Temporary Beauty

A recurring difficulty for school director Vitalis is finding the rent every month. A few months ago the children once again arrived at school (the blue painted one seen in earlier posts) to find the door padlocked by the landlord who demanded money. The result? They managed to pay him off then found another building, which, while unsuitable, gave them a temporary place to call home and continue lessons.

Unfortunately, a major problem with this mud building is the infestation of termites, seen in the picture below, which eat their way through everything – the floor, desks, what little equipment they have.

While we were planning the build of the David Cox designed brick building, it dawned on everyone that we quickly needed to move the children away from the termites and into some sort of structure on the beautiful, newly purchased land. It is quite common for locals to plant or graze on unused land, so it seemed important to build something, however temporary, to show the school’s future plans, and give the school a permanent home.

Everybody concerned came up with a compromise to build 4 timber framed, tin clad classrooms, some shelters from the sun and rain, and 3 latrines. Just need to dig some holes in the ground and find some trees.


Measure for Measure

First things first.

We bought a tape measure, twine, a hammer and made some stakes to mark out the footprint of the proposed school designed by David Cox on the odd-shaped piece of land. It did, with room to spare for a playground.

The activity on the land attracted a lot of attention from neighbours who all wanted to help in some small way. By the end of the afternoon we must have had 25 people following us, watching us or discussing us – most of whom told us to hurry up and build the school as their children were looking forward to coming. Very encouraging.

Most of the mamas passing on the footpath were carrying firewood on their heads to a funeral that was happening 100 metres away – everybody should donate something. It was poignant that almost in the next field we were planning a school for children who were not yet born. The cycle of life.


Charity begins with a new home

Best news of the year so far… Strive for Excellence (Irovo) is now recognised as a charity in the UK (charity number 1170935). Crucially, this gives our wonderful donors – and the charity – the ability to claim Gift Aid, which should make a substantial contribution to our plan to build the new school (Shalom Academy) in Irovo, Kakamega, in Kenya.

Trustees Olive and Alan are in Irovo until mid-January to scope out the land and speak to neighbours, elders and chiefs to plan the way forward. Our findings will feed our blog posts over the next few days. And there’s lots to tell.

Below, school director and man of many talents Vitalis welcomes us to the land through the newly constructed gate onto the property.


irovo-charityShalom Academy Logo

Fence Me In


The new fence has been erected around the acre of land on which we plan to build the new Shalom Academy. Vitalis was keen to demonstrate that progress was being made towards the new school, and also keep straying animals off the land.

Vitalis (top picture, in the field after the maize was harvested, and on the right in the bottom picture) enlisted some help to drive the tree branches into the ground for posts and then wrap half a kilometre of barbed wire around the perimeter.

Job’s a good ‘un.

St Augustine links to Shalom Academy


The children of Irovo are fascinated by the lives of children in other places — throughout Kenya, Europe, the world!

Which is why it is wonderful that the children of St Augustine’s Primary school in Preston, Lancashire are planning to get in contact with Shalom Academy in the new school year (September in the UK; January in Kenya).

Who knows what will become of this exciting connection across the miles. Plenty of smiles, hopefully.

To cement links even further, headteacher John Entwistle has become a trustee of Strive for Excellence.

Land Ahoy!

The most exciting news yet for Strive for Excellence…

We have just completed the purchase of an acre of land in Irovo, destined to be the site of the new nursery/primary school: Shalom Academy.

The purchase took some time because we not only had to meet the legal requirements (through a lawyer, very similar to the UK), but also get the agreement of neighbourhood elders, chiefs and the wider community in two gatherings known as Barazas — one for the purchase and another for the subdivision of the land. In all, around 100 people from Irovo attended the outdoor meetings — at least in the future nobody can say they didn’t see it coming.

Now we’ve got to build the bloody thing.

(Below, the best pic yet of the new land with Vitalis and a crop of maize ready to be harvested.)

Vitalis on new land

Charity Status

IMG_1818As part of our plan to grow the charity, we have applied to register with the Charity Commission, which means getting a registration number and hopefully qualifying for Gift Aid benefits. This should be a huge help to the next stage of fundraising.

The forms took a couple of days to write and complete – a bit like preparing for a big job interview, except there’s more at stake.

Fingers crossed.

Strive for Excellence

Strive For Excellence Logos-page-001It has been a busy week at Strive for Excellence. Lots of things are happening (all good) in our quest to improve schooling in the village of Irovo in Kakamega County, Kenya.

We wouldn’t want to overwhelm you (!) so we shall share all the news in bite-size pieces over the next few days.

First, our new identity, designed by Ed Christiano of Deeper Blue

On the left, the branding for the charity; on the right, a school badge for Shalom Academy. If you’re going to have a new school, you’ve got to have a badge!

The Bitterest Pill


It is time I brought Irovo-watchers up to speed on the latest news from

The negotiations with Philip, the village elder, were progressing nicely until his extended family heard that he was planning to sell his piece of land to the school. Philip has three ex-or-deceased-wives who have all left children behind. Quite rightly they were all — at least a dozen — consulted over the sale of the land.

In a nutshell, it got complicated.

The upshot was that there were just too many people involved who could not agree on a) what the land was worth, b) which piece of land to sell, and c) whether to sell the land at all. While Philip had the final say — and wanted to find a way to please everyone — it became increasingly clear that whatever decision he made was going to upset too many people. He is a village elder because of his wisdom, but even he couldn’t untangle this conundrum.

In the end, Vitalis decided that it was all too stressful for Philip and that we should pull out of the deal. Whichever decision Philip made, we would have stirred up too much ill will in the village for the project to survive.

It is a bitter pill to swallow, especially after being so close to nailing the new school, but we have to move on.

However, nothing in our purpose has changed. The children still need a school, and we have accepted the challenge to find a suitable building/location for that to happen. It will happen.

As I write, Vitalis is looking for another piece of land in Irovo village. Wish us luck.

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