Overcrowded classrooms. Limited sanitation. High teacher turnover. An expensive and confusing new curriculum. Political turmoil. Poor water supply. Hunger. Period poverty.
These are just some of the challenges facing the staff of Spurgeons Academy, a primary school in Kibera, Kenya, supported by Global Care.
On the outskirts of Nairobi, Kibera has long been infamous as Africa’s biggest slum. The challenges facing children are enormous; many live in extreme poverty at high risk of malnutrition, exploitation and abuse.
Currently 400+ of the most vulnerable children attend Spurgeons Academy, without fee, where they receive two healthy meals a day, welfare and medical care, and a quality primary education. They also have extra curricular opportunities in ballet, football, debating, a girls group and the Christian Union. Spurgeons celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2020, and has built up an excellent reputation over the years as a school which changes young lives for good.
However, budgetary pressures mean this excellent programme is increasingly difficult to sustain, as the school faces ongoing challenges from all directions. Recent difficulties have included:
- A new school building promised by the government as part of a forced relocation / slum clearance is on hold indefinitely, following the last election. Unfortunately this delay came after the government demolished temporary buildings used by the school and repossessed the school’s playground, leaving children and staff working in cramped conditions and without play space for more than two years so far. Foundations were laid for the new building, but work stalled in post-election turmoil, and is unlikely to continue until well after the next elections in 2022.
- Another charity supporting the school’s feeding programme pulled out last summer and an organisation which provided subsidised medical treatment closed down.
- The government water supply to Kibera has become progressively worse, to the point that water was only available for three hours in a month. The school pays for water from a local borehole dug by entrepreneurs, which the caretaker brings daily in jerry cans in his wheelbarrow. Water is essential for the school to function.
- The government improved teacher pay in state schools, meaning 80% of teaching staff left at the start of the last academic year for better-paid jobs in the government sector. (‘Free’ government schools are not actually free, as students have to pay a ‘desk fee’ which most can’t afford. They are also very overcrowded and don’t offer the additional welfare support available at Spurgeons.) High teacher turnover and the need for teacher training at Spurgeons is an ongoing issue.
- The new national curriculum has been inconsistently rolled out, causing confusion about what and how to teach. It requires an increasing use of student workbooks, meaning classes need expensive new materials each year, as well as new textbooks (which can be re-used).
So what is Global Care doing to support the beleaguered staff of Spurgeons Academy? Less than half the children at the school have a sponsor (172 children) so sponsorship funds – themselves under pressure from inflation and falling exchange rates – can only stretch so far.
In recent months Global Care has used legacy funding to pay for improvements to the existing building – including putting safety rails on an exposed staircase to improve student safety, and laying water pipes to the school site from one of the new slum boreholes. We have fenced in the land earmarked for the new school, to improve child safety and keep squatters out. If funding becomes available we have permission to use the foundation slabs laid for the new school as bases for new temporary buildings, to improve overcrowding.
We sent out emergency funds to cover feeding costs until the end of the last school year (Sept-Nov), and hope through our Lent Appeal to continue feeding the pupils in 2020, while other solutions are explored. Feeding over 400 students each day is a considerable unplanned cost, yet there are clear benefits to feeding at school, not just in terms of health and welfare, but also in improved attendance and attainment.
CEO John White, who visited Kibera in September, said: “The team at Spurgeons are totally committed to providing quality primary education to some extremely vulnerable children, along with excellent support for health and welfare needs. With 20 years of experience behind them, they know this broad approach is literally life-changing for the children in their care. Please pray for them as sometimes these challenges feel insurmountable, and pray for us too as we seek to help them find solutions.”