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Kijiwetanga Primary School (Kenya)

by B.E.Seidl

With approximately 2,100 students, Kijiwetanga Primary School is the largest public school on the north-east coast of Kenya. Many of the young students (between 6 and 14 years old) have to help out their families after school by working in the fields, crushing coal or collecting firewood. It is somehow amazing how they can cope with such hard labor in spite of their meager meals of Ugali, a mash made of water and cornmeal.
At Kijiwetanga Primary School, the 33 government teachers don’t tire of motivating their students to believe in themselves and in a better future. However, this isn’t always an easy undertaking in classrooms brimming with up to 80 students and very humble means. For want of funds, the principal, Mr.Albert Charo, is grateful for any outside support.
One of the projects aiming to help the students process their often frustrating every day life is “Mvua”, an art project by the Austrian art therapist Claudia Bauer. By expressing their anger, sadness and fear through art, the children and teenagers experience a kind of “hiatus” from their daily problems.
The opportunity to put their emotions into colorful pictures has proved to be a valuable tool in an environment that doesn’t give them much hope otherwise. The bigger part of Kijiwetanga’s population still lives in self-made clay huts. Only a few more privileged families can afford to build brick houses with ribbed roofs. There are scarcely any jobs other than seasonal work at luxurious tourism resorts run by wealthy Europeans and the working conditions are scandalous: no insurance, 12 hour days, 7 days a week and an income that doesn’t even cover the basic cost of living.
Many young people have lost any hope for a better future and drift towards drugs and prostitution. The committed team of teachers at Kijiwetanga School does their best to avoid this fate.
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This story is based on an article written by Claudia Bauer, first published in the Austrian newspaper “Augustin” in December, 2012. The art project “Mvua” is still running successfully.

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