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Pupils scramble to enroll in school rejected by slum dwellers

Nyamachaki Primary School in Nyeri,the Headteacher Nicholas Gathemia has transformed the school which has a population of 1500 students.,March 30,2017PHOTO:KIBATA KIHU/STANDARD

On February 29, 2016, Nicholas Gathemia reported to Nyamachaki Primary School in Nyeri town after a transfer from Kirichu Primary School in Kieni. The headteacher with 35 years’ experience was tasked with turning around an institution with one of the largest pupil populations in Nyeri County.

Mr Gathemia is known for being a no-nonsense administrator with a kind but firm hand. “When I came here, one of the things I noticed was diversity,” he says. But the school had a porous fence and a bare and dusty compound. All pupils would fetch water for cleaning their classrooms.

Without a school-feeding programme, pupils were had to carry food from home, but a large number would stay hungry. A lucky few were often given pocket money to buy food from vendors. “At lunch time, hawkers, food vendors and fruit sellers trooped to the school with various foods which they peddled to children,” says Gathemia.

Feeding pupils

The headteacher says this was a powder keg waiting to explode, because there were far too many cases of children with stomach upsets, and that may have contributed to the high drop-out rate. “After just a month here, I convened a parents’ meeting and we decided to seek ways of feeding the pupils,” he says.

Majority of pupils were from the Majengo slums and their parents were poor. “I had to make good use of the money I got from the Free Primary Education programme.

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“When I joined the school, it had 1,478 pupils, and most of them lived in the informal settlements of Majengo. I had to work with parents to succeed,” Gathemia says.

Each household was asked to contribute Sh30 daily. The school also purchased jikos and constructed a kitchen. Then it hired 12 casual labourers who now clean the classrooms and also keep the compound clean.

Cut cost of buying food

Today, there is a manicured flowerbed and a garden outside each classroom. “We got pupils involved in the beautification process. They planted vegetable gardens and tended them during their free time. This was a learning experience…we showed them that regardless of the size of your space you can make a difference to the environment,” Gathemia says.

Last year, the kitchen gardens produced vegetables worth Sh43,000, and this helped cut the cost of buying food. Since Gathemia was posted to Nyamachaki Primary, no pupil has dropped out. “This year alone, we had 537 new applications but we had no space for them because we are well over our capacity. There is a new desire to join the school,” he says.

In last year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE), Nyamachaki Primary’s 169 candidates posted a mean score of 269 marks, with the top pupil scoring 387 marks. At least eight candidates were admitted to national schools while 49 were selected to join county and extra-county schools. Gathemia says the key to success is focused leadership because, before you show people the way, you should already be on the same path.

“Motivate yourself, because, without self-drive, you will not progress,” he says. Gathemia believes team work is critical for success.

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“Do not dwell on the problems, but rather focus on what parents, teachers and pupils want. I knew I had no resources, but I focused on the fact that parents love their children and want them to achieve the set goals,” Gathemia adds.

 

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