Roko 20 Academy is a rural Kindergarten and Primary School near the village of Kambirwa in the town of Murang’a, in Kenya’s Central Province, about two hours drive north of Nairobi.
The school was founded in 2014 by Tracey Neale-Ferreira, a former legal secretary and TEFL teacher from Wales, who also owns and operates the charity of the same name in the UK (Charity #1161826).
Kambirwa is a very poor area, and jobs are scarce. Most residents live in mud huts with little or no access to electricity and running water. Most still collect their water from the stream. Families in this area work the land and grow rice and beans to survive, sometimes selling what is leftover.
Although primary education in Kenya is supposedly free, in reality, hidden costs (such as ‘book fees’ or ‘mattress fees’) prevent the very poor from attending school. Roko 20 sponsors children from the local area to attend school, where otherwise they would have no access to education.
In addition, while English is an official language of Kenya, in the central highlands the native language is Kikuya – the language of the Kikuyu tribe that make up just over half of Kenyans. Outside of big cities, there is little exposure to English. However, English is the official language of education and exams. This means that the students of Roko 20, while able to run a greenhouse and dig a latrine, for example, struggle from 1st grade at school, as they are unable to understand their exam papers. This means that they often drop out before high school, and are usually excluded from the few jobs that exist.
This creates a cycle of poverty which can only be broken through education.
Roko 20 doesn’t believe in handouts and instead aims to reduce poverty through providing high-quality education to underprivileged children, as well as goat and rabbit projects in the local community, and small business loans to allow families to become self-sufficient. In recent years, one single mother has managed to set up a successful ‘chips’ stand and is on the way to achieving her dream of being able to pay for her daughter’s education. Another local mother has set up a hairdressing stand in the village and is able to provide a small income to her family.
Roko 20 has always tried to find volunteers to provide an English environment for its students, to give them the exposure and practice they need to succeed in their exams. These volunteers do an amazing job and have become part of the Roko 20 community. In 2016, Tracey was looking for an experienced TEFL teacher to spend a few months in Kenya and set up a more formal English program in the school. I found her ad on TEFL.com and arranged to spend six months at Roko 20 from September 2016.
Six months is not a long time, but we managed to achieve a lot in that time. We managed to implement a program of English for both local teachers and volunteers. We set up a lunchtime library to make use of the many donations the school receives from the UK. We set up a morning and after-school extra-curricular program, and also introduced video classes and story time classes. We also had regular teacher training sessions and set up a program of training sessions which could be led by future volunteers as well as the newly-trained senior teacher.
All effective change takes time, but I’m pleased to see the results still being felt. Last week Tracey shared a post on Facebook celebrating the fact the Class 2 exam results were up by a huge percentage on the previous year. While there is still some way to go, things are moving in the right direction and students are engaging with the new methods and this is coming through in their test performance.
Shane English School has continued to support Roko 20, not only through donations but also through events to raise awareness of the school. Our Kenya Expo events of Summer 2017 were full to capacity, and students and parents loved the meaningful activities – including Kenyan cinema (a video introduction to the school, recorded by myself and the students), Kenyan canteen, playground games, Kiswahili lessons, VR safari and a photo gallery.
Anyone interested in supporting Roko 20 can visit the GlobalGiving site (https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/providing-a-free-primary-education-in-rural-kenya/) and website (http://roko20academy.weebly.com), where they can also find testimonials from previous volunteers and information about how to volunteer. This is not a ‘paid volunteering’ scheme. Roko 20 will provide accommodation and two meals a day, in return for teaching and some teacher training sessions from qualified TEFL teachers. All I paid for were flights and I cooked my evening meal myself on site. Kenya is a fascinating country to explore and I can’t wait to get back.