February 24th 2018

Magazine / Promotions

Dedicated Wajir teacher grows UNHCR sponsored school against all odds

“Our form fours are sitting for their final exams this year but they have never seen a laboratory class. And we are expecting them to compete nationally and at the county level with schools that have surplus resources,” he said.

By Abdirahman Rashid Farahabdirahmancajab@gmail.comSaturday, 24 Jun 2017 20:40 EAT

The principal (standing, left) poses for a group photo with the school's games team.

A secondary school in Wajir South Constituency established by community initiative has realised tremendous progress, serving nearly 200 students despite having threadbare educational infrastructure and teachers.

Sabuli Mixed Day and Boarding School, which was founded in 2014 by UNHCR with a first enrolment of 20 students, currently has 184 students (132 boys and 54 girls). Now in Form Four, it has only three classrooms, with the fourth formers sharing a room with the teachers for their classes.

It is an environment that would be discourage any fainthearted teacher posted here, but so for Mr Mohamed Hassan Baraka, the school’s principal. Mr Baraka has witnessed and contributed to the school's growth in its recent life and is inclined to see his glass as half full. For him, even the student numbers are impressive, having joined the school when its enrollment was only 97.

Before moving to this school, the principal had served in the teaching profession in different capacities, starting from classroom teacher and scaling the ranks to head of department, deputy principal and finally principal. He has taught for fifteen years, his teaching subjects being Biology and Mathematics.

At a recent discussion with Mr Baraka about the challenges facing the school, he volunteered a rich mix of lamentations and solutions that reflected his concern for the future of his students and the community at large.

“Our form fours are sitting for their final exams this year but they have never seen a laboratory class. And we are expecting them to compete nationally and at the county level with schools that have surplus resources,” he said.

On matters of staffing, Mr Baraka said the school has only five TSC teachers, three from Board of Management and three other workers. “We are grossly understaffed and we urgently need teachers. In the meantime we have to do with what we have.”

The Principal with some of his students.

Sabuli was built by UNHCR’s host programme services. As the name implies, the school has both day and boarding wings, but only day section is currently in session, the boarding one suspended due to lack of necessary infrastructure like classrooms, dormitories, electric lights, toilet, water and fence.

Mr Baraka is concerned, among other things, about the absence of a school fence, which he said makes it very hard for girls to feel secure in the compound. “Not having a fence where young girls are is like putting meat in a hyena’s way. In terms of priorities, we need classrooms, then boarding facilities, including dormitories, water, lights and housing.

“But small items like fencing could be done while the other projects are thought about. At the moment we just don’t look like the serious learning institution that this school is, being in the middle of an underserved region”, said the principal, who revealed that he had approached several leaders from the area to take a keen interest in the school without success.

“I have written several letters to different leaders both at county level and national level but they never responded,” he said, remaining optimistic that one day someone will get the sense to see the need of championing the school’s interest among the local elites. He described the difficulties some students undergo, such as cooking for themselves in rented houses. "One would be forgiven for thinking these students are in a university campus, but it is a hard life they have to cope with," he said.

Mr Baraka also blames the locals for not pushing their sons and daughters to go for teaching courses. He said that students from northern Kenya who go for university education prefer courses such as business, health, IT, and humanities. “They don’t want teaching,” he said, attributing the attitude to the low number of teachers from the region.

“Many of the teachers in northern Kenya actually come from the south. While there are obviously more teachers from there given the opportunities they have had in education since independence, our region could have done better. I also believe we can give more respect to the teachers who come all the way here to educate our children. Let’s give them space, welcome them and make their work easier since, you know, they sacrifice to teach our sons and daughters.”

In spite of these challenges, Mr Baraka is optimistic that his current candidates would do well in upcoming KCSE examinations, saying their performers in the internal exams has been above average. On curriculum activities, the school has sports sector, debating club, Islamic society, journalism and school leadership club.

The principal encourages his students to think beyond their current conditions and aim higher in life. “I love to share one quote from Aristotle once he said, ‘The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.’

"Since I work in educational technology, this quote pricked my curiosity. Aristotle was a philosopher, scientist, and teacher, tutoring Alexander the Great and other great minds of his time,” he said.

Abdirahman Rashid Farah is a contributing reporter for the Kenya Free Press based in Wajir County

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