Impressions of Brainhouse and Mathare

Aime Houlston and Alison Halford were both newcomers to Brainhouse Academy and the Mathare Slums this year. They tell us a little about what they found.

rubbish pileAlison tells us firstly about the environment that many of the children at Brainhouse come from. “When you enter the slum area you are aware immediately of the very poor conditions you are passing into. The roads, if you can call them that, are unmade; muddy debris all around and buildings are constructed from temporary materials. There are people everywhere and very many children with clothes that are clearly on their third, fourth or fifth owner. Alongside them in the streets you can see chickens, pigs and goats wandering around. There is lots going on, meat being butchered, dried fish being sold, a man sharpening knives on a contraption driven by a bicycle, stock pots bubbling by the side of the road, huge bags of bones packaged up for who knows what purpose, wood being chopped and charcoal in buckets for sale and even kerosene being sold from a pump sticking out through a window. The slums are chaotic and you can tell that life is hard for those that live there. As you approach Brainhouse there is a huge pile of rubbishman with bed just down the road as there is little in terms of organised rubbish disposal and there is an open sewer which you need to make sure you don’t step into. Homes in the slums are unlikely to have toilets and people make do in other ways. Children don’t have toys, you don’t see bikes and footballs, instead they kick around carrier bags tightly wrapped to create a make-shift ball. Adults are busy trying to make a living in whatever ways they can, there are few cars travelling to work, men use huge barrows to move goods around and ladies sell second-hand clothing and shoes from tarpaulins laid alongside the road. When you enter Brainhouse however there is a sense of a safe place that has been created, where there is an amazing mixture of order and fun; a warmth from the children right through the staff.”

Aime tells us more. “I have been lucky enough to have experienced a variety of schools in different parts of Africa over the last few years. I spent this summer working with a school in Limpopo, South Africa on their teaching and delivery of English. I always leave the African schools I have worked in previously with a sense of guilt and a niggling worry about the students’ welfare. This has been for a number of reasons from lack of care from teachers to the students who were living in a hostile community that threatens to swallow their potential and shackle their aspirations. However, when I first arrived at Brainhouse Academy I knew almost instantly that the school was special…

eunice and kids nonuinformWe were welcomed with huge smiles and high expectations; I was astonished at receiving such a warm welcome as, previously, I was treated with tentative caution. I remember thinking how happy the students were; if we hadn’t driven in through Mathare and seen the poverty with own own eyes, I’d have thought that these children were the richest children in the world. Aggrey, the headmaster and Eunice, one of his most trusted staff members, spoke so highly at the assembly given for us that I was moved to tears and I realised how much they value the support and input of ACEF and, in particular, Kel and Liz.

Over the next few days, whilst we were waiting for the books to be delivered, I saw the infinite amount of care and respect that enveloped the school. Brainhouse Academy is a huge family, sometimes thrown together due to tragic circumstances. But, nonetheless, children are welcomed with open arms and orphans never turned away. I taught a lesson with Madame Eunice and I was awestruck by the outstanding quality of her teaching, her questioning and ability to get every student involved and engaged in her lesson was incredible. Unfortunately, my previous experiences of teaching in Africa has been quite negative so it was heartening to see the quality of education which Brainhouse children receive.

When the books, which were donated by Windsor High School and Sixth Form, were finally released from customs they were welcomed with open arms by staff and students alike. We spent many hours categorising books and preparing them to be taken to the library. Aggrey and Madame Mary decided that the library would stretch across two classrooms which will be made into one big communal space with tables and chairs IMG_1286so students can sit, read and study in a quiet area. The library will be monitored by student librarians who received training so, when ready, they can launch into action and keep the space safe, clean and accessible. I worked closely with Madame Eunice to create a librarian rota and, using her newfound IT skills (thanks to Alison), a typed up duty rota for staff for the new school year!

The whole week was an absolute joy from beginning to end and the school is really advancing. I loved how forward thinking the teachers were, they were thinking of innovative ways to improve the school and community and they really want the best and brightest future for their students. I was privileged to have been involved in such a positive and enthusiastic experience”.

Would you like to be involved?

Over the coming years we are looking for some specific skills and talents to help on visits to Brainhouse Academy.

holly leaving holding handsIn August 2014 a key thrust of the volunteer trip will be to enhance and embed the IT provision. We want people with skills to create a small school network, incorporate facilities like printers, and to undertake more user training with teachers and students so that they know how to make the most of the technology. If you can help email or Facebook us now.

In April 2015 we want to focus more on developing the career aspirations of the older students and the leadership skills of the staff. If you could help to support youngsters in preparing for job interviews or in developing vocational skills, or if you can create any connections with the business community in Kenya we would love your help.

Also over 2014  and 2015 we will also be focusing on moving forward our big dream of biogas harvesting to solve the issues of student toilets and fuel for cooking. Find out more here.