Blind World Magazine

Faith and Courage.

African Relief Work (Blog).
Tuesday, May 30, 2006.
By Fred Eardley.

On Monday 29th May 2006, along with Commissioner Don Oderdaard from IHQ we went on a visit to a place called Thika, about one hours drive from Nairobi, and visited the school for the blind.

This school has been around for years and is the only Secondary school for the blind and visually impaired in Kenya and the whole of East Africa. Hence its importance to the children who go there. It is a boarding school for 245 children, with visual impairments ranging from being partially sighted to completely blind. Boys and girls from the whole of Kenya attend this school, where some 40 teachers and a support staff of 22 cope with the demands of 24 hour teaching and care for the children, the buildings and the grounds. No easy achievement. One of the teachers I spoke to had first attended the school some 30 years ago as a pupil, only to find himself today as one of the teachers. Mr Mack is totally blind, yet thanks to this school he received an education, went off to university and found himself a job back teaching where his education began.

The academic results from the school are excellent, and they follow the exact same curriculum as the sighted schools in the province. Results from last year show the level at which the school is performing. Out of 784 schools, Thika Blind school came 112th, a fantastic achievement even for a sighted school. They all follow the Kenya Certificate in Secondary Education (KCSE) curriculum, blind and sighted together.

Some go on to university afterwards, last year 14 went, and obtain good degrees in a variety of subjects. One of the classes we looked in on were studying physics and looking at a formula to determine the mass of a planet travelling towards earth. I made a reasonable excuse and a quicker getaway.

Just six years ago there were 196 pupils, now there are 245 and they are having to turn children away. They would love to increase to their maximum of 320 but costs are prohibitive for the moment. They have received aid from Standard Chartered Bank, with some new buildings and a new school bus being provided for them. They are now looking into the possibility of some students being taken on in their workplace in full time employment after finishing school. That would be great for the children.

The biggest problem they face at the school is getting fees from the parents, especially at times of drought like at present. That is why The Salvation Army has provided 3 months worth of food to the school, to help it over the worst moments of the famine. You can't just send these children home, they come from all around the country and can't travel alone. These children are often not wanted in their homes, being seen as an additional burden to an already big problem of feeding a family. If they are sick whilst at home on school holidays, parents often tell them to wait until they get back to school and report it there. Then they can receive treatment for free. Three quarters of Thika's students are sponsored by well-wishers, not by parents.

The school insists on a school uniform, even though they have to provide it for many, because it instils a sense of discipline which has often been lacking before they came to this school. When they arrive, from one of the seven Primary schools for the blind in Kenya, they often have very poor exam results. With the love, attention and teaching on offer here they often blossom and perform exceptionally. The school motto is "Faith and Courage", and this is often put to the test. They are trying to teach the ones with the best vision how to use computers and they proudly showed us their computer suite. Seven old, dilapidated computers that had seen better days before being donated to the school. Only four of the seven were still working.

The Principal said the following to us, "Thank you heartily for the donation of food. Schools are worse off than the local communities, we have to try to balance our books each year but we always have a deficit. Your donation has touched our hearts, that our children can eat courtesy of well-wishers from another country. We have no reason to send children home, they can pass their exams. This will translate into something positive for this nation. Although people are dying in Kenya, our children are fed by someone across the seas. There will be a legacy from this act of charity."

During their regular Salvation Army Sunday service last week, a good time was set aside for them to pray for all those donors who helped them through their crisis.

The school manages with a minimum of equipment, much of which ahs seen better days. They only have one Goal-ball (a football with bells inside so that they can hear it moving).

Probably the greatest need for the school is a Braille Embossing machine, which is used for producing large quantities of notes for the blind children. A new one would cost in the region of 31,000 (no small amount) but would transform a school that has a fantastic amount of Faith and Courage.

Without the Salvation Army school these children would have no future, yet through it all they smile, and greet you like a long lost member of their family.

It begs the question, who is the poorer?

End of article.

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