Humanities - African adventures

20th April 2012 at 01:00
Links between the UK and Kenya are widening pupils' horizons

There has been one power cut this evening already and now the generators are down. Candles are lit, torches are sent for. Children have broken into spirited song, their voices rising out of the darkness and reverberating around the hall. They are moving as one to the beat of their own rhythm, clapping the UK students and teachers standing beside me who arrived in Kenya 10 days earlier to visit their African partner school.

In that time, friendships have been formed, skills learned, memories created, knowledge shared, ideas exchanged. In this moment, at a farewell assembly filled with speeches, dancing and singing, there is an infusion of energy and emotion.

There are things you can give children only if you move them beyond the confines of the classroom. I take them to Africa as part of a school-linking project organised by a charity I run called the Elimu Foundation, which grew out of my time as a volunteer teacher in Kenya eight years ago. Now several Kenyan schools are involved. Elimu means education in Kiswahili, and it also sounds like "illuminate". Our core objective is to create wider educational experiences.

There is much to feel inspired by in Kenya, from the warmth and generosity of people I've known, to the laughter that rings out at funny Western ways (risk assessments were made for a culture clash), to the children who arrive at school at 7am and are still there at 9pm. Education is everything.

The students who come with me to Kenya are in the sixth form and tend to say that it changes the way they see life. Their willingness to open up and engage with the Kenyan schools - teaching lessons, attending leadership conferences, planting trees and, in some cases, overcoming shyness to give speeches to hundreds of people - is moving for their teachers and for me.

They fundraise in a variety of ways both for their visit and to supply new dictionaries as a donation to their partner school. (English exam scores at these schools have risen as a result of both these things. Headteachers are ecstatic.)

A fourth trip to Kenya is now approaching. A student who came last year said: "I didn't think I could ever experience and learn so much on a 10-day trip. The people I met have astonished me with their kindness and how welcoming they have been. I am particularly grateful to them for introducing us to their culture. I won't forget this experience. Thank you so much - it has been amazing."

Joanne Dwyer is a writer and founder of the Elimu Foundation (www.elimufoundation.org.uk). She teaches English part-time at Charles Darwin School in Kent.

WHAT ELSE?

To join the British Council's school partnerships programme or to find out more about global learning, visit www.britishcouncil.orgschoolpartnerships.htm or www.oxfam.org.ukeducationgc

Explore life in Kenya with a resource pack from Christian Aid.

Or get pupils to discuss their perceptions of the country with a decision activity from ruthmumby.

IN THE FORUMS

Share your experience of international partnerships.

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