Head Teacher Alice
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself:
A: My name is Alice Wanjiru. I am 28 years old and the Head Teacher at St. Vincent Nursery School. I joined as a teacher in 2011 and, in 2013, I was appointed as Head Teacher. I am from Central Kenya and I have been in Nairobi since 2001 when I started high school here.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: What I like most is to see the vulnerable children from the slum being happy and also getting the right education, getting love and quality meals, which they normally lack at home. And seeing the parents – we have parents that are hopeless [at the beginning] and by the time we work with them for three years, we can see they are changed. For instance, those that are sick [HIV+] can accept themselves and we accept them as they are.
Q: What is the most challenging thing about your work?
A: The most challenging is seeing some of the parents – most of our parents are illiterate and when we start “walking with them” they don’t value education and we try to convince them to bring their children to school. They don’t cooperate. Those who are not working, you try to empower them. Sometimes you get disappointed because you don’t know how to help them. Even when we are helping the child in school, it’s hard to help the parent. Some of them don’t want help and want to be given everything. Also, [it is challenging] when you see young children suffering and they are innocent children. Some are suffering because of alcoholic parents and though it is a process to convince parents and to take them to a rehabilitation center, it becomes a challenge how you are going to come in and help the child.
Q: What are the biggest challenges for the children?
A: Food. Most of the meals that the children get here are the only meals that they receive until the following day. Sometimes the child is crying and they say their mother didn’t cook at night. We prepare porridge early in the morning so it’s ready by 8am so that we can start lessons off when children are fed.
Another challenge is the children come from large families where there is no love. Some of the environments the children stay in -- it is a challenge for them to play. During the rainy season, most of the children sleep on the floor and the house leaks and water comes inside so they are forced to sleep the whole night standing. During the last rainy season, the house of one of our children’s family collapsed and the child almost died. Also, it is a challenge to deal with children with learning disabilities and to convince the parent to accept the child and take the child to an assessment center. I can understand the problem of the child [with the disability] but the parent is still in denial.
There are some mothers that come to school and share with me about their HIV status and they request me to go see the husband and talk to him so that he can be accepted to be tested in the hospital. The wife doesn’t want the husband to know that she is the one who gave me the information. The husband doesn’t accept that he’s HIV + but you know he is. So it becomes a challenge. Most men don’t accept their status. So it is a challenge to encourage them to go get testing so they can get the drugs they need.
Q: How do you think St. Vincent’s is helping these vulnerable children?
A: First and foremost, they come to school very early because of the food. It helps them to have enough nutritious food. We help children understand that there is another way of life from where they are brought up in the slum. It offers a conductive environment for learning and gives them quality education. By the time they leave here after three years, they have met the requirements to join primary school. We help by taking children to hospital if they are sick or have an emergency. The school provides children with uniform so they all look ‘smart’ and they look alike. You can’t tell that they are coming from the slums and that makes us proud. The school helps the child by visiting the children. In case we visit your home and we find there is any other child at home, we come in and listen to your case and if it is school fees we pay or help recommend you or refer you to the hospital and pay for the bill. The school takes care of the whole family.
Q: What about the parents?
A: The school helps empower the parents – most of the supplies of the school (e.g., food, cereals, water) we give tender to our parents to be able to uplift them. It empowers them and encourages them to participate in their children’s education and upbringing.
Q: What is the greatest need of the program?
A: The greatest need is money because everything we are doing requires money – for instance for uniforms, food, shoes -- so that we can be able to meet the needs of the children plus the parents plus the staff members.
Q: What are your future goals or vision of the program?
A: My future vision is to have a primary school because most of our children when they leave our school they go to public schools nearby Kibera where the ratio of child to teacher is 100 to 1. In St. Vincent’s we have 1 teacher per 25 kids. So when they go where there is a ratio of t to 100, it is so big for the teacher to attend to each and every child especially because children have different learning abilities. At our school we give quality education. When children in our community don’t qualify to go to public [primary] schools (e.g., because they lack birth certificate), they go to schools which are not registered and that do not have qualified teachers. In these schools, there is one room with three combined classes and one teacher. So we feel the quality of the education goes down.
Q: Is there anything else you want to share with our donors?
A: The future of St. Vincent’s is to reach more children in the slum. The slum is becoming bigger and bigger and the children are there and need our help.
Teacher Alice at Sports Day