In 2012, I had just left university and was working as a volunteer teacher at the local primary school in the part of Kakamega County in which my parents then lived. My brother was a pupil there and there was a classroom wall that had collapsed over Easter.
Nobody seemed to know how to fix that situation and the headteacher felt impotent because there was only so much he could do within the limits of the bureaucracy. Every day I saw the ECDE pupils play at the exposed wall, I saw them crammed into what had been the storage room because it was their class whose wall had collapsed. I didn’t know what to do but I felt this intense need to do something.
During this time, my mother and I had to go to the District headquarters at Khwisero to interact with officialdom. While we’re here, she said, we could drop by the DC’s office and tell the Mkubwa our local school has no wall to speak of. Sure, I figured, why not. I didn’t know the series of events it would set off so I walked in with the confidence that only the innocent possess.
The DC received us with as much warmth as an interrupted government functionary can muster. Here’s what happened when we spoke: she listened to these two women speaking English (it saddens me how, so long after independence, this language holds so much power) and saying they would not leave till they knew how the matter would be dealt with. She called the DEO (District Education Officer) and the DPWO (District Public Works Officer) and directed them to go to the school the next week to inspect the facilities. We left with a date and this upsetting, but revealing, knowledge: both those officers had known about the issue but hadn’t dealt with it.
When the DEO & DPWO visited the school, the latter ordered the school condemned and the former directed that the pupils be enrolled in neighbouring schools. The school was started in the late 70s and was one of the oldest and largest in the area; this would be a disaster.
Enter the local MP: he called a community meeting to talk about how to ‘save the school’ even though the collapse had happened in April and it was September. He said how he would speak to the DC so she would direct her officers to withdraw their orders and the community members could continue sending their children to the school. What about the wall, I felt compelled to ask. Well, that will be fixed. When? This generated a lot of furore among the people present. Those my age spoke about what a visionary leader the MP was and said the 100% believed in him, that they knew he would deal with it. I was reminded that I had no children and was told to stop being a troublemaker. And yours, who you have, I asked them, do you want the class to collapse upon their heads? Remember- it was election period and they needed to obtain the Mheshimiwa’s favour; after the meeting ended, the men lined up and received KSh 200 apiece, the women KSh 100.
Something did happen: Whatever it was, the next week the MP called another meeting and told us that the CDF was allocating money to the repair of the wall and the school would not be closed. Over the next two or so months, it was fixed and the ECDE children were able to stop learning among the shovels and rakes. The money was emergency money, the job was not doe to the highest standard but it was done. I had left in October to take up a job in Nairobi so I couldn’t push but even then, I had felt a part of my spirit die in the face of the parents’ protests.
I tell this story to say that we the people have power. We are the activists we need, we are the change agents we need, we are the litigators, advocates we need. We can take back our schools, our clinics, our hospitals, our land; we can, and we should.