Life-changing journey from Newcastle to Kenya

14th October 2005 at 01:00
TESHSBC world school link award winner - Prize: pound;3,500

Sixth-former Catherine Reeson believes life will never be the same again.

Once pathologically shy, this 17-year-old thinks nothing these days of standing up to speak in front of hundreds and initiating fundraising projects - thanks to a link her school has established with an impoverished community in Kenya.

Over the past 10 years, staff and students from Seaton Burn community college, on the north-west fringes of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, have undertaken the long, arduous journey to Ndhiwa - where life expectancy is poor and clean water is scarce - involving an eight-hour journey into the Kenyan bush from Nairobi.

Catherine returned from Ndhiwa last summer along with 11 other pupils, fired with ideas to secure funds to support the Ndhiwa community and its five local schools.

Seaton Burn college serves a series of ex-mining villages linked by strings of housing estates plagued by high social and economic deprivation. But the college's work in Kenya is helping to widen the horizons of young people in these traditionally enclosed communities and develop a culture of enterprise, as well as an understanding of diversity and social justice. "I no longer take things for granted," said Catherine. "I'm now doing things I never thought I would be able to do."

David Kitson, 17, a fellow sixth-former, said: "I think differently about everything. We have so much to learn from them. They want to learn so badly and can speak many languages."

The Kenyan project has proved a powerful incentive for students to stay on into the sixth form.

Seaton Burn students and staff have joined up with nearby Longbenton community college and George Stephenson high school to establish a fair trade project. Ohala Ltd involves selling in the UK goods like table mats, coasters and other basketware made from the local Kenyan material, sisal, and sculptures made from soapstone. In turn UK students have been using photographic images they have taken in Kenya to make calendars and greetings cards.

Seaton Burn is currently raising pound;6,000 annually for the business and enterprise centre run by Youth Enterprise Groups it has set up in Ndhiwa, which takes pride of place in this one-street shanty town. Ndhiwa's schools have also been provided with drainage systems, guttering and water tanks so pupils can benefit from clean, fresh water.

Val Wilson, Seaton Burn's head of sixth form, who began the link said: "It started with a sustainable development and geography project and has grown from there. It has been life-changing."

RUNNER-UP - PRIZE POUNDS 1,000

Pupils at Ashcott primary, near Street, Somerset, are well versed in traditional tales, both English and Kenyan. Their school website is full of their own re-tellings as well as paintings and stories from pupils at Tigoi primary in the Western province of Kenya, some of them harrowing narratives of drought and hunger.

Three of Ashcott's five teaching staff have visited the Kenyan school and projects based on Kenya's re-cycling system and literature, for example, are embedded in Ashcott's curriculum.

Simon Dore, headteacher, said: "The link gives our children a crucial global outlook and helps us all reflect on our own teaching practice."

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