Friday, October 25, 2013

Gentle Bells in Longonot

It isn't very often you meet a person who has had a vision, but when you meet a person in the midst of realizing her vision, you feel like you've found something very special.  Today I visited the Gentle Bells School in the beautiful Rift Valley.  The school was founded by Esther Wawere about 10 years ago in her home.   She told me the story in her office, where she welcomed me with a cup of Chai tea. 

 The year before she married, she had a vision.  She assured me that she was sitting on her bed, but she was not asleep.  She saw a school with a blue roof facing the beautiful Longonot Mountain.  When she discussed it with her future husband he wasn't convinced that there was anything to the vision, but Esther dreamed of starting such a school.  

After she got married she worked in a local public school. But after her first son was born, she decided to pursue her dream. She started with three children around her kitchen table.  Esther is a person of strong Christian faith and she prayed persistently that her dream be realized.  The school began to grow, and they found a space in the town.  But Esther did not forget her vision.  In 2009 she made contact with friends of mine, David and Nancy Mering of Essex.  Although she had no money, the Merings encouraged her to look for land on which to build the school.  When she found the land they and others raised the money to purchase the land and build a spacious and attractive building, facing the beautiful Longonot Mountain, just as in her vision, although the roof is not blue.  They moved in January of 2011 and are just completing their third year in this new structure.

The classes range from preschool to 7th grade.  Students come from the surrounding area always on foot.  A car is a rare occurrence at Gentle Bells.  They walk from as far away as 7 kilometers, leaving home at 6:30 or 7 and leaving school in the afternoon at 4:30 for the long walk home.  They carry backpacks heavy with books and large water bottles.  They have to do their homework without assistance from their parents because most are illiterate farmers.  The children are bright and enthusiastic, and love school.  School is a happy place, and the children's voices are the bells.  Hungry children are poor learners so Esther has arranged for a meal of porridge in the morning and a hot lunch  cooked in the temporary kitchen. 

Here in the country about an hour's drive from Nairobi I have found another school with an exceptional leader, working to bring education to children who live in very difficult circumstances.  I am struck by how much these children value learning, and how much education means to them.  I am also amazed by the joy of learning which transcends so much hardship.  Now Esther dreams of a time 20 years from now when these children will be educated adults making a difference in Kenya and the world.

The great Rift Valley
Esther has both a vision and a strong vision statement.
 Special photo for Mrs. Cahill.  This is Esther with her attendance board.

 This is corn from the school's harvest which will be used for lunches. Some will be ground into meal to make ugali, a type of polenta.
This is a huge pot of beans and corn cooking on a wood fire in the kitchen outbuilding.  Esther hopes eventually to build a permanent kitchen.
Lunchtime is 1 o'clock in the courtyard. Each child has a metal bowl and plastic spoon.

During the rains the water drains off the large school roof to fill this cistern and provide water.
  Esther wants the school to be a beautiful place. She makes sure the plants are trimmed and watered in the front of the building.
The school faces Mount Longonot, which is a volcano, although it has been many years since the last eruption.

Four of the girls came to the office during their lunch hour to tell me African stories.  I returned the favor by telling them about Goldilocks which they loved.  They were quick to supply a moral.

Esther with her younger son who was home with chickenpox.  She also has three boys living with her who don't have parents.  She hopes one day to build a dormitory.

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