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From Chris's Heart

February 2008
Reaction to Our Excellent Primary School in Tharaka Kenya
by Nick Harris

On January 31, my friend Brian Bishop and I returned from Kenya higher than two kites. We found that our missional efforts in that African nation are surpassing anything that we could have ever imagined.

In this edition of the Roar, I want to share just one of these efforts. It is our primary school. At the present time, the school has three grades. There is a preschool, a first grade, and a second grade. We have over 80 students enrolled at the school, and by this time next year we will have added a third grade class, so the school will grow.

You may be wondering why a school would play such an important role at a mission compound. There is a reason! The people who live in rural Kenya are caught in a cycle of poverty and ignorance. The solution to this dilemma lies in providing the next generation of Kenyans a quality education.

I must admit, primary schools like ours abound in Kenya, and most young Kenyan children do attend a primary school. But their education is usually quite limited. In rural areas like Tharaka, there are few, if any, trained teachers. Most of the teachers have nothing but a high school diploma, if that.

But our school is in a unique position. We can begin to send teachers from the states to Kenya for a designated time, not only to help educate the kids, but to help educate our teachers, as well. And in so doing we help enable our students to break the bonds of ignorance and poverty. This is possible because we are a private school.

It is my dream to enlarge our school a grade at a time, keeping our kids through high school, so we can teach them to succeed in the modern world. For one thing, I would like to see us teach them to use more advanced agricultural techniques to grow crop that can provide better food sources and income returns for the people of Tharaka.

The soil in this area of Kenya is very rich and it can grow a variety of crops, but maize had been the food staple of this area for 1000 years, and people do not want to change. We need to help them change.

The frequent droughts make the growing of maize or any other crop quite difficult. So, we want to teach these students how to irrigate these fields and how to conserve water. In the future, we can begin to do just that as we add grade levels to our school.

Some of these children also need to be taught a trade. Few of the men in Tharaka have substantive trades. They live on land that has belonged to their families for generations, but few of these men actually farmed the land. Farming is seen as being the task of their wives and daughters.

In fact, the women of Tharaka farm the fields, cook the meals, and care for the steady stream of children they bear. The majority of men see their responsibilities to the family as being this: they impregnate their women and they sit all day in the marketplace with the other men of the village and chew dope.

One of the goals of our school is to educate our young men to desire more than this, and to do so from the time they are in preschool. We want to teach them to be agents of change and to become productive citizens. That is the only way I can see to break the cycle of poverty in Tharaka.

Life is especially difficult for the girls in Kenya. Many of them have no future other than being married at the age of 14, bearing a huge brood of children, and then laboring all day in the hot equatorial sun.

We see this as our goal: we must teach these children of Tharaka to expect more from life than this, and I saw signs of this happening among some of the young children of our school. I can assure you that we are not teaching them the traditional ways that are taught in many other schools in Kenya.

In our school, we teach Christian values. Christ is first! Classes began with a prayer, and Jesus Christ is worshiped. The children are taught exactly who they are in Christ. That, in itself, will help us break the cycle of poverty.

I must tell you this: it is not easy for these children. They live and study in one of the most impoverished areas in all of Africa. Many of these children get only one hot meal a day, and this is the meal that the supporters of Ariel Ministries, and especially Ariel Chapel, provide for the students at noon, five days a week.

We also feed students that attend other nearby schools. These students walk to our compound every day to receive a hot meal. We are now feeding of over 200 hungry children five days a week with maize and beans.

Brian and I left Kenya knowing that we had one huge problem to overcome. To keep our school license, we are required to have four buildings in place by this time next year. Memorial gifts in memory of my late friend, Bill Gaskins, enabled us to erect the first of these four buildings. This occurred while Brian and I were in the compound.

I prayed before I left Kenya that God would provide for the other three buildings. Each building cost $2500 for the steel fabrication of the frame and for pouring the footings. That does not include $1000 for a cement floor or stones for the walls.

I am thrilled to report that God heard and answered my prayer, at least, in part! The very morning I arrived home, the phone rang. It was a longtime friend. She said that she had called because she and her husband had $5,000 they wanted to give to the Tharaka project. This money will provide new buildings for our first graders, and for our second graders. We now only lack the fourth building, the one for next year's third graders and $3000 for cement floors.

If God should move on your heart to help provide our fourth building, I would be more grateful than you can ever imagine. One hundred percent of everything you give goes to the project. We hold nothing back for overhead.

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