Where the Axe Falls

Vitalis and friends have made some improvements to Shalom Academy during the last couple of months. Tree stumps that were interrupting play have been dug up, trees have been planted for shade, and a hedge tended to define the playground boundary.

It’s amazing what one man and an axe can do.


The extra mile for the photo we’ve been waiting for

We left Vitalis and the fundis a mountain of work to complete as we headed for Nairobi, then home.

He knew that the sooner he could get the basics completed, the sooner the children could leave their existing, unsafe school building. Consequently he worked like an inspired Kenyan building a school to finish the job.

So we were delighted when he sent these photographs showing the almost-ready latrines, the school signs erected on the roadside, a front door and, joy of all joys, the photo we’ve been waiting for, the children sitting at desks in the new school.

Hats off to Vitalis who has ‘gone the extra mile to finish the floors’ as he says in his latest email. He’s travelled plenty of miles already, and there are plenty more to go. And what a pleasure it is to travel with him.

Good Effort

As we approach the end of the build, we are sad to leave Irovo and return to South Africa.

Although there is still much to do — put the roof on the ‘open’ classrooms, dig the second latrine, level the floors, and probably a thousand other tasks — we have made a big enough start for the children to begin using their new school in a few days.

It may not look much (cameras can be very unforgiving), but considering the lack of tools, paucity of materials, logistics of deliveries and the blistering heat, we are happy enough with the first effort of Strive for Excellence to bring education to the remarkable village of Irovo, Kakamega county, Kenya.

Sports Day

After the children made a mad dash for the Blackpool-donated jerseys and shorts, Sports Day on the new land turned into a combined football/tennis/badminton match. I’m not sure who won, but the game ended with lollipops so perhaps it didn’t matter.

Once the adults were worn out, the children were keen to get the measure of the new (unfinished) school.

Sports Day also turned out to be the best advert for the new school as mothers and children from surrounding houses came out to gawp, join in and generally be madly jealous of the sports equipment.


All Shook Up

While the new, somewhat shaky school building took shape a kilometre away, teacher Bridgit welcomed the pupils to the new term at the old school – the termite infested one. The atmosphere was relaxed and nobody seemed to know how many children would show up, but they were sure the number would increase exponentially as the week progressed, and as parents knew they could not afford the fees/supplies/uniforms at other schools.

Of course, that’s why they come to Shalom Academy – and why we’re here.

The fundis – fuelled by Robina and neighbour Elizabeth’s cooking – finished the frame and began fitting iron sheeting to the walls and roof. The sheets gave a little shade, very welcome in the blistering heat.

Meanwhile, local artist Elvis painted the school signs to be placed on the roadway and at the school entrance, and Vitalis got to grips with his new camera and solar charger – donated by trustee John Entwistle.

Some light yet spiritual relief

Weekly choir practice in front of Vitalis’s house.

The Build Continues


And so the build continued. We employed some local women to bring water from the river for the concrete mix and the fundis began erecting the support posts. It seemed a little haphazard at times but we thought it best to leave them organise the build their own way – the main squeeze says he has been building in these parts for around 30 years, so I’m sure he knows what he is doing.

It was clear that by the end of the first full day , we had overlooked something very important: the guys were hungry. Very hungry. The following day Vitalis’s wife Robina offered to make mandazis and chai for breakfast and ugali and greens with a little meat for lunch. Smiles all round, and the pace of work sped up.

Fundis dig Foundations


The build proper couldn’t begin until we found a man with a chainsaw who cut up the trees we bought a couple of days ago. Once they were cut into 10′ and 12′ lengths they were carried one by one to the build site. While the fundis – and a few underage helpers – dug the holes for the support posts, we found a man with a tractor who trundled to the river for sand and picked up a load of aggregate for the foundations.

It was hot, sweaty work, but very gratifying to see some progress on site.

A Stake in the Future

Once the decision was made to build a temporary building to house the Shalom Academy, Vitalis clicked into gear. The building will be timber framed and clad with what’s called iron sheeting. First stop, find a tree. A neighbour had recently felled a couple of trees and sold them to us for a reasonable sum. Then the newly hired builders – or funds as they’re known – staked out the upper part of the land with stakes Vitalis has fashioned from a nearby tree.

Nobody seemed to mind that overnight a local had brought two of his cows to graze on the part of our land that will become the playground. Our policy is to get on well with all the neighbours who will be crucial to the success of the school, so the cows will remain for the time being.

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