In brief

A SCHOOL IN KENYA: Hospital Hill 1949-1973. By Joan Karmali. Square One. pound;12.50

The Kenyan government's allocation for European primary pupils in 1959 was the equivalent of pound;85.17 a year; pound;28.12 a year was allocated for Asians and pound;2.07 for Africans. By this point the first multi-racial school in east Africa, set up in the Karmalis' dining room with their two sons among the pupils, had been running for a decade but there was still a long way to go.

Joan Karmali, a white Welshwoman, met her Kenya Asian husband, John, in the UK during the Second World War, when they were training to be pharmacists. When she accompanied him back to Nairobi in 1946, an unofficial but intransigent racial divide was in force, especially in schools. The Karmalis, now in their eighties and back in the UK, combined running their chemist's and photographic business with serving as school governors, constantly battling with bureaucracy and "subtle and determined behind-the-scenes inactivity of opponents". They were fuelled by what Mrs Karmali refers to in the foreword as "our resolve to fight against any racial prejudice we met".

The incomplete school records are full of telling if unsurprising details: the school's first teacher, former governess Nelda Welle, who also found its first proper base in a former army hut, was being paid pound;25 a month in 1951 and spending pound;10 on school expenses. A landmark year was 1953-4, when the school won government funding, moved into its permanent, purpose-built building and recruited its first African pupils, including a future foreign minister and one of Kenya's first women doctors. The delays and difficulties of the early years and the upheaval of the Mau Mau rebellion had caused those European parents who had initially supported the school to drift away.

Hospital Hill soon rebuilt cross-community support, attracted international media attention and, by 1972, had 683 pupils and 31 teachers (39 per cent African pupils, 34 per cent Asian and 26 per cent European). But after independence, negotiations between the black city council and white parents proved too complex and soon, Mrs Karmali reports, "the experiment was over".

This book is partly a roll call of teachers and supporters who made it all happen, including Eileen Walke, first head in the new building, who "tended to wander through the syllabus and beyond as the fancy took her, opening up the world and its wonders". Among past pupils quoted is Soila Likimani, daughter of the first Kenya Maasai to qualify as a dentist, who says: "I owe my identity to Hospital Hill school."

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