The Great Rift Valley is a geologic depression extending south from Syria, through Kenya, to Mozambique in southeastern Africa. It is a wide swath of parallel fault lines forming the backbone of Kenya, and populated by active volcanoes and steep escarpments, as well as areas of lush, fertile farmland, uninhabitable desert, and flat arid plains. It is also home to large concentrations of the semi-nomadic Maasai.
As an outgrowth of it’s educational emphasis, The Father’s Table Foundation became involved with the Maasai at Namuncha, a remote village in southwest Kenya and home to an estimated 3000 Maasai.
An open-pit mine and rock quarry provide the village income but like most Maasai, Namuncha villagers are largely pastoral, herding cattle and goats on the wide grassy plains of the Kedong Valley.
The Maasai at Namuncha have strongly embraced education for their children. When the Foundation first became involved their school consisted of a long, low “mabati” building of 8 classrooms, constructed of stick wood and galvanized aluminum over dirt floors. With students already doubled up in classrooms because of the growing school population, the need was for larger and permanent classrooms. The Father’s Table Foundation provided funding to build a 10-room complex of permanent classes with concrete floors, exterior masonry walls (with hand-hewn stone from the local quarry), a permanent roof and skylighting, and glass windows. The structure also contains administration offices and a common area.
With the school’s completion it has become a magnet for additional development. It so spurred attendance that a second classroom wing will soon need to be added to the school. Attendance, which stood at 196 in 2005, has swelled to 570 students for the 2009 school year, nearly double the anticipated enrollment and stretching the designed capacity of the new school. The Government is now supplying teachers and some food assistance for students. Plans are now underway for permanent teacher housing at the school to help attract better instructors and to eliminate the long and often unpredictable commute for most teachers via quarry trucks.
As well, refuge dormitories are being planned for young girls aged 11-13 from surrounding villages who are fleeing planned marriages, usually as third or fourth wives, and usually in exchange for cattle as a dowry. Local church families currently house and care for these girls. As word of the new permanent school spreads, the school board expects the need for sheltering these ‘internal refugees’ to increase as they seek education opportunities and a future of greater self-determination.
The school is also blessed with a completely solar-powered computer lab and because the school has a reliable fresh water supply, long-range plans call for the construction of a kitchen at the school campus where hot meals can be prepared daily.
Perhaps the greatest impact of the Namuncha Primary School is beyond the physical campus, the classrooms and computers. This permanent school, driven by the desire of the Maasai to educate their children, has transformed this community. The earliest graduates of the school are now finishing secondary school, and learning trades which can directly impact the community on their return. One student is training as a laboratory technician who could one day staff a clinic at Namuncha! In conjunction with a very active adult literacy program in the village, adults are showing more interest in civic engagement, church, and community participation.