Heather Henderson, our latest ‘serial volunteer’ wasted no time between completing her placement in Timor-Leste and beginning another in Kenya! Five months into her new role she writes.
In May 2015 I found myself boarding a flight to Nairobi, Kenya, on the invitation of The Edmund Rice Christian Brothers and with the support of Palms Australia, to work in the primary school at Mukuru kwa Ruben – “The Ruben Centre.” This was to be my second placement with Palms Australia, having just completed 2 years in Timor Leste. If this was to be in any way as satisfying an experience as my work in Timor Leste, I knew I would be very happy.
I was welcomed with open arms into the hearts and minds of the community at The Ruben Centre and the first 3 months here has exceeded my expectations. My work here is to walk beside the staff and students in the school in an endeavour to learn from each other so that we can build on current learning and teaching practices in order to improve the literacy levels of the students in both English and Kiswahili languages. Both these languages hold equal importance in the Kenyan State Government Curriculum.
I found my way into the heart of the school, the library, and began working with the staff here to build from the wonderful foundation that was the status quo and develop the best facility that we can currently achieve. After some re-sorting and remodelling, the Resource Centre is now growing and attracting more active and curious minds to discover what lies in wait in the many books crowding the shelves waiting to be opened to reveal what lies within.
From this resourceful foundation, I will work with Teachers, Teacher Assistants and Library staff to foster and encourage a love and respect for reading and open doors of discovery to grow readers who will develop literacy skills that will open other worlds of knowledge and understanding.
The library at The Ruben Centre holds classes from pre-primary to Year 8 – a total of around 2600 students, passing through their doors each week. This is an impressive achievement for the staff and a huge strain on the resources that are stretched daily to accommodate classes of up to 70 students at a time. Lunchtimes find students coming through the doors to find a quiet space to climb into a book. The library now also has a space that has been developed to cater to the early childhood students – Years 1 – 3, a total of approximately 700 students.
During the school holiday break I ran a creative writing workshop with the assistance of my Kenyan colleague, Katherine, with a group of 30 students. The aim was to rewrite the classic Cinderella story as a Kenyan tale. This group of very talented year 6 and 7 students worked tirelessly to achieve a fantastic end result that will find a place on the library shelves, This is a testament to the good work that is already being done by the teachers at Ruben School in fostering and developing good literacy practices.
Volunteers, especially those in Education, usually find a determination in their host communities to engage with the world through knowledge. Once a student gains even basic literacy, nothing can stop her reading all she can to “open doors of discovery”. Literacy of course is the trunk for all other branches of learning, so is crucial to a future of opportunity.