Report by Elizabeth Byrne-Hill
"Mama Mcha, the Head teacher at Orkolili Secondary School, greets us with the warmest of smiles. I am reminded of the time I flew with nine St Mary’s students into Kilimanjaro airport in a 14-seater plane from Nairobi. We circled the mountain so close you felt you might put out a hand and touch the snow.
"Mama Mcha was at the airport with a truck-load of children from Assumpta Primary in their best uniforms, all smiling and giggling when we spoke to them. And 10 of them stepped forward to present us each with a rose. Roses, when all the eye could see for miles was an expanse of unused airport concrete and a flat, dusty landscape with a few scrawny thorn trees!
"That was 2005. Today Mama Mcha has created a new secondary school, a short distance away on a piece of land she bought from the hunter-gatherer Maasai. On that first visit, Orkolili was a row of would-be classrooms with no glass in the windows, no electricity and a small number of earnest students with almost no books. One of the ‘classrooms’ housed the girls at night in triple-decker bunks. Another housed the boys.
"SHOCC has been involved with this thriving project ever since. Our very first donation bought sewing machines so that students could learn to make their own clothes. And every year a small input has been judiciously used to develop the school. It now has four classrooms, a science block, a domestic science block, and a computer room. It has passed all its government checks and many of its graduates go on to sixth forms.
"In 2007 I was privileged to open the girls’ dormitories and matron’s flat on behalf of SHOCC. But the boys’ accommodation has been waiting for a roof for six months and is still open to the skies. There is simply no money to spare. Teachers often have to wait to be paid, and when they are, the total available is divided equally among the staff.
"The surrounding garden is now full of tiny trees and flowering bushes; fruit and vegetables have begun to appear. This year Mama Mcha has locked marauding donkeys into the shell of the new building to protect the plants and everyone finds this a great joke. Their owners will have to redeem them and she is threatening to charge! She may not grow roses but the school has plans to be self sufficient."
A letter from the Head Teacher at Orkolili
"My dearest Teacher,
"I thought I should just drop you this note.... I hope it won't be intruding into your very busy schedule...
"The form four students finished their National exams today. They did their science practicals in the new Lab, which SHOCC so kindly assisted in its construction. It really looks great, and the students did their exams so comfortably.
"I am sending some photos of them doing the Chemistry practical exam.
"I would like to thank you in person, and SHOCC, for the HUGE donation towards its construction. Thank you very much..
Love and prayers, Yohana."