A selfless act. Guarding his dream by Irene Chepngetich

I have known Tana River county to be very hot. Every time I think of visiting the place, I do not carry even the lightest pullover. Nairobi is cold and chilly in July and with such cold mornings, one wouldn’t imagine of warm places out there. This feeling prompted me to make a call just to be sure of the weather condition in Tana Delta ahead of my visit. Interestingly, it was not as hot as it has always been.

Every time I visit Tana Delta, more so the schools in the interior parts, memories of my school days as a young girl cross my mind. My mother always reminded me that education is an eye opener and it is the key to personal progress. She would candidly explain how during their time, they would thirst for it but access was so difficult and that only children from the elite members of the society could access the few schools ran by the colonialists. She still loves education.

 In Tana Delta, Golbanti Primary school

It is 6:55am in the morning. The sun is rising up and beautifully spreading its blooming golden light lazily into a cloudless sky. In Tana Delta, the day breaks so early maybe because of the terrain. If you expect to see mountains and hills like in Rift valley and other parts of the country, you will be a bit disappointed. Tana Delta is totally different, almost a completely flat and low lying plateau.

Mr. Mdzomba, the head teacher of Golbanti Primary school is already in school to welcome the learners and of course spot the late comers. The teacher on duty as well is seen supervising some learners as they pick litter before they embark on their early morning lessons.

Golbanti is among the 119 schools that have benefitted from the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP), a joint initiative between Zizi Afrique and Safaricom Foundation implemented in Turkana, Tana River and Bungoma Counties. ALP aims at preparing learners to be independent readers hence the Mantra’Jisomee Jitegemee’ meaning ‘read on your own, be independent’. The purpose of my visit, more so to Golbanti primary school was to observe the progress of the learning camps, and operationalization of the community library that Safaricom Foundation constructed in the school. Being a community library meant that all children within that locality are free to use it right from primary to the secondary level.

The building sits in the school compound, slightly away from the head teacher’s office but close to other classes. It is strategically located towards the main road. At a glance I realized that the school compound was open, no fence. Children’s security came into my mind. I also thought of the school’s security at large. “Maybe security is not an issue in this locality’’ I told myself.

Women on their way home after fetching water in Tana Delta

“Let me take you around’’, Mr. Mdzomba said pointing towards the library direction.

With me was Mr. Faraj Mohamed, ALP Program Officer in Tana Delta Sub-county. We obliged and walked towards the library. Mr. Mdzomba suddenly wore a sad face and the tone of his voice changed as of someone who remembered a bad eventuality.

“We are grateful for this library. It is a dream come true for us at Golbanti. For years, I have wished to have a designated reading place for our learners,’’ he said slowly. Something was missing, I expected to see a smile accompanying these kind words. The facial expression was not in tandem with what he was saying.

As we approached the Library, very close to the door. Mr. Mdzomba pointed at the grilled door. “Somebody tried to break into this library some months ago,” he said sadly.

Mr. Mdzomba, the head teacher of Golbanti Primary school giving our ALP team a school tour.

We were curious and so we moved closer. My instincts were clear and my earlier thoughts were right. “This place is so open”. I almost said it loudly.

“I do not know what the person was really looking for. Why would someone think of stealing books? Probably, the person thought the library has other assets like computers,’’ he quickly added.

“Mr. Mdzomba, we are really sorry for that. I think you need to enhance the security of your school. Have you thought of fencing the compound?” I asked sympathetically.

‘’We have not yet secured funds for fencing. The school has a security man at night but at times he fails to come due to delayed salary payments. When he is not in, I take charge, more so to secure the library after that incident.’’

“You mean, you come and act as the security man?” Mr. Faraj asked surprised.

“Mr. Faraj, this is a community library. A library I had always wished to have in this school. A dream that came true. As the head teacher of the school, I have a responsibility to protect this valuable asset for the sake of these young children and future generations.”

Inside, he pointed us to a smaller inner room where he spends some of his nights to secure the facility. “As we work towards soliciting funds to fence and sustain the security man, something had to be done. And I took it as my personal responsibly,’’ he said this time in deep thoughts. We were all silent for a moment.

Some of the books and furniture at Golbanti Primary School

“Have you engaged the community since this is a community asset?” I asked.

‘’Yes, we even have a committee which was mandated to oversee operationalization of the library. Some of the things proposed by the committee is to hire a designated librarian. But again unless we sort the security issue we will still face the same problem’.  Despite the teething challenges, the library has not been without its successes and the head teacher has a reason to celebrate.

Pointing at a wall pinned manila paper on which two names; Trizer and Omara and printed, Mr. Mdzomba said, ‘’These two were in charge of the library before they sat for their KCPE last year. They loved reading and had built a reading culture. Sometimes we had to force them to go home in the evening because they could read until late in the evening. Look at their results!” he said wearing a broad smile. The same smile we saw when we arrived early in the morning.

Berlnine Omara had 372 marks while Trizer Enock had 359 marks. Such a remarkable performance. The mean score for the English subject in particular was 53.7. The highest since the school was established. The head teacher attributed these great achievements to the reading culture that the learners had built as a result of the community library.

The last story lightened our moment, however still something had to be done to protect the community library to continue quenching the thirst for reading.

Writer-Irene Chepngetich, is a programme officer at Zizi Afrique Foundation. For feedback, send an email to info@ziziafrique.org

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