Beacon of Safety

May 16 2022 | by

THE VILLAGE of Olesentu, Kenya, lies 20 kilometres from the nearest town, Kilgoris. The land is arid and suffers from a lack of infrastructure, including hospitals, roads, and schools. The daily routine revolves around pastoral activities; there are no businesses here. The people live in extreme poverty, and many can’t afford the fees required to send their children to school, even if the desire to do so is strong. “The Maasai people are immersed in their culture and different practices,” says Sister Immaculate Muthoni of the Little Sisters of Saint Joseph. “They are among the tribes in Kenya who have been marginalised in terms of education provision. They are largely nomadic... and this leads to difficulties in terms of providing them with education.”

It’s difficult there particularly for girls due to the traditional way of life. “Boys are given more opportunities to be educated than girls,” explains Sr. Immaculate. “But we believe that educating a woman means educating the whole society because they are the ones who raise the family.” Often the home environment is particularly challenging for girls who have to work hard and have more chores than the boys.


Difficult households


Although the home environment is difficult, the way to and from school is even more challenging and dangerous. “Walking to school can be particularly distressing,” Sr. Immaculate continues. “There is an ever-present risk of sexual harassment and exploitation. Many girls receive threatening advances from men, and some face a high risk of abuse from bus drivers, shopkeepers, and other adults.” To prevent such abuse, some parents send their children to stay in rented houses or with relatives close to the school, but this can also be problematic. “Without the protection of their families, young girls are often left at the mercy of older men, which can result in early pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.”

To counter these problems, dormitories have become an essential part of the whole educational experience. The St. Lucy Mission Primary School had already built a temporary structure to accommodate 30 girls. But, made only from iron sheets, it was prone to dangers such as fire, unpredictable weather conditions, and flooding. “The structure had no emergency exit, making evacuation difficult. It was a death cage in waiting,” says Sr. Immaculate.


New dormitory


A proposal for a new dormitory was drawn up. The new dormitory would provide space to accommodate up to 100 girls. It would have indoor showers, washrooms, a sick bay, and a room for a matron. Being constructed of masonry stones, fitted with metal doors and windows, and with an exit door for emergencies, it would have everything required to meet ministry of education safety standards. But above all, the dormitory would be a safe and comfortable environment.

The project plan outlined plans for the girls to sleep in warm beds with mosquito nets, to receive three nutritious meals each day, and extra homework sessions in the evenings. Furthermore, it detailed the local community pledges to equip the dormitory with beds, mattresses and sheets, and to provide labour when construction began. After taking into account a local contribution of €1,500, the remaining construction costs of €13,000 were granted by St. Anthony’s Charities.


Rain and delays


The first instalment was received on 1 February 2021, and the project began in earnest one month later. First, the foundations were built. “This was the most crucial part of the building structure because the other parts of the building rely on its strength,” explains Sr. Immaculate. However, heavy rains and flooding disrupted this work, causing some delays. “Then we laid a reinforcement slab on top of the foundations,” continues Sr. Immaculate. “This protects the foundation from dampness and prevents any cracks which might occur from reaching the walls.”

Next, columns were erected from the foundation up to support the load mounted on the foundations, followed by quarry-stone walling. But the construction of the walls was also hindered: “One day during the construction one side of the wall collapsed because we experienced heavy rains,” explains Sr. Immaculate. “Here, again, we paused for some days until the rain subsided.” The rain also disrupted transportation of materials to the site as trucks often got stuck in the mud. Finally, a lintel was erected on top of the walls across door and window openings to support the roof structure.

The first phase of the project was not without its COVID-19 related problems. The country-wide lockdown delayed works for more than three weeks. The price of building materials shot up as a result, but luckily suppliers spared the project additional costs as they were able to supply from existing stock.

The second phase of the project, begun in June 2021, also suffered delays due to the pandemic. Even though there was a partial lift of restrictions, no more than five workers were allowed to be on site, so some works had to be postponed. A decision was also taken to add an additional floor to the dormitory to provide extra beds. After the roof was constructed, windows and doors fitted, walls plastered and floors levelled, the final steps were to paint the whole structure and equip the dormitories with beds. The project was finally completed on 30 November 2021.


Safety at last


“I’m happy to inform you that our dormitory is now complete,” says one grade 5 student. “We are living safe. We can study late in the evening without going home, which for me is far away from school. Last year one of my classmates was raped as she walked home late after school. The dormitory makes us safe and secure. I will pray for you daily.”

And some of the other girls comment that, “In this community girls suffer a lot. They are forced to get married before they finish school. They undergo female genital mutilation. Now we are safe in the school because we have the dormitory.” And finally, one girl explains what the new dormitory means to her: “I’m an orphan and a pupil at St. Lucy’s School. This letter is to thank you for your good heart to build us a dormitory. We sleep well and can look after our things. I’m now safe from mistreatment by my relatives, who used to beat me and force me to look for water before coming to school. Thank you!”

“On behalf of the school management, members of the local community, and all children attending St. Lucy Mission Primary School, I really appreciate the funding from St. Anthony’s Charities and the readers of The Messenger of Saint Anthony that has enabled our school to build a girls’ dormitory,” concludes Sr. Lina Chepkoech, the school headmistress. “Our girls are really happy because they have a new living environment that will now protect them from any form of abuse. I hope many girls from the community will enrol to learn in our school because of this new facility that will act as a beacon of safety. Thank you again for your generous contributions.”


Updated on May 17 2022