Final day reflections

We arrived at Osawo Primary School (our 25th of the trip) after a couple of stops to ask for directions and as soon as the bus entered through the school gates, kids looked on in fascination. Some waved, some even plucked up the courage to say “how are you?” in pigeon English before hiding behind a friend. With bus windows down we were able to respond with the customary “I’m fine” which is a very standard Kenyan greeting exchange. We got off the bus and two things were evident – it was hot…extremely hot in fact, and there was clearly an energy and vibrancy in the school over and above even what is standard for African schools.

Having got off the bus, before there was time to really engage with any of the kids, we were ushered towards the headmaster’s office. Paul was a big man and his effusive welcome involved 3 different styles of handshake and pulling you in to him for a shoulder to shoulder greeting. He made sure he greeted every one of us and beckoned us into his office.

With a dozen or more of us there was barely room for everyone but as always we were asked to sit down. Paul gave us the overview of the school: 2,600 kids including some with special needs, they have very little funds for investing in the school or their pupils but they have dedicated teachers doing a brilliant job. Paul picked me out (at 6 foot 4) as a potential boxer as he surveyed the group.

Sara, our Project Leader, then responded briefly asking about how many children we could have play (300 approx) and explaining we’d like to include all those with special needs. 3 more mini speeches followed: the first from one teacher who Paul assured us would soon be elected into a political position, a second from a teacher that began life on the streets of Nairobi and was driven by making life better for the school kids and making the best of himself he could, and a third by Derrick, our local CWB coach, who explained we’d saved the best school til last and that if there was one school deserving of support in the area, this was it. I could see Sara checking her watch as these mini-speeches continued, eager as she was to use as much time on coaching and messaging as possible, but such is the way in Kenya!

We left the headmaster’s office and as soon as we walked onto the playing area, we were deluged by screaming kids. It’s as close as I’ll ever get to being a rockstar. Huge numbers of kids squeezing forwards to reach my hands for high fives, so much so that I was nearly knocked off my feet and a couple of the smaller children were knocked over so I had to shout to calm the children as best I could, needing to shout the loudest I possibly could to be heard above the excited noise of the kids.

I was trying to move towards the centre of the playing area but my movement had by now slowed to a crawl because of the swathes of kids I was trying to part or, or in many cases, pull forward with me as they clung to my arms or even my legs. I began to wonder what the solution was going to be and just at that moment I was saved by one of the bigger pupils ringing a school bell, ushering the children back to class.

Once we got started talking to the kids about ABCT for HIV prevention it was clear there was little existing knowledge. As Rob finished the introduction, we laid out our respective stations, ready for the inevitable deluge of excited children. With space at a premium, Chris and I laid out 15 batting stations in front of the toilet blocks, and the smell was pretty overwhelming. That was quickly forgotten when the kids were sent running in our direction!

Having calmed them, we split the group – with 50 or so and a station that suited 30 it took a bit of management to line one group up with bats in pairs and the rest fielding. Getting the kids to swap over is equally a challenge and with 300 excited kids on 6 stations in a small area, it took me shouting at the fullest volume I could to be heard. One severely autistic girl accompanied me arm in arm as together with Chris we put the children through their batting paces.

To my delight, each group we coached knew move about ABCT when we finished each batting session with a chat. And in our final group the children were happily chanting back at me after I said each letter:

A – Abstain!
B – Be Faithful!
C – Condom!
T – Testing!

As we packed away I reflected on this perfect encapsulation of the CWB Kenya trip. Unfeasibly enthusiastic teachers and children making the best of what they had, special needs and disabled children playing a full part in our games, working together as a tight team to manage big numbers in a small space, kids starting with no knowledge of ABCT and leaving shouting it happily back at us without inhibitions.

And the clincher just as we left. As hundreds of happy children swarmed the bus and we inched incredibly slowly towards the exit, one little girl looked up at me and asked, “will you come back next Friday?” CWB will be back as soon as we can I told her, but I don’t know when I’ll next be back.

Happiness, fulfilment, hope and a tinge of sadness all rolled into a single moment.

Ed

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