dialogue.  She didn’t miss a beat.

Camel crossing on our trek
In the afternoon we were scheduled to descend upon the local public primary school: Ol Girigiri, which is located just a few miles northeast of Daraja along the Dol Dol Road.  A road, who’s use past Daraja, is relegated really only to the remote residents of Il Polei and Dol Dol, and an army of sand trucks that lumber back and forth carrying well-over the permitted weight in stones and sand to construction sites country wide.  Famous primatologist Shirley Strum’s baboon research site, Chololo, is also located along this road.  As you head northeast from Daraja the climate becomes dryer and the heat oppressive, hence the sparse human population being engulfed by the wild and surrounded by resilient African beasts, and the invasive prickly pear cactus now thriving is this desert.  The humans here are resilient as well, often in times of drought burrowing into river beds to extract the most prized and elusive item: water. 

Acacia scrub land
We took a short cut through scrubby-bush, acacia abundant, habitat to the school and were warmly greeted by the school director Dickson.  He proudly recited the statistics for the gradual improvement of Kenya Certificate of Primary Education scores (the K.C.P.E. is a culminating and cumulative exam required for secondary advancement) within the school since his appointment.  In Kenya student performance is highly competitive and schools fight to turn out as many A students as possible – it is a sign of prestige.  The top scoring schools are read aloud on the radio after results are posted.  Everyone knows which are the top schools and the director is similarly well known.

We toured a few classrooms – received sonorous greetings from Class 4 (4th grade) student and Class 8 (8th grade) students.  The majority of the 8th graders declared that they wished to be lawyers when they grew up.  The female 8th graders were prompted to stand tall while we celebrated their achievements.  Many of the students at Ol Girigiri are children of pastoralist peoples and females often do not move on to or complete their secondary education.  It made me happy that our representative USD sample was a majority female, but they will need much more motivation and support then receiving the encouraging words of a successful yet strange, backpack-toting assembly of white-ish females to motivate them to continue in their studies.  Life is hard in these parts.
The Dol Dol Road

Our day also concluded ceremoniously, we handed gifts of school supplies to the 8th grade class.  Each gift was to be delivered separately by a different USD spokesperson.  They then chose one student to bestow the gift upon.  The exchange culminated in an exaggerated handshake, and a simultaneous turn of the head and smile for the camera.  The students clapped and sang as we filed out the door.    


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