Dear Sponsors and Friends of the Rudolf Steiner School Mbagathi,
Here is a special Newsletter to share our re-opening news. Our entire school fully opened after a long Covid-19 shutdown since mid-March 2020. It has been a long, long wait for the many children, teachers and staff. Since October, two classes, Class 5 and Class 9, which in the Kenyan school system are considered exam classes, have been continuing their education at the school, but on 5th January – we opened the school as a whole, also for the many young children in the kindergarten.
Right now in Kenya there is heat and sunshine mixed with occasional heavy downpours. There is currently a relatively low number of Covid-19 infection cases and now, finally, the moment came when all the children throughout Kenya were given permission from the Education Ministry to return to school. The 350 children at Rudolf Steiner School Mbagathi, mainly from underprivileged and difficult living conditions, who have had a hard time, are now back to school. It is quite difficult to read what this time has imprinted on their souls.
On the 5th of January, our two large yellow school buses finally drove into the grounds at 7:15 in the morning with the first children. The aged school buses, which have a total of 95 seats, had to run a number of extra trips up and down the potholed dirt roads in order to comply with the strict distancing requirements between the children. All the children disembarked from the buses and began to "occupy" their beloved school again, initially with a little trepidation. There were many new procedures to relate to: temperature checks at the entrance to the school and classrooms, hand washing at the many new washbasins set up outdoors, and sanitizing of hands. It was difficult to really follow facial expressions or gauge reactions because of the mandatory face masks.
The higher classes are occupying 4 large tents set up in the field; we have new single desks everywhere, new schedules, and new rules for breaktimes.. This whole reopening set-up was made possible due to intensive fundraising throughout 2020 and as a result of financial support from organizations and individuals abroad, including donations from the fundraising appeal "Mitigating the Impact of the Corona Crisis", led by the Friends of Waldorf Education.
At first, the children moved a little hesitantly and quietly around the school, but soon they opened up and everything was radiant and alive again despite the many restrictions and new distance rules. It is estimated by the teachers after these first school days that the children's physical and mental condition are ok. However, the teachers know that the more traumatic and insecure experiences the children have had during the closure will probably only show up somewhat later. There is a special focus on the very young girls, who, in general, are very vulnerable, especially so during the lockdown period in Kenya. Life for women and girls was difficult in the slum areas even before the global pandemic hit. Violence has escalated significantly and the cultural circumstances make it very difficult to talk about it.
Due to the restrictions, the children do not eat together as they used to, on the school's large dining veranda, something that was a festive highlight of everyday life. The individual classes collect their food in the kitchen by the large wood-burning stoves - which finally glowed again - and meals are now eaten in the classrooms, or in the tents, each at his or her small, new single desk. Part of the fundraising work has been to seek funds to raise the quality of the food during the reopening period. This means, for example, that the 120 boarding children receive an egg in addition to their two thick slices of bread.
There were a lot of new arrangements that had to come into place for the reopening day. The school days are shorter for the children, and the timetable has been reshaped based on guidelines from the Ministry of Education in Kenya. It means no singing, no drama, no sports and dance and no assemblies or mixing between classes.
The whole social and economic situation brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic – and the consequences of a long shutdown of Kenyan society over many months - means a constant stream of parents and others seeking work at school. The school cannot meet the need - though the school has temporarily taken on an extra cleaner, a bus escort, a kindergarten assistant and a driver. The School Leader had to meet the enquiring mothers who were desperate for work. They ask several times - just to have money for rent, food and the very basics for their children. Actually, no parents are presently allowed on the school grounds under restrictions unless by special arrangement.
The pandemic is not over; there is still great insecurity and great uncertainty. The future presents formidable challenges. But for the moment, the joy of the children is here again. With this newsletter we want to share our progress and photos from the happy opening days when all the children at the Rudolf Steiner School came back to a well-prepared school community, where the staff have long been anticipating this special moment.