The Mau Forest is a really beautiful area of Kenya, and on my second trip during a very rainy and muddy day, we drove up to visit Tenkes School. When we got out of the jeep, we were greeted by about 15 elders who were on the board of the school. They gave us a tour of the school, and showed us two things that really had an impact on me. First, the desks. There were just not enough for the students, and they were sitting 4-5 in a desk.
There were three classrooms with about 300 students at the school. Each classroom had about 6-8 desks, so most kids were sitting on the floor. Or standing. Can you imagine learning while standing all day? I committed to figure out how to raise funds for 15-20 more desks at least for the school. Turned out that was the really easy thing to do – raise funds. The hard part is cutting down trees and planing wood and building the desks. They don’t have Home Depot down the road with perfect planks for building. That’s the thing you really learn in a developing country quickly; just how unavailable resources are that you can easily get in the U.S.
Next on the tour was the kitchen that volunteer parents use to cook for 300 students each day. Children had to bring their own firewood, or they would get caned or beaten. A typical lunch would be ugali, which is similar to a corn polenta. Kenyans also drink African tea, and so that is often what the students will have. The Mau Forest can get very cold, because it is at a higher elevation than the Maasai Mara. This kitchen was falling apart pretty quickly, and didn’t provide shelter for the cooks when it rained. So my second commitment was to rebuild the kitchen, and we held the event A Taste of Kenya to do just that.
One of the objectives of Tenkes School is to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation through education. These men were very aware of the issue, and were very enthusiastic to share with me how they were working to stop FGM. This was the first time I had experienced that in Kenya from men, and it was really powerful. We spent several hours with them discussing their challenges.
It was a few months later that the kitchen fell down after severe rainstorms in The Mau. We coordinated efforts with the school, and on our first official expedition to Kenya we were able to visit Tenkes School and help build the final desks (we ended up donating 20.) The kitchen was rebuilt, and lunch was cooked for our team in the new kitchen.
The new kitchen was built with two rooms, so that a teacher would be able to sleep on one side. We had lunch with the students and school community, and were invited to eat goat with the elders who were on the Tenkes School Board.
We also planted 75 trees at the school as part of our reforestation project, because trees bring in water, but also provide firewood for the community as they grow. It was a wonderful day at the school and the impact on our team was tangible.